Our impact, their voices

“It was my dream to have a family business and I am happy to have fulfilled it”

A Syrian refugee in Egypt credits ILO’s business development programmes for providing her with courage to come over challenges and restart her business.

Article | 09 February 2023
Nashwa shows her recent yield of mushrooms ©ILO/Osama Mohamed

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (ILO News) - Fleeing the civil war in Syria, Nashwa had to leave her job as a teacher and seek refuge in Egypt with her four children. Over the past 11 years, she has been able to settle down on the periphery of Alexandria city and has even managed to continue her teaching role in one of the private schools in the vicinity.

“But in a new country, we had to start from scratch. The financial setback was so huge that I never had enough to cover my expenses. I always believed that a family business could help us find respite from this situation,” said Nashwa.

While the family was searching for a business idea, Nashwa’s daughter, Hadeel, came up with the suggestion of a mushroom plantation. She was studying at the Faculty of Agriculture in university and while working on her graduation project, she learned about growing mushrooms.
Nashwa demonstrates the mushroom plantation process ©ILO/Osama Mohamed

“We convinced a family friend to invest with us, as we had no capital of our own. While we had success in growing mushrooms, we had no experience in marketing and selling our products. This led to losses and dissuaded our friend from investing further. We had to shut down our business and were disappointed as our dream had crashed,” said Nashwa.

A few months later, Nashwa came across a Facebook post of the ILOwith our partner organization Caritas Egypt, inviting refugee and host communities to participate in GET Ahead (Gender and Entrepreneurship Together) training. GET Ahead aims to bridge the gender gap in entrepreneurship by offering both men and women an equal opportunity to start a business. The training sessions were supported by the ILO PROSPECTS Programme, a global partnership supported by the Government of the Netherlands on improving prospects for forcibly displaced persons and host communities.

“It came as a ray of hope. I had enrolled for the training merely with the hope of getting funds to start our business again, but during the sessions I realized the mistakes I had made in our earlier attempt. The training taught me about managing production, finances, distribution and many other aspects about which I had no real knowledge,” shared Nashwa.
Nashwa waters the new plantation of mushrooms ©ILO/Osama Mohamed

"When a dream crashes, it takes hope and resilience to rise again. With the support of the ILO PROSPECTS Programme's GET Ahead training, Nashwa found not just the funds but the knowledge and skills to turn her business around. Partnerships like these can bridge the gap between potential and successful entrepreneurs, regardless of their gender or background," said Sally Sobhy, Project Coordinator-Caritas Egypt.

Fuelled with revived enthusiasm and a better understanding of business management, Nashwa prepared a detailed business plan at the end of the training course. It helped her in getting shortlisted to receive a cash grant and start her business again. Unlike the first time, she conducted more thorough research for a better quality of soil and variety of mushrooms, which will give her a better yield.

“While my community was my primary market, I knew that I needed to scale up my distribution. Thus, I pursued a digital marketing training course with the support of GET Ahead trainers,” added Nashwa.

Her efforts paid off. Nashwa’s production has streamlined now and her online presence is helping her find more customers. The book keeping practices and maintenance of steady cash flow are also helping her generate decent turnover and even profits every month.

For me, it was most important to regain my self-esteem. I do not doubt my capabilities anymore, rather I feel happy that I managed to pursue my dream."

Nashwa, Entrepreneur from Egypt
“For me, it was most important to regain my self-esteem. I do not doubt my capabilities anymore, rather I feel happy that I managed to pursue my dream,” said Nashwa, who has now left her job as a teacher to stay invested in her business.

Her next ambition is to scale up her production even more and own a mushroom farm. She wants to ensure that all her family members can find work in her business and it becomes their family enterprise.

“As of today, the ILO PROSPECTS enterprise development programme has provided business development support to 1,500 refugee and Egyptian entrepreneurs. Soon, the programme will enroll another 1,000 participants to help them establish and/or grow their businesses," explained Mr Amir Obeid, Chief Technical Advisor for ILO PROSPECTS Egypt.

Know more about the ILO Get Ahead.