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‘Pay attention and keep an eye on the future’: How a Kiva loan helped Manal grow her business in Palestine

Manal began her business when she became the sole breadwinner of her family.

As an entrepreneur, Manal faces the usual challenges - finding customers, stocking up on materials, and keeping up with the competition. But as a woman, Manal has also had to shut down those in her community that disapprove of her running a business.

When she opened her own sewing workshop five years ago in a village just south of Jenin, Palestine, Manal was met with some tart criticism about her work.

“It was the competitiveness, which was expected,” recalls the 49 year-old mother of seven. “Belittling my business, most people would say ‘how is your business even supposed to succeed across this town?’”

With the help of a Kiva loan, Manal has not only succeeded but expanded—showing the naysayers that she has a firm handle on her ventures and her livelihood.

Taking the leap

“The most important lesson I learned was to rely mainly on myself, and to always pay attention and keep an eye on the future.”

A devout wife and mother, Manal worked as a seamstress on the side but hadn’t considered owning her own shop. But when her husband fell ill and she could no longer leave the house for her shifts, she realized she could turn the hardship into an opportunity.

“The workshop’s owner was kind enough and brought me a sewing machine, he would bring me the orders to complete them from home,” she recalls.

“I started thinking to myself about increasing productivity and running my own business. Instead of getting paid half the work’s worth, I would get the full profit for myself.”

To begin, however, the burgeoning entrepreneur needed capital for more machines and a space to work. She knew another woman with her own business who introduced her to FATEN, a Kiva Lending Partner that facilitates microloans in Palestine, 80 percent of which go to women. 

After learning about FATEN’s flexible terms and low interest rates, she applied for and received a loan for US$4000, powered by 86 Kiva lenders.

“I used the loan to buy sewing machines and started running my business,” she says, adding that she was able to begin paying off the loan using profits after only three months. “I even hired my daughter, and my income increased.”

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Creating multiple income streams

In addition to sewing, Manal invested in multiple income streams, like pickles.

Though she was able to secure clients for whom she sewed clothing and other items, Manal encountered another challenge when her business faltered during COVID-19. Undaunted, she used the remainder of her Kiva loan to launch a pickling business for the local market.

“We used to make different kinds of pickles—pickled eggplant, pickled cucumber, pickled turnips, pickled carrots, and many other different kinds,” she says of her foray into food manufacturing. “On top of that, we used to make Labneh [a thick yogurt] and cheese.”

The additional revenue helped support her family through the tenuous time of the pandemic. While the workload was difficult, Manal tapped into a reserve of self-determination that she continues to draw upon as she moves forward.

“The most important lesson I learned was to rely mainly on myself, and to always pay attention and keep an eye on the future.”

Further reading: Why gender equality is so important

Challenging stereotypes

“When a woman has determination and wants to reach her goals, she has to overcome traditions… she is not doing anything wrong or shameful.”

Manal has confronted many challenges as a business owner, and being a woman in a traditionally conservative culture is certainly a difficult one to navigate. While there has been nationwide progress in policy and an increased presence of female political figures, Manal’s entrepreneurial efforts go against accepted social codes for some of her neighbors.

“Although in our time, women have reached legislative and administrative positions, our village society still has that stereotypical view about women,” she observes.

In order to move her businesses forward, however, she must challenge the stereotypes. For example, she often works into the evenings, when convention dictates that wives and mothers should be home tending to their families. She often must procure fabric and other materials needed for the workshop by herself, bringing her into contact with men in her community she would not otherwise seek out.

“People still struggle to accept me as a woman interacting with men,” she notes, describing how she often garners stares as she runs necessary errands.

“What I believe in though is, when a woman has determination and wants to reach her goals, she has to overcome those traditions since she is not doing anything wrong or shameful. As long as we are on a righteous path, we shouldn’t look backward.”

Learn more about Manal's story here:

Continuing to persevere in the face of disapproval

It’s not surprising that Manal hasn’t succumbed to pressure from neighborly gossip since she had an excellent example of a righteous woman who worked outside the home to support her family: Her mother. 
“She was one of those activist working women who used to rely on what she earned from farming. She supported my father, God bless his soul,” she says with great pride.

“Their life was cooperative, and they did a great job in raising and teaching us.”

Manal hopes she can impart that same sense of independence and moral clarity to her children and that it will help them achieve success. As of now, she is planning to keep growing her business with collaborations in Jerusalem and other places.

Whatever challenges she may encounter, it appears that it will take more than a little criticism to stop her.

Looking to help women like Manal succeed? Make a loan on Kiva today!

About the author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos is Kiva's Senior Storyteller and an award-winning writer based in Savannah, Georgia, USA. Covering social justice, cultural equity, sustainable growth, financial literacy, and always celebrating others' success, she is thrilled to help share Kiva's mission—and the stories of the people it connects.