This week, it's been amazing to participate alongside many industry peers and colleagues in New York City to learn about the work organizations are doing at the intersection of climate resilience and gender equity. As we celebrate #ClimateWeek and engage in important conversations that I hope move us impactfully forward toward climate-positive action, I’m excited to provide an update on MicroMentor’s Google.org Fellowship.
With support from Google.org, we’re aiming to improve resilience, business skills, and survival rates, to create and retain more jobs for female entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). As I’ve shared before, nine Google Fellows, technical experts working in a pro-bono capacity, are assisting MicroMentor and our partners to build a new, open-source mobile mentoring application that will launch in March 2024. Through the mobile app, MicroMentor aims to bridge the gender gap and support 1750 women entrepreneurs with the right business knowledge to support their growth, AND access to tools and 5000 mentors to improve their businesses’ climate resiliency and contribute to a more sustainable future in the MENA region and beyond.
We had the opportunity to connect directly with an enterprising MicroMentor entrepreneur from the MENA region, Aseel Jafaar. She’s from Lebanon and working to expand her 3-year-old green business globally. I hope hearing the direct account of Aseel's journey in building and growing a green business is as inspiring and insightful for you as it is to us:
Q: Tell us about your green business and why you started it.
A: My parents always had an interest in agriculture and the idea for my business came in 2020 when Lebanon first had the inflation crisis. I have always seen tree leaves on the ground wherever I go since we live in the Beqaa area, the village is full of trees and people used to collect those leaves and burn them, so I searched online if I could use those leaves for something else and that’s where the idea came from. My green enterprise is "Cultiva'' and we produce organic and chemical-free potting mixes and compost. I started my business because I wanted to help my village find better ways to clean the leaves other than burning so it’s important to me. Right now, our packaging is totally biodegradable.
Q: Are there challenges you experienced as a female entrepreneur/business owner?
A: Of course, I did as a woman. People told me not to do it and it's not for females like me, but I found my way. I didn’t have access to people to get advice at first, so I used to go online and search for how to do things. That's when I found MicroMentor.
When I first started my business, no one believed in me. Farmers did not want to buy my product as Lebanese produce is not famous. But when the financial problems hit Lebanon in 2020, farmers started to buy from me as other products were unavailable or more expensive. When they tried my product, it was very effective and cheaper. I had spent a lot of time creating the right formula. Now, I’ve grown to two branches. We started from nothing and 3 years later we have 25 employees and 10% of the market share. We dream big!
Q: What type of support do you need to continue your growth?
A: We would like to have a market share in Europe and the Middle East. The kind of support we need for this expansion is to understand how to get into the market, how do I source my product and open branches. Right now, we don’t know how to do that and it's not a good idea to get involved in other markets blind.
Q: How has mentorship supported your business so far?
A: For me, it’s better if you have 50 thousand and you know what to do with it with help from a mentor rather than having a million with no idea how to do things. That’s why for me getting good advice was crucial. I did not understand what sales and marketing are and I wasted time and money because of that and that’s why mentorship is important.
Q: What type of training content, or resources would be helpful for you to make your business more climate-resilient?
A: Anything would be helpful, it's always a very important thing to keep up with the updates. It helps us measure the risks and benefits of future findings and how we can keep our business as green as possible
Q: Why do you care about building a more sustainable business?
A: Because I love nature and I want to preserve it.
Aseel primarily uses her phone for her business – so the idea of a mobile app is very appealing to her. Having access to climate resiliency information on the app will help Aseel, and other entrepreneurs like her, make business decisions that directly impact her community for the better, especially as the effects of climate change increasingly impact local farmers in the MENA region and beyond. Our new mentoring app will offer training and tools to help micro, small, and medium enterprises, and the mentors supporting them, adapt their business practices to increase their climate resiliency, green business practice tools, and high-impact content to decrease their carbon footprint.
We’re thrilled to develop this mobile app with the support of Google.org and the incredible talent of the Google.org Fellows. It will be game-changing for the sector and help close the gap in social capital for underrepresented global entrepreneurs like Aseel with the power of human connection. This has been an exciting project so far and there’s so much more to come. Stay tuned!
Here’s a sneak peek of our progress so far.