“I do the cooking!” exclaimed Haytham Abu Ziad who owns and manages a pickle factory with his wife in Sweileh, a section of the Amman Governorate in Jordan. Haytham started a home-based business and within 3 years was able to expand into a larger pickle factory – his business is registered with the government and he is responsible for paying taxes. The factory is still within his home but stationed in a large walk-in pantry.
As he walked us through his factory, we were exposed to a colorful array of jarred produce ready for distribution. Haytham and his wife supply 5 star hotels with a variety of pickled food items including olives, peppers and eggplant, among other items. Haytham does not currently supply to grocery stores because they require a larger volume. All of his produce is locally grown – specifically from a city outside of Amman.
Haytham is a client of Microfund for Women and is served by the Sweileh branch which offers loans from $1,000 to $30,000 (800 JOD to 25,000 JOD). The portfolio at risk* at the branch is under 2% which be attributed to the branch focus on client repayment capacity as well as a settlement policy that includes reminders to clients 2 days before repayment. An MFW client for 2 years, Haytham received his first loan of $2,835 (2,000 JOD) and a second loan for the same amount. It was interesting to visit a male client since Sweileh serves 97% women clients and has 75% women staff. I believe it proves Women’s World Banking’s belief that designing financial products for women benefits men as well. As our President and CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian likes to say, “if you design a product for a woman, it will find a male market”.
One of the most powerful moments of the brief interaction for me was observing that Hyatham does not ascribe to traditional gender roles, contrary to what I expected. We were in the Middle East after all, where customs around gender remain strong. According to Women’s World Banking’s own gender research in Jordan, while there has been an extension of women’s roles as financial providers, they still play the primary role of caregiver and homemaker. Haytham does all of the cooking for the business outside of his house – he also happily added that beyond cooking for business purposes “in my house, I cook for my wife.”
As business partners, his wife takes responsibility for the “decoration” or packaging of the items. Haytham’s daughter also assists with the business when she is not in school. Haytham, a former teacher and electrical engineer in Libya, enjoys and finds great pride in his business. He spoke to the profitability of this line of work, noting that one kilo of eggplant becomes two kilos once pickled.
At the end of the visit Haytham offered the visiting group a tasted of his array of pickled produce. When asked which one tastes the best, he proudly replied “everything is best!”
*Portfolio at risk or PAR is the portion of a bank’s loan portfolio which is deemed at risk of write-off because payments are overdue.