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In the bag: Recycling keeps EcoPlastic going despite COVID-19

“I had an idea to look for what I can do for myself with all the plastic bags scattered everywhere in the country”

Habamungu Wenceslas – Entrepreneur behind EcoPlastics

EcoPlastic, a recycling business in Rwanda, collects 88 tons of plastic waste every year and turns it into new plastic bags, tubing, and sheeting. Habamungu Wenceslas, the entrepreneur behind EcoPlastics, recognised the business opportunity when Rwanda passed a law banning the use and importation of plastic bags. “I had an idea to look for what I can do for myself with all the plastic bags scattered everywhere in the country,” he says.

Habamungu approached GroFin for financing in 2017 to purchase new equipment to expand EcoPlastic’s production capacity. By the end of 2019, he had managed to grow the business’s sales by over 400% compared to its early years of trading in 2010 and 2011. But when COVID-19 struck earlier this year, EcoPlastic was forced to close completely for two weeks and the impact of the pandemic on its customers suddenly saw the business’s sales plummet.

“Our main customers were also forced to close. Some – like hotels, restaurants, and the airport – are still closed for the moment.”

Habamungu says COVID-19 has also made it more difficult and costly to import raw materials.

“Trucks have to stay on the border for several days due to compliance checks and this has increased transport costs by 10%. Luckily, part of my business does not require imported raw materials so production could continue – although at a lower level.”

As part of our efforts to support our SME clients, GroFin developed a specially designed Resilience Tool Kit to guide them in protecting their revenue and reducing their expenses. We assisted Habamungu in conducting a rigorous cashflow stress test to gauge the expected impact of the pandemic on four aspects of his business: demand, supply chain, staff, and finances. We also provided him with a COVID-19 ESG Framework to better protect his staff and customers from infection.

Habamungu says GroFin has not only provided him with moral support during this difficult time but also helped his business to remain profitable. For example, GroFin advised him to shift some production teams to work at night when electricity costs are lower and to focus on acquiring more local plastic waste as raw material rather than relying on imports.

“Instead of losing confidence, we continued to focus on marketing strategies and how we can expand our collection areas. It made me realise that even if we are in difficult times, we will resume and grow the company.”

EcoPlastic directly employs 54 people and supports another 35 who collects plastic waste for recycling. Despite the setbacks caused by COVID-19, Habamungu chose to retain all his employees and continued to pay their full salaries.

Nzeyimana Fidele has been working as an accountant at EcoPlastic for more than two years. He supports his spouse, two young children and a domestic worker. Nzeyimana says the pandemic has already cost some members of his extended family their jobs.

“We are forced to make some contribution to support them as our family and this comes as food prices are increasing due to supplies issues caused by COVID-19.”

Nzeyimana Fidele, Accountant for EcoPlastic

He says he feels very lucky to have been able to keep his job at EcoPlastic despite the crisis.

“It made me happy. I cannot explain the joy that I feel. There is hope.”

GroFin helps Saboba survive COVID-19 lockdown in Jordan

When the first cases of COVID-19 were detected there in mid-March-2020, Jordan’s government quickly responded by imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Jordanians were completely confined to their homes for several days and later only allowed to venture out to purchase food and essential items.

Although restrictions were later gradually eased, the impact on Jordan’s economy was severe and small businesses bore the brunt of it. Al-Mutamayeza for Frozen Food Trading, which trades under the name Saboba, is a Jordanian wholesaler distributing high-quality frozen and processed meat and poultry products. The Nomou Jordan Fund has provided Saboba with three rounds of funding from 2014 to 2017. ​

Saboba had to cease production during the period of strict lockdown and could only resume its operations at the end of May. Although its food products could still be sold, the restrictions and their impact on the economy caused a drop of more than 60% in Saboba’s sales and a delay in payments from many of its customers. The lockdown also took effect right at the time Saboba planned to install a new production line and its newly imported equipment was left stuck in customs. ​

​While nearly all activity in the country had ground to a halt, GroFin Jordan reached out to key decision-makers to arrange the release of equipment that were shipped to Saboba’s supplier (partially owned by Saboba’s shareholders) in order to avoid severe delays in setting up the new production line. And further to its business support offering, GroFin Jordan also introduced the client to logistics service providers to help move and install the machinery and assisted the business in obtaining the necessary permits to resume production.

“We managed to get our new machinery, could meet demand, and maintain the brand’s reputation. The company was under the threat of closure. The support offered by GroFin Jordan meant we survived and are back in business”

Raed Mustafa Saboba, owner of the business

Saboba employs 15 people. Salah Ali Hasan Qatam has been working in Saboba’s warehouse since 2008. He supports his wife and five children, aged 13 to 24.

“I am very proud to have this job as it enables me to define my future and that of my family. Working here allows me to save some money for my children. I also hope that I will be able to buy a house instead of paying rent.”

Salah Ali Hasan Qatam, Saboba employee

Gold Box: A small business baking it big

I have always been entrepreneurially minded and when my spouse started developing an entrepreneurial spirit in 2014, I knew something good was in the offing for us.

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Jordan SME grows while rebuilding lives of Syrian refugees

Arabella for Aluminium provides employment opportunities to refugees in one of Jordan’s poorest governates.

Former lawyer, Mohamed Darwish, is lucky to have a job on Arabella’s factory floor. Darwish is one of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees presently living in Jordan. His family may have escaped the death and destruction of war when they fled from Aleppo in Syria, but building a new life is not easy.

With close to a third of Jordan’s private sector labour force employed by SMEs, the sector has a crucial role to play in addressing the refugee crisis. And with Arabella located just a few kilometres away from the Zaatari Refugee Camp in the Governate or Irbid, this SME offers a rare employment opportunity at a decent wage to both Syrians and local workers.

Under the Nomou Programme, Arabella is a GroFin Jordan SME client that specialises in aluminum extrusion, fabrication, decoration, and surface treatment & coating. In 2015, GroFin provided the company with financing to purchase equipment and complete infrastructure work at its new production site. But only a few months after it started operations, an unexpected halt in production could easily have seen the business fail.

When cracks appeared in three of the company’s extrusion press containers – which are crucial to its production process – it had no choice but to halt operations. Two of the containers were shipped to Thailand for repairs and while the third was repaired locally, the process still took several months.

Arabella was soon unable to meet its obligations to GroFin and would have defaulted under a traditional financing framework – likely forfeiting its assets and going under. However, GroFin’s model provides room to adapt its financing to the needs of the client and was able to devise an alternative payment plan to allow Arabella to overcome this difficult period.

“Not all business support is about increasing sales and revenue. It is also about helping the client to survive and overcome tough times.”

Wael Sunna, Investment Manager at GroFin Jordan, says small and medium-sized businesses are extremely vulnerable to shocks and the ability to overcome such unexpected setbacks is key to their survival. “Not all business support is about increasing sales and revenue. It is also about helping the client to survive and overcome tough times,” Sunna explains.

GroFin has also provided Arabella with further advice to improve its cash flow through negotiating better payment terms with suppliers and improving collections from clients through shorter payment terms. In 2017, GroFin provided the company with additional funding needed to boost its stock of aluminum pellets to meet higher demand for its products.

With GroFin’s support, Arabella has been able to continuously increase its production and sales. At the end of 2018, the company employed 84 workers, compared to 49 a year before, 20% of whom are Syrians. Arabella continues to grow and is expanding its production facilities even further through the addition of a new furnace for processing scrap aluminum.

“GroFin became our partner when banks refused our loan applications. In the beginning we were short of experience, but we found all the support we needed in GroFin.”

Mr. Sobhi Al Zubi, the entrepreneur behind Arabella, says he will never forget GroFin’s support and loyalty to his business. “GroFin became our partner when banks refused our loan applications. In the beginning we were short of experience, but we found all the support we needed in GroFin. They were there to help us with everything from planning to marketing and sales,” he says.

Sobhi says perseverance and determination were crucial to his success.

“I am always positive, despite the setbacks. I always keep looking forward – never back. You have to feel successful on the inside, then even people who start from nothing can become successful.”

Learn more about the The Nomou Programme and GroFin funding and business support for entrepreneurs and SMEs in the Middle East.

Nigerian entrepreneur paints it forward


Successful paint dealer now trains women to start their own businesses

My vision for the company is to become the leading coating company in the country and to create jobs for thousands of Nigerians.

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Facing Jordan’s SME challenges & growing in frozen food market

Small and medium-sized businesses employ around a third of Jordan’s private-sector labour force. Yet, World Bank Enterprise Survey data shows that nearly 49% of small and 33% of medium-sized businesses in the country still cite access to finance as a major constraint to their growth.

GroFin allowed Al-Mutamayeza for Frozen Food Trading, which trades under the name Saboba, to overcome this challenge by providing the business with three successive rounds of financing. The company distributes high-quality frozen and processed meat and poultry products. Thanks to GroFin’s investments and continued business support it was able to expand into new geographical regions in Jordan, venture into new market segments and broadened its product range.

Raed and Mohammad Saboba founded the company bearing their name in 2007 in Zarqa, Jordan. They first approached GroFin in 2013 to finance the purchase of additional inventory to expand the distribution network of the business. GroFin also supported Saboba in the formalisation of its business plan and financial projections, equipping the entrepreneurs to monitor progress against the forecasted plan to better identify areas of improvement.

As Saboba grew, GroFin continued to work closely with the business to optimise its product range and pricing, as well as its brand positioning and marketing reach. In 2015, GroFin encouraged Saboba to explore new markets and provided the business with financing to introduce new products targeting hotels, restaurants and catering companies. In response to GroFin’s advice to diversify its product range, Soboba later obtained additional financing to acquire the right to distribute a global brand of powdered milk and other dairy products in Jordan.

Due to the success and improved profitability the company has achieved since partnering with GroFin, Saboba has acquired new premises and its brand is now well-known in Jordan.

“GroFin’s financial and business support resulted in extending our geographical coverage, increasing our number of products from 12 to 25, hiring new employees, and growing sales by over 15% annually,” says Raed Saboba, co-owner of the business.

Saboba currently employs 35 workers, compared to 21 at the time of GroFin’s first investment. However, the company’s growth has not only allowed it to create new job opportunities, but also to enhance the life and careers of its employees. Wafaa Tom is a female employee who joined Saboda in 2016 and heads up the company’s finance department.

“The growth in the company’s operations impacted my knowledge and enriched my career as I am currently dealing with bigger transactions related to a number of reputable customers.”

Alaa Al Faqeer, another female employee at Saboba, says she struggled to find a job with a decent salary as she did not have any tertiary education. All of this changed when a friend encouraged her to apply for a job at Saboba.

“Saboba paid for my tuition to enrol at university and I received a degree in Accounting, which helped me to further develop my career. When I got engaged, Saboba also generously participated in my wedding expenses, as my husband and I could not fulfil all of them,” she says.

GroFin Jordan - SabobaGroFin Jordan - SabobaGroFin Jordan - Saboba

At a mere 14.4%, the World Bank points out that Jordan’s female labour force participation rate is the lowest in the world for a country not at war. This is despite the fact that women comprise more than half of Jordanian university graduates. Gender discrimination in hiring practices contributes to this number, as well as to the country’s high female unemployment rate of nearly 24%. With GroFin’s support, Saboba has empowered Tom and Al Faqeer to overcome these barriers.

Rwanda woman entrepreneur lifts local community out of poverty

Agasaro Organic helps local farmers by adding value to their produce

Pineapples grow easily in the fertile soil of the Nyamasheke District in Rwanda’s Western province. But with the fruit in such high supply during the harvest season and no local means available to process it, farmers here have always struggled to get a decent price for their produce.

As in the rest of the country, agriculture is the main source of income for many households. The Rwandan economy may boast a low unemployment rate, but national labour statistics show that over 60% of the country’s workers are in fact self-employed in the agricultural sector. These subsistence farmers typically have little control over the prices they are paid for their produce and so remain trapped by poverty. Women are also most likely to bear the brunt of poverty as, according to Oxfam, they head close to a third of agricultural households and provide almost two thirds of the labour on family farms.

Agasaro Organic is helping to change this for the 552 farmers in Nyamasheke who now act as its contracted suppliers, Agasaro is a woman-owned business which processes pineapple, maracuja, strawberry, honey and other agricultural products to make organic juices and biscuits.

Agasaro not only offers farmers fair pricing, but also assists them with training and fertilisers to improve their yield. Sindayigaya John (33), a pineapple farmer who employs 25 workers to work his land, says working with Agasaro has allowed him to earn more than double the income he did when he sold his fruit at local markets:

“Working with Agasaro has improved our lives. My two children are now going to a better school and I am paying my employees’ salaries on time, which has also improved their lives. My vision is to one day also start a business like Agasaro.”

Isimwe Noella (26), also farms pineapples with her parents and five brothers. The family supplies three tons of fruit to Agasaro every week to earn around Rwf1,500,000. Before they could only make Rwf200,000 to 300,000 at local markets:

“The quality of my crops has also improved because of the assistance and fertilisers which Agasaro provides us. Working with Agasaro has financially transformed our lives at home,” Noella says.

While Agasaro’s were increasing steadily, inadequate packaging equipment was limiting its ability to increase production. In 2017, a lack of packaging materials even started to impede sales growth. Agasaro and other Rwandan manufactures previously relied on imports from Kenya to obtain plastic packaging. But stringent new Kenyan legislation banned the use of manufacturing of certain types of plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.

Isabelle Uzamukunda, the owner and managing director of Agasaro, approached GroFin for working capital to finance the purchase of new packaging machines to help address this shortage. As part of its business support offering, GroFin assisted Uzamukunda in the selection of appropriate packaging machines and helped her to review her business plan.

Uzamukunda says the financing and support she has received from GroFin has helped to increase Agasaro’s sales and staff complement:

“Before receiving GroFin’s support my monthly sales were never above Rwf20.2 million. Now my current turnover stands at Rwf29 to 30 million. I had 16 staff members, but now my team has grown to 26 employees.”

Ntwali Victor (34) is one of these new employees. Victor tried to support his wife and child by doing casual or temporary jobs before he started working as an electrician at Agasaro a year ago. His wife couldn’t find permanent work either but earning a steady salary has helped to change that too:

“I paid for my wife to complete technical school and now she has a small sewing business. I can pay my rent on time, pay for medical services and send my child to a better school. We were two jobless people at home – now one of us has a permanent job and the other a business to run.”

GroFin has also assisted the business with networking and market identification and Uzamukunda says this has helped Agasaro to qualify for grants from different donors:

“I have the contract for a $199,000 grant for the construction of a modern plant in-hand and signed. This is all because of GroFin’s financial support and business advice which have taken me to another level as a businesswoman.”

Former President Jakaya Kikwete visits Binti Africa Clothing Workshop

Former president Jakaya Kikwete has urged Tanzanians to support the local fashion industry and praised local fashion houses for producing high-quality clothing of international standards.

Mr Kikwete made these remarks during a recent visit to Binti Africa in February, the fashion house from which he has been buying his vintage African print shirts since his presidential tenure. Binti Africa specialises in the production of clothing from African textiles. It is the only fashion house styling the officials of the Tanzanian Government, with the current vice president of Tanzania, Honorable Samia Hassan Suluhu, among its clients.

Mr Kikwete was very impressed by Binti Africa’s workshop and the creativity and quality of its current designs. He congratulated Johari Sadiq, fashion designed and CEO, on being self-employed and for producing top-quality clothing which can compete in the global market.

Johari Sadiq, CEO of Binti Africa and GroFin Tanzania Entrepreneur

Johari Sadiq, CEO of Binti Africa and GroFin Tanzania Entrepreneur

Mrs Sadiq founded Binti Africa in 2009 at the age of only 23, but with no business background or experience in the fashion industry she struggled to access finance to grow the business. The ILO Women Entrepreneurs Survey 2014 revealed that 85% of women interviewed in Tanzania financed their start-ups from their own savings, mainly due to high interest rates and collateral requirements. It also indicated that access to business development services (BDS) is crucial for women entrepreneurs to strengthen their capacity to start, effectively manage and grow their business.

But Mrs Sadiq’s passion for fashion led her to persevere and 2016 she obtained the finance she needed to set up a modern factory from GroFin, a pioneering private development financial institution which specialises in financing and supporting small and growing businesses across Africa and the Middle East. GroFin provided Binti Africa with funding to acquire modern equipment and high-quality fabrics which enabled it to create the exquisite garments it has become known for.

“My advice to other women entrepreneurs is to never be afraid of failure. Massive failure leads to massive success. Take risks, be open to learning lessons and take criticism well. Believe in yourself, because what a man can do, a woman can do just as well,” Mrs Sadiq said about her journey as a women entrepreneur during an interview with GroFin last year.