In Palestine, as in many countries across Asia and Africa, most small businesses are owned and operated by men. But since 2012, a growing number of Palestinian women are launching start-ups of their own—and creating new jobs in local communities—thanks to training and mentoring from Tomorrow's Youth Organization (TYO).
For close to a year, the Nablus-based NGO’s WISE program (short for Women’s Incubation Services for Entrepreneurs) has been teaching marketing and IT skills to female business owners. Now, as of this month, the entrepreneurs are also able to connect with each other and share business tips via SMS—through a new mobile service launched by Souktel and TYO.
Leveraging Souktel’s PeerNet technology, which lets people with similar interests share ideas through SMS ‘chat groups’, the new service helps female business owners get hands-on advice for start-ups that range from an advertising firm to an organic sheep farm. The initiative is funded by the PalTel Group Foundation, a non-profit organization established by Palestine’s largest telecom network.
The idea behind PeerNet is simple: First, entrepreneurs join a ‘chat group’ by sending a sign-up SMS. Once they’ve been approved for membership, they can send SMS questions or comments to the entire network, for the cost of one regular text message—and fellow business owners can respond right away. By promoting simple, low-cost networking among closed peer groups, the service creates an effective—and safe—way for female entrepreneurs to share ideas, plan events, or ask for mentoring.
Tala Said, a coordinator for TYO, explains that Souktel's PeerNet service is used in a wide range of settings: The women can ask each other questions like, “If I’m opening a new store, should I offer a promotional sale?” But it works just as well when TYO’s own staff want to send out information alerts to the group, or conduct instant surveys.
"We'll alert the women about a training session in Ramallah, for instance, and then ask them to reply with their confirmation," says Said. "Then later, we'll ask them to rate the training and they'll send a message back. It's great for those quick bursts of information."
It's also a straightforward, cost-effective way to ensure the entrepreneurs keep in touch on a daily basis and feel supported. Although attitudes are gradually shifting, it remains a challenge for Palestinian women in small towns to launch businesses on their own.
"We had one woman drop out of the program due to familial pressure," says Said, "which is unfortunately still a huge problem here in Nablus."
But the other women taking part in WISE have stuck with the program, and many are now venturing outside the West Bank in order to boost their brand and develop relationships with mentors. As they continue to travel, and as their businesses grow, they'll still be able to stay connected; all it takes is a simple text message.