Jordan SME grows while rebuilding lives of Syrian refugees

Arabella for Aluminium provides employment opportunities to refugees in one of Jordan’s poorest governates.

Former lawyer, Mohamed Darwish, is lucky to have a job on Arabella’s factory floor. Darwish is one of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees presently living in Jordan. His family may have escaped the death and destruction of war when they fled from Aleppo in Syria, but building a new life is not easy.

With close to a third of Jordan’s private sector labour force employed by SMEs, the sector has a crucial role to play in addressing the refugee crisis. And with Arabella located just a few kilometres away from the Zaatari Refugee Camp in the Governate or Irbid, this SME offers a rare employment opportunity at a decent wage to both Syrians and local workers.

Under the Nomou Programme, Arabella is a GroFin Jordan SME client that specialises in aluminum extrusion, fabrication, decoration, and surface treatment & coating. In 2015, GroFin provided the company with financing to purchase equipment and complete infrastructure work at its new production site. But only a few months after it started operations, an unexpected halt in production could easily have seen the business fail.

When cracks appeared in three of the company’s extrusion press containers – which are crucial to its production process – it had no choice but to halt operations. Two of the containers were shipped to Thailand for repairs and while the third was repaired locally, the process still took several months.

Arabella was soon unable to meet its obligations to GroFin and would have defaulted under a traditional financing framework – likely forfeiting its assets and going under. However, GroFin’s model provides room to adapt its financing to the needs of the client and was able to devise an alternative payment plan to allow Arabella to overcome this difficult period.

“Not all business support is about increasing sales and revenue. It is also about helping the client to survive and overcome tough times.”

Wael Sunna, Investment Manager at GroFin Jordan, says small and medium-sized businesses are extremely vulnerable to shocks and the ability to overcome such unexpected setbacks is key to their survival. “Not all business support is about increasing sales and revenue. It is also about helping the client to survive and overcome tough times,” Sunna explains.

GroFin has also provided Arabella with further advice to improve its cash flow through negotiating better payment terms with suppliers and improving collections from clients through shorter payment terms. In 2017, GroFin provided the company with additional funding needed to boost its stock of aluminum pellets to meet higher demand for its products.

With GroFin’s support, Arabella has been able to continuously increase its production and sales. At the end of 2018, the company employed 84 workers, compared to 49 a year before, 20% of whom are Syrians. Arabella continues to grow and is expanding its production facilities even further through the addition of a new furnace for processing scrap aluminum.

“GroFin became our partner when banks refused our loan applications. In the beginning we were short of experience, but we found all the support we needed in GroFin.”

Mr. Sobhi Al Zubi, the entrepreneur behind Arabella, says he will never forget GroFin’s support and loyalty to his business. “GroFin became our partner when banks refused our loan applications. In the beginning we were short of experience, but we found all the support we needed in GroFin. They were there to help us with everything from planning to marketing and sales,” he says.

Sobhi says perseverance and determination were crucial to his success.

“I am always positive, despite the setbacks. I always keep looking forward – never back. You have to feel successful on the inside, then even people who start from nothing can become successful.”

Learn more about the The Nomou Programme and GroFin funding and business support for entrepreneurs and SMEs in the Middle East.

GroFin helps Syrian refugees to rebuild their lives

It is estimated, although nobody knows for sure, that nearly half a million people have lost their lives since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The conflict forced many more – around 5.5 million according to official UNCHR statistics – to flee the country. These refugees escaped immediate danger but for most, the struggle to survive continues.

One of the countries that experienced the greatest influx of Syrian refugees is Jordan. There are over 660 000 Syrian refugees in Jordan registered with the UNCHR, but estimates based on local census data puts the true number at nearly 1.3 million. A recent study by the UNCHR shows that nearly all of them (85%) live below the Jordanian poverty line of $96 per month as they struggle to rebuild their lives in a new country.

GroFin, through its Nomou Jordan Fund, is working to help address the dire need to provide Syrian refugees in the country with sustainable livelihoods. The fund’s mission is to create sustainable impact through serving entrepreneurs in the SME sector with risk capital and business support. The fund has already invested $21 million in 35 businesses since its launch in 2014. This investment sustained 64 jobs for non-Jordanians and included $9 million into 4 non-Jordanian businesses.

Located just a few kilometres away from the Zaatari Refugee Camp, GroFin client Arabella for Aluminium provides much-needed sustainable employment at a decent wage to both Syrians and local workers. Arabella specialises in aluminium extrusion and currently employs 84 workers, including 20 Syrians.

Mohamed Darwish used to be a lawyer before his family fled Syria, but now he counts himself lucky to work at Arabella. “The most important thing about work is to be able to do something useful and secondly we can help to support our families. We cannot predict the future, but we hope it will get better.”

With the support of the Soros Economic Development Fund, Nomou Jordan is increasing its focus on refugees. Over the next two years, it will deploy at least $5 million in additional capital to SMEs owned by, or employing refugees, and will provide them with crucial business support to increase their chances of success. GroFin will also continue to encourage its current clients to employ refugees.

Alfinaz Murad, Investment Executive at GroFin Jordan, says while access to finance is a major challenge for all small and medium-sized businesses in Jordan, refugee entrepreneurs face additional obstacles. “Nationality alone can be a big factor determining whether a financial institution will grant a loan to an entrepreneur. Local borrowers are considered less of a flight risk than Syrians, for example.”

Murad says a lack of collateral is another tremendous obstacle which often prevents Syrian refugees from obtaining financing. “Property is the most widely accepted form of collateral, but restrictions on foreign ownership in Jordan means it is difficult for foreigners to purchase property. For example, there are restrictions on the number of properties Syrians living in Jordan can own, as well as on the use of these properties.”

Syrian-owned businesses also face a higher administrative burden than their local counterparts. “They need to complete much more paperwork than locals to get things. Regulatory risk specific to foreign-owned businesses is also a source of uncertainty as regulations have changed several times,” Murad explains.

Mohamed Hawary, GroFin Investment Director for the MENA region, says business support GroFin provides its clients can go a long way to help refugee entrepreneurs overcome these unique challenges. “We believe that with adequate support and access to finance, refugee-owned businesses can grow and become sustainable to not only uplift refugee communities but also make a positive contribution to the Jordanian economy.”

Click here to read about Al Menber School, a GroFin client providing refugee children with access to education.

Facing Jordan’s SME challenges & growing in frozen food market

Small and medium-sized businesses employ around a third of Jordan’s private-sector labour force. Yet, World Bank Enterprise Survey data shows that nearly 49% of small and 33% of medium-sized businesses in the country still cite access to finance as a major constraint to their growth.

GroFin allowed Al-Mutamayeza for Frozen Food Trading, which trades under the name Saboba, to overcome this challenge by providing the business with three successive rounds of financing. The company distributes high-quality frozen and processed meat and poultry products. Thanks to GroFin’s investments and continued business support it was able to expand into new geographical regions in Jordan, venture into new market segments and broadened its product range.

Raed and Mohammad Saboba founded the company bearing their name in 2007 in Zarqa, Jordan. They first approached GroFin in 2013 to finance the purchase of additional inventory to expand the distribution network of the business. GroFin also supported Saboba in the formalisation of its business plan and financial projections, equipping the entrepreneurs to monitor progress against the forecasted plan to better identify areas of improvement.

As Saboba grew, GroFin continued to work closely with the business to optimise its product range and pricing, as well as its brand positioning and marketing reach. In 2015, GroFin encouraged Saboba to explore new markets and provided the business with financing to introduce new products targeting hotels, restaurants and catering companies. In response to GroFin’s advice to diversify its product range, Soboba later obtained additional financing to acquire the right to distribute a global brand of powdered milk and other dairy products in Jordan.

Due to the success and improved profitability the company has achieved since partnering with GroFin, Saboba has acquired new premises and its brand is now well-known in Jordan.

“GroFin’s financial and business support resulted in extending our geographical coverage, increasing our number of products from 12 to 25, hiring new employees, and growing sales by over 15% annually,” says Raed Saboba, co-owner of the business.

Saboba currently employs 35 workers, compared to 21 at the time of GroFin’s first investment. However, the company’s growth has not only allowed it to create new job opportunities, but also to enhance the life and careers of its employees. Wafaa Tom is a female employee who joined Saboda in 2016 and heads up the company’s finance department.

“The growth in the company’s operations impacted my knowledge and enriched my career as I am currently dealing with bigger transactions related to a number of reputable customers.”

Alaa Al Faqeer, another female employee at Saboba, says she struggled to find a job with a decent salary as she did not have any tertiary education. All of this changed when a friend encouraged her to apply for a job at Saboba.

“Saboba paid for my tuition to enrol at university and I received a degree in Accounting, which helped me to further develop my career. When I got engaged, Saboba also generously participated in my wedding expenses, as my husband and I could not fulfil all of them,” she says.

GroFin Jordan - SabobaGroFin Jordan - SabobaGroFin Jordan - Saboba

At a mere 14.4%, the World Bank points out that Jordan’s female labour force participation rate is the lowest in the world for a country not at war. This is despite the fact that women comprise more than half of Jordanian university graduates. Gender discrimination in hiring practices contributes to this number, as well as to the country’s high female unemployment rate of nearly 24%. With GroFin’s support, Saboba has empowered Tom and Al Faqeer to overcome these barriers.

GroFin wins Islamic Economy Awards 2018 in SME Development category

GroFin is pleased to announce that it has won the 2018 Islamic Economy Award in the ‘SME Development’ category. The winners were announced at the Awards ceremony held in Dubai this Wednesday 30 October 2018.

The Islamic Economy Award was launched in 2013 under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and directed by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council.

The Islamic Economy Award is managed independently by Thomson Reuters and is adjudicated by an esteemed judges’ panel based on formal, established criteria.

GroFin was represented by its Regional Investment Director for the Middle East and North Africa region, Mohamed Hawary, who collected the award on behalf of the company.

“This award is testimony to the efforts made by GroFin to ensure its products are accessible to one and all. We, at GroFin, are determined to provide our clients with financing that respects the customs and beliefs of our clients,” says Mohamed Hawary.

GroFin wins 2018 Islamic Economy Awards in the category of 'SME Development'

HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, presents award to Mohamed Hawary, GroFin Regional Investment Director for the Middle East and North Africa region

HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, presents award to Mohamed Hawary, GroFin Regional Investment Director for the Middle East and North Africa region

The Islamic Economy Award is held every year and has the following categories; Money and Finance, Media, Food and Health, Waqf and Endowments, SME Development, Islamic Economy Knowledge Infrastructure, Islamic Arts, Hospitality and Tourism, and the Lifetime Achievement Award.

This is the second prestigious award for GroFin this year as it also won Finance for the Future Awards in the Building Sustainable Financial Products category. Finance for the Future Awards is run by ICAEW and A4S along with their partner Deloitte.

About GroFin

GroFin is a pioneering private development financial institution specialising in financing and supporting small and growing businesses (SGBs) across Africa and the Middle East. We combine medium term loan capital and specialised business support to grow SGBs in emerging markets. By successfully combining medium term loans and specialised business support delivered through our local offices, we have invested in over 700 SMEs and sustained over 88,150 jobs across a wide spectrum of business activities within the 15 countries in Africa and Middle East that we operate in. GroFin has its headquarters located in Mauritius.

GroFin Jordan promotes Business linkages opportunities for Jordanian SMEs

GroFin Jordan held a breakfast event in association with Jordan Africa Business Association on July 16, 2018 to promote the services offered by GroFin to Jordanian SMEs. The event was held at the Four Seasons Hotel-Amman; with total attendance exceeding 50 business owners and general managers of SMEs operating in the manufacturing industry.

The event focused on the financial and business support solutions offered by GroFin through its fund in Jordan (Nomou Jordan for Investments). The unique business model offered by GroFin caters to the needs of Jordanian entrepreneurs by understanding their core business issues and providing practical financial and business support services to help them grow.

The event also focused on business linkages offered by GroFin’s large network of over 8,000 businesses financed and supported by the GroFin offices in Africa and MENA regions. GroFin Jordan Investment Executive, Mrs. Alfinaz Murad, presented the advantages of GroFin services over those of commercial banks, mainly the service of Islamic working capital financing, which is the only one of its kind offered in Jordan. Mrs. Murad also gave an insight for the audience on the criteria that makes them eligible to apply for GroFin services in Jordan, as well as the advantages of business support offered during the pre-finance phase.

On the other hand, the Chairman of Jordan Africa Business Association, Mrs. Reem Badran, highlighted the objectives of the association, indicating the importance of opening new markets for Jordanian SMEs in the African continent since the African nation provide big opportunity for Jordanian manufacturers to gain new grounds for their products. Mrs. Badran also highlighted the importance of the collaboration between JABA and GroFin Managers in serving the SME community in Jordan by allowing Jordanian SMEs to contact GroFin offices in Africa to investigate business linkages opportunity; where GroFin can sustain a promising deal flow and at the same time achieve pre-finance business support mandate.

At the end of the event GroFin Managers and JABA signed an MOU to officially kick off the collaboration and build an infrastructure for SMEs to explore new opportunities in Africa.

Al-Menber School – Touching the lives of Syrian refugee children in Jordan

As many as 226,000 out of 660,000 (almost a third) of Syrians refugees registered with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan are school-aged children between 5-17 years old. Since the outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011, the influx of Syrian refugee children in Jordan has spurred the Education Ministry to take several steps to accommodate their educational needs. From hiring new teachers, allowing free public-school enrollment for Syrian children, and having second shifts at nearly 100 primary schools to create more classroom spaces, the ministry aims to create 50,000 new spaces in public schools for Syrian children, and to reach 25,000 out-of-school children with accredited “catch-up classes.”

Despite all the commendable efforts by the government, Syrian refugee children in Jordan continue to face an uncertain future in education – affecting their subsequent employability as young adults. Over one in three, more than 80,000, did not receive a formal education in 2015. This makes it imperative for private schools to tide over this ever-widening gap in public schooling with quality education that is still affordable for the masses.

Al-Menber is one such school, run by a dedicated entrepreneur from the governorate of Mafraq in North Badia. Mrs Mady worked as a teacher and principal for over 32 years in different governorates in Jordan before starting the private elementary school in the governorate of Mafraq in North Badia in 2010. Al-Menber received the ISO certificate in 2015 due to the high quality of education provided to the students.

Of these, over 70% students hail from the base-of-the-pyramid (BoP), given the impoverished neighbourhood of Sabha that the school is situated in. A town that has witnessed one of the highest rates of refugee influx, the governorate of Mafraq is reeling under the pressure of accommodating immigrants while providing essential services such as education to its citizens and refugees alike.

No wonder then, by early 2016, student enrolments at Al-Menber exceeded 200 and many more were wait-listed due to lack of capacity in the existing premises. Hence, Mrs Mady wished to invest in a new school building that would allow for accepting twice the number of students that the current school has.

At this stage, Mrs Mady turned to GroFin for finance and support to expand the premises and reach out to more students. Apart from funding the new school building, GroFin also provided finance to purchase two buses for transportation as well as extended working capital for salary payments.

In addition, GroFin provided business support on the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) front by ensuring that health and safety procedures are followed in accordance with our ESG framework. Besides, GroFin is also helping to formalise the business from a sole proprietorship to a company.

Finally, GroFin’s intervention is ensuring safe transportation for students, by funding modern buses that comply with school transport regulations and safety measures.

Apart from reaching out to 220 students, of whom 175 are BoP, the school also has far-reaching implications on employment, with focus on the vulnerable sections of society. Altogether, Al-Menber employs 27 people, 82% of whom are women.

“With GroFin’s finance and support, we have been able to touch the lives of many more children, especially from the refugee population. This makes a world of difference to such children, who otherwise face bleak educational prospects,” says Mrs Mady.

Retaj is growing and helping Syrian refugees in the process

Entrepreneur Abdallah Nofal began his business in 2006 as a wholesale supply business trading in food items, particularly vegetable oil and other food oils. His 30-years’ experience in the wholesale industry enabled him to quickly build the enterprise to the point where he purchased land and began bottling his own vegetable oil in a manufacturing facility alongside the trading entity.

Currently, his company Retaj for Food Stuffs Supplies, Distribution and Trade Company (Retaj) offers three types of vegetable oils; Corn, Sunflower and Soybean. And each type of oil comes in several sizes to cover all income brackets. Starting from 600 ml for small families and individual consumption, to a range of 1.3 litre – 18.0 litre large tin containers that are required by restaurants.

Challenges and Solutions

Over the years, enhancing and upgrading the company’s production ability exhausted the cashflows for the business. So after struggling for many years with low margins related to the purchase of crude oils from local traders, Abdallah approached GroFin in 2016 to finance a new trading strategy to import his raw materials directly. Over and above providing the required funding of US$ 718,000, GroFin also provided Retaj with business support by helping to implement an effective management accounts reporting system. Together, GroFin and Abdallah reviewed their product pricing based on market conditions and optimized their profitability.

A point to note, one of the great needs to mitigate the effects of the current Syrian humanitarian crisis is the provision of dignified employment and opportunities for refugees to integrate more fully into society. The number of refugees that are making their way over the treacherous journey to Jordan, of whom only 20% live in the designated UN camps. The rest have integrated themselves into the towns and villages seeking shelter, employment and a better quality of life. The massive influx of refugees have placed enormous pressure on the Jordanian infrastructure, economy and social conditions. One of the great needs to mitigate the effects of this humanitarian crisis is the provision of dignified employment and opportunities for refugees to integrate more fully into society. Entrepreneurs like Abdallah Nofal is one of the catalysts for this process.

Retaj and GroFin’s investments are helping to support 53 full time employees (80% of whom are semi/unskilled workers), and of whom 4 are female employees. In addition, Abdallah has provided meaningful employment for 7 Syrian refugees who are rebuilding their lives and securing a future for their families. The business currently has three owned brands (Retaj, Haneen and Al Amer), all of which are distributed at all major supermarkets in all Jordanian governorates.