Maleeka Zakarneh: An Entrepreneur Thriving across Jordan

Zakarneh’s firm supplies equipment for engineering education © Mohamed Essa/IFC

Amman resident Maleeka Zakarneh has always loved electronics, and a decade ago she did what all entrepreneurs dream of: she turned her passion into profession. In 2006, her fledgling business—supplying specialized educational equipment to colleges in Jordan—landed its first client. Within five months, her new venture turned a profit.

 Zakarneh knew the potential for growth was even greater. But with no savings and little institutional support for female entrepreneurs in the Middle East, there seemed to be no way to expand. That’s when she found Bank al Etihad, a commercial bank in Jordan that had recently launched a new banking model for women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Through the Banking on Women program, IFC has helped Bank al Etihad serve many women entrepreneurs like 39-year-old Zakarneh, showing them how to access the financing required to grow and create jobs.

The need for these services reaches far beyond Jordan: though women entrepreneurs are changing the face of the global economy, many financial institutions are unprepared to address their specific challenges such as unfavorable business and regulatory environments. Zakarneh’s experience as an entrepreneur was typical. “As a female in this business, I had very little support and many people thought I was crazy,” she says.


Growing Quickly

By offering women guidance and funding where none has been available before, Bank al Etihad is cultivating a clientele that has long been ignored. In Zakarneh’s case, the outreach was exactly what her business needed. Loans and other support transformed the company: from working on her own in a tiny room with one desk, a fax, and a telephone, she now employs seven permanent staff and five other people who work on special projects. The company supplies additional products and services, reaching universities north and south of Amman—a critical element of her initial expansion plan.

In 2014, Bank al Etihad recognized Zakarneh’s success with its Business Woman of the Year award, accompanied by a prize of 25,000 Jordanian dinars (about $35,300). Bank officials also suggested a corporate account, accompanied by a loan of 200,000 Jordanian dinars (about $282,000) as a tool to help her expand even further. “While I had money to run my business, I needed more to add the new items, which is where the support from Bank al Etihad was essential,” she says.


More than Financing

But Bank al Etihad’s support extended beyond loans. Mentoring and guidance are important elements of IFC’s Banking on Women program, and Bank al Etihad presented these services to Zakarneh in a way that made her feel like the bank was investing in her ideas, as well as her company, “which no other bank did at that time,” she says. “They also mentored me and gave me their opinion about customized services for certain projects, which helped me a lot in making financial decisions.”

Bank al Etihad’s approach reflects the depth and breadth of IFC’s Banking on Women program, which targets global, regional, and local financial institutions with SME lending track records as partners. We seek to increase access to finance for women entrepreneurs by using our extensive global network of financial institutions and also offering advisory services to financial institutions to help them deepen their ability to reach women-owned businesses. Strategic planning, market positioning, product repositioning, and staff training are critical elements of success.

Zakarneh’s achievements have strengthened her commitment to helping other women entrepreneurs access the financing they need. “As a woman, I encourage all women to secure themselves financially,” she says. “If they have the passion to start something, they should go for it. We have banks now that have started launching special products designed for women, so support is increasing and women need to take advantage of this.”

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Published in August 2016


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