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Impact of COVID-19 on Syrian refugees

While the UNCHR counts nearly 670,000 registered Syrian refugees living in Jordan, the true number of Syrians who fled there is estimated to more than double that figure. This influx of refugees has placed continuous strain on Jordan’s economy and resources and meant that economic growth was already slow when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Jordan imposed one of the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world, closing its borders and forcing all but essential businesses to close for weeks. The extended disruption to business activities caused unemployment to reach record highs in 2020 and the country posted its first recession in decades. As they were already vulnerable, the crisis has affected refugees most severely. For many, the struggle to survive is greater than ever.

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35% of previously employed Syrians permanently lost their jobs

Unemployment among refugees was already high before the pandemic and many of them only had informal or irregular work. This made refugee workers much more likely to lose their jobs and 35% said that they were permanently laid of due to crisis, compared to 17% of Jordanians who had the same experience.

18 percentage point increase in poverty rate among Syrian refugees

Poverty was also already a serious problem among refugees and four out of five of them lived below the international poverty line of $5.5 per day. Yet, COVID-19 increased the poverty rate among Syrian refugees by another 18 percentage points. This means that poverty is now almost universal among them.

132,000 Syrian refugees outside camps are food insecure

The loss of income and job opportunities means that more Syrian refugees are also going hungry, with 21% of refugee households experiencing food insecurity, compared to 14% in 2018. This means that 132,000 individuals outside of refugee camps does not have reliable access to food.

59% of households limit food intake by adults for children to eat

As more and more refugees find themselves vulnerable to hunger, many households are being forced to resort to negative coping strategies. Child labour and early marriage has increase and in 59% of refugee households, adults are eating less to make sure children can be fed. In 2018, only 30% of refugee households were experiencing this level of need.

Sources: ILO, WFP, UNCHR


For Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan to relocate since war broke out in their country in 2011, formal employment is the first and foremost means of ensuring a decent livelihood and eventual economic integration. This has placed a huge strain on economic infrastructure, service delivery and employment avenues alike.

The Nomou Jordan Fund supports Syrian refugee and migrant-owned businesses in Jordan by providing them with a unique combination of access to finance, business development skills and market linkages, as well as Jordanian SMEs that employ and support the livelihoods of Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugee entrepreneur gets vital support to sustain manufacturing business

When Basil Qassab fled from Syria to Jordan to ensure the safety of his family, he was left unemployed for nearly two years. It was 2011, and only the beginning of the crippling conflict that still drags on today. A decade later, nearly 670,000 registered Syrian refugees still reside in Jordan. Most still live under the poverty line, according to the UNCHR.

As Syrians were not yet granted work permits when Basil arrived in the country, he knew he had to become an entrepreneur if he were to survive. Ala’a Sabha, a Jordanian who was to become Basil’s business partner, first introduced him to the world of paper cup manufacturing. Ala’a and his brother were already running a successful printing business and recognised the opportunity to start manufacturing paper cups in Jordan.

“He had studied the market and I found the opportunity very promising. I decided to take on the challenge – especially since I didn’t have any other job opportunity at the time,” Basil says. 

The partners started producing paper cups with two machines in 2013. Today the business, Al Haramein, produces a wide range of paper cups for hot and cold beverages at a facility with 32 production machines. Last year, the Nomou Jordan Fund (NJF) provided Al Haramein with financing to expand even further. The business was growing rapidly, sales were increasing, and it started exporting to neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Then COVID-19 struck.  

Strict domestic lockdowns, the global economic slowdown, trade disruptions, and the suspension of international travel have placed severe pressure on Jordan’s economy and businesses like Al Haramein. According to the country’s Department of Statistics, GDP growth slowed to 1.3% in annual terms during the first quarter and then contracted by 3.6% in the second. The manufacturing sector also contracted by 5.3% in the second quarter.  

Lockdown measures forced Al Haramein to close its factory for two weeks and it could only operate at minimal production capacity for almost three months. Coupled with border closures which affected exports, these measures severely impacted Al Haramein’s sales. The business also struggled to collect outstanding payments from its clients.

“The pandemic affected us in many ways including reduced mobility of employees and production halts. Sales and exports declined, while expenses associated with shipping and maintenance increased,” Basil explains. 

The NJF granted Al Haramein a 3-month concession on its loan repayments to overcome the gap in its cashflow.

“This concession helped us balance our cash inflows and outflows more effectively in these difficult market conditions and to return to near-normal cash flow management in a shorter period,” Basil says.   

GroFin Jordan’s advice to Al Haramein, in combination with the payment concession, helped the partners to better manage their cashflow. The business could maintain sufficient inventory levels without falling behind on its commitments to others. GroFin advised Al Haramein to switch to online transactions wherever possible online and to improve its ESG practices and health and safety measures amidst the pandemic.  

Despite their challenges, it was important for the entrepreneurs to maintain their 75 employees. Ahmad Hamdan has been working as warehouse keeper at Al Haramein for two years. He supports seven people including his young children, mother, and sisters and says many people in his community have lost their jobs.

I am very thankful that I was able to continue working and receive my salary especially as I have many commitments and I am the sole provider for my family.” 

Basil says the emotional support GroFin provided them was also invaluable.“I was overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and stress. GroFin followed up with us regularly to make sure we are addressing all key issues. We felt we had a real partner and not just a financier. We felt that we were not alone in our fight against the tough economic conditions.”  

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

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.

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.

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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.