Palestine - Increasing Market Opportunities for Disadvantaged Women in the West Bank
The people of the West Bank are surrounded by walls and most have no ability to leave an area roughly the size of Vermont. Many will spend their entire lives being watched by Soldiers and security cameras who do their best to oversee all movement and restrict the influence of competing ideals to the Jewish State. The Israeli Palestinian conflict has created an extremely hostile environment for business and employment in the region. Palestinian women have been particularly impacted by soaring unemployment and limited opportunity as the result of living in austere conditions under an authoritarian state. Road closures, checkpoints and armed conflict are just some of the daily occurrences that have become normal in the region. In light of these hardships, Child’s Cup Full (CCF) has emerged with a mission of employing disadvantaged Muslim and Christian women in the West Bank and creating lasting economic growth. This organization has high hopes of reversing the current roadmap for their employees and contributing to the economic growth of the region.
The founder of CCF, Dr. Janette Habashi, created two brands to support the missions of this nonprofit. The first is Darzah, which makes custom tatreez handbags and shoes. The second is Zeki Learning, which makes children’s educational toys in English, Arabic and Spanish. Both brands have focused their sales efforts in the US market with a concentration on educational institutions and major retailers. Zeki Learning’s products are Fair Trade certified, handmade and consist of recycled materials. They have a mission driven story that identifies with US consumers and a motivated, adaptive and resilient workforce.
What was the Problem?
Zeki is encountering challenges in their sales strategy. Sales are sporadic which leads to lack of consistency in providing regular work for those women employed. Most of CCF’s resources have been dedicated to promoting sales in the Darzah brand, while internal operations are informal and lack standardization. CCF has been looking to increase sales to provide jobs to more disadvantaged women. The BOTFL team was asked to assist in creating an investment plan to substantially expand CCF’s operations in artisanal production of textiles, in particular, of educational children’s toys. Special focus was needed on identifying potential markets, optimizing the current supply chain, evaluating potential funding sources, and supporting grant submission and writing. Improvements in these areas would assist CCF in scaling sustainably.
What did we do?
Prior to our departure to the West Bank, the team completed extensive market research in the toy industry both in the United States and in Palestine. Dozens of interviews with subject matter experts and Palestinian Americans provided much needed context and direction in shaping the team’s plan of action. Upon arriving to the West Bank, the first few days were dedicated to learning about the environments these women lived in and the challenges they faced every day. Time was spent with each of them, observing and learning about their roles and responsibilities, their backgrounds, and the difficulties posed by the ongoing conflict.
The team also traveled the routes CCF regularly uses to purchase supplies for their operations. Trips to Nablus, Jenin and Bethlehem were vital in understanding the resourcing of materials and logistics of CCF’s production operations. A series of meetings were held with local academics at Palestinian Universities, local government leaders, educational leadership, and local business owners. This information collection on the ground proved to be very important to the recommendations of this BOTFL team.
The outbreak of COVID-19 forced the team to depart Palestine early and reorganize in Jerusalem. The change was unexpected, but the team adapted by exploring the domestic market possibilities for Zeki products within Israel and conducting scheduled interviews and meetings remotely. Valuable opportunities exploring the tourist market and possible sales channels were explored in this time of great uncertainty. Eventually, the team was recalled to the United States in the height the international lockdown period.
Although the time in country was shortened due to the global pandemic, the entirety of the trip to Palestine was extremely valuable in learning about CCF, its operations, its work force, and their challenges. Without this experience, the team would not have gained as valuable of insights to share with the partner or to the women of this organization.
What was the turning point?
In analyzing Zeki’s sales strategy and meeting with educational professionals in the US, the team realized that educational institutions rarely had the budget for consistent, reliable purchasing. Schools often make one purchase of toys that will last them for years. Speaking with retail buyers also revealed that significant testing and certifications would be needed for major companies to be interested. After looking through CCF’s sales demographics, it became clear that a shift needed to be made away from schools and major retailers to a Direct to Consumer (DTC) strategy through online platforms. It is a much needed change that could set Zeki up to achieve the volume of sales required.
Following in country interviews with educators and school leadership, the team discovered that Arabic themed educational toys were Zeki’s competitive advantage in the market. Many had never seen anything like Zeki Arabic toys before. Further research revealed a gap in the toy market for these Arabic themed products.
The first days on ground with the women of CCF provided a true understanding of the company’s internal operations and standards. It became obvious very quickly that there were some simple changes that could increase efficiency and decrease spending and waste for both brands. These little victories will have dramatic results in saving time and resources for a company that is looking to improve.
What was the recommendation?
Dr. Habashi was extremely open to working on all areas of the organization. This BOTFL team provided recommendations in every aspect of CCF’s operations. The primary recommendations were to implement a brand strategy to shape business and marketing decisions. This strategy lays the framework for a DTC sales strategy in the United States and targeted outreach to tourist shops and private schools. Additionally, a focus on Arabic themed children’s educational toys was recommended after discovering an absence of such products in both the US and Palestinian markets, providing an entirely new domestic opportunity for the company to benefit from. Direction was provided to pursue legal protection and attain copyrights for all CCF brands and products. The team also provided a list of internal operations recommendations that would optimize work in Palestine and assist in educating the CCF workforce on new skill sets. Recommendations on grant selection and submission were also incorporated.