Date: Wednesday, December 23, 2020

 

Nida Hilaneh is using her business to support marginalized women in her community.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nida Hillaneh.

33-year-old Nida Hilaneh lives in the village of Ein Areek, west of Ramallah City, with her parents and siblings. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in Accounting, she worked at international private sector companies but her real passion was sports, so she decided to open a gym for marginalized women in Shuqba, where she works as a coach. Later on, she joined UN Women’s “One Stop Shop” project, a business development service hub providing technical and financial services to women-led Micro, Small and Medium enterprises. This UN Women-supported programme is implemented by the Business Women Forum in partnership with Headway Academy and funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.

I have always supported marginalized women in my community. So, I decided to open a women’s only gym in the nearby village of Shuqba where many marginalized women live.

In the beginning, they were hesitant to come to the gym. They were also afraid of social and religious barriers related to coming to the gym and were concerned about privacy. Changing the social and stereotypical image of women in that area was a challenge. They believed that women should not go to some places alone without a chaperon. I also faced political barriers including Israeli military checkpoints along the road between my village and Shuqba.

During the first few months, only a few women joined the gym. I started to help them improve their health, work and financial conditions. I guided women who were suffering from health problems such as osteoporosis to care for their physical and mental health and support their families. These women were under 30 years old.

I am proud to promote a culture of healthy life for women in the village. I also encouraged many of them to look for a job or start their own business to achieve economic independence. That was one of the key drivers behind my determination to keep my business alive despite all the challenges and complexities.

Submitting my application to join UN Women’s One stop Shop project was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. The programme has changed the path of my business. It enabled me to develop my business skills and expand my relationships’ network with women members. The project also drew my attention to the importance of having an action plan for my business.

As part of the project, I bought a treadmill and other equipment to make the training more effective. I also received training from a dietitian which helped me support women suffering health problems. I helped them recover and improve through sport training. I was happy to see the number of Gym members increased from 5 to 70 after the guidance and financial support that I received from the project.

Through the network of women built from the ‘One-Stop-Shop’ Project, I attended several workshops and conferences to tell my story to other women entrepreneurs. I was invited by the Bank of Palestine to attend a “mini MBA” program as a key speaker and influencer. I was also invited to attend a round table meeting in the presence of the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands. We discussed the challenges and hardships we face as Palestinian entrepreneurs. After the project ended, I was able to take on an employee, which made me very proud since one of my goals is to empower women economically.

My business was considerably affected by COVID-19. I was respecting the lockdown measures imposed by the Government to prevent the spread of the pandemic. The Gym was closed for a long period and many members left. Nowadays, I only have 20-25 members. But thanks to the skills I gained at the One Stop Shop Project, I managed to keep the gym open. Having improved my critical thinking and problem-solving skills, I found alternatives to keep the business active during the lockdown and gave free training courses for women using virtual platforms, although it was a challenge, as I had to teach them first how to use the mobile applications.

I advise all women to believe in their business, ideas, dreams and talents. Once you have the determination to make your business a success and take the first step, you leave no space for failure. Set your goal and work for it. Look for advocacy and support groups. Do not wait for financial support from others. Help yourself and you shall succeed!