Palestinian Entrepreneur’s Mini-MBA Freshens Up Her Soap Firm

A training program helped Ikhlas Showli learn innovative ways to market her products. © Bank of Palestine

When 53-year-old Ikhlas Showli started crafting hand-made, high-quality soap for sale from the kitchen of her Nablus home 13 years ago, she thought only her neighbors would be interested. But as word of mouth spread throughout the West Bank, more and more people wanted to purchase her product. Her client base grew, and so did her wish to expand her business to meet the high demand.

Attempts to obtain a bank loan proved futile until Showli completed a training program for female entrepreneurs developed by IFC and piloted by long-term client Bank of Palestine. The six-month course, structured as an abridged MBA, resulted in Showli receiving a $400,000 loan from the Bank of Palestine. She is using the funds to build a soap factory that will employ more than 20 workers, and to buy machinery.

The Felestineya Mini-MBA aims to develop the business and leadership skills of established women entrepreneurs by focusing on strategic and financial planning, marketing, and human-resource management, among other concepts.

“Enrolling in the program helped me become more skilled as an entrepreneur and able to assess business opportunities much more systematically,” says Showli. “It also helped me think about more innovative ways to market and brand my products.” She says the program also helped her build better relationships with the bank’s management.


Training Today’s Female Entrepreneurs

Showli is far from alone in this. As she explained: “It can often be difficult for women to access loans easily. Banks don’t trust women, and they ask for a lot of collateral, which can be difficult to find.”

That’s exactly why IFC signed an agreement with the Bank of Palestine in 2014: to scale up its lending operations to smaller firms, especially those owned by women.

The six-month training is part of the Bank of Palestine’s larger Felestineya Banking on Women Program, which offers a range of financial products for women, from collateral-free and gold loans to financial literacy programs and online knowledge toolkits.

While women own more than 62,000 micro, small, and medium enterprises across the West Bank and Gaza—roughly a quarter of all enterprises—, more than 60 percent of these are unserved or underserved by financing. Each of these businesses needs an average of $42,000 in financing, representing a potential credit need of $147 million across the Palestinian market.

Training courses for entrepreneurs are an important first step. Forty women graduated from the pilot Felestinya Mini-MBA program earlier this year, including Showli. The initiative is a component of IFC’s broader strategy in the West Bank and Gaza, which aims to boost access to finance, create jobs, and support women’s integration into the economy. IFC believes empowering women with the necessary knowledge and financial resources is key to unlocking their potential and spurring overall growth and development—something that is especially important in the region.

Showli now dreams of exporting her soap products to Dubai, Qatar, the United States, and Europe. “I would also like this project to grow beyond territorial boundaries and to create more job opportunities for the unemployed youth in my country,” she says, “to help them start their careers and perhaps one day have businesses of their own.”

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Published in October 2016


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