Bank of Palestine Boosts Women Entrepreneurs’ Confidence, Know-how

Tuesday 15th December 2015

Bank of PalestineOn Oct. 10, 2015, GBA member Bank of Palestine kicked off the first cohort of its Mini MBA Program, developed in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and offered under the bank’s Felestineya Women’s Market program.

The Mini MBA program is open to women who have owned and led a business in Palestine for at least 2 years, and have at least one employee. Graduates receive a Certificate in Women’s Entrepreneurship from the Bank of Palestine, IFC and other program partners. The program is competitive, with 40 women accepted from 143 applications.

The competitive nature of the Mini MBA is perhaps not surprising, given relatively high entrepreneurial desire among Palestinian women. The IFC found that 65 percent of Palestinian women have a desire to launch a business, although only 15 percent have done so. Among established women business owners, there is a strong desire to expand businesses. However, due to restricted mobility and socio-cultural barriers, Palestinian women lack access to critical resources to grow their businesses. With the program, Bank of Palestine is aiming to close those gaps.

The course covers a number of critical business skills, including branding, marketing, customer service, human resource management and financial management. The partners in the program, which apart from Bank of Palestine and IFC include Ernst & Young and local NGO Business Women’s Forum, are all contributing educational services, and Bank of Palestine is leveraging the experience and knowledge of key bank employees to provide coaching. The bank also pairs each participant with a Bank of Palestine Relationship Manager, who they have access to for the duration of the five-month program for a wide range of business advice and information.

BoP DaycareAfter only five sessions, the program is already having a strong impact. Participants report having a stronger strategic planning, business skills, and more confidence in running their businesses. Sandy Totah, a daycare owner, came into the program with no accounting system and no firm business plan. Since she started the program, she has been able to flesh out her business plan and think more strategically about growth.

“She realized that for her to fully achieve the success she’d been dreaming of, she needed to start thinking of it as a business,” said Raya Sbitany, Head of Business Development and Investor Relations at Bank of Palestine. “After only a few sessions, she is owning her identity as a businesswoman and has developed not just the skills, but the confidence she needs to achieve success.”

The program participants are also learning about the various financing options available to them. Bank of Palestine is offering several discounts as well as preferential rates on banking products, though it is not utilizing this program as a way to push products. Many Mini MBA program participants have already sought financing from the bank, in a country where although 36 percent of women borrowed money in 2014, only 2.7 percent borrowed from a financial institution, according to the Global Findex, instead borrowing from friends, family members or other informal sources. According to the IFC, over 60 percent of women-owned firms in Palestine have unmet financing needs, representing a potential credit need of US$147 million.

BoP MBA“It’s opening up a whole new level of doing business for them – growing your business through financing,” Mrs. Sbitany noted.

Bank of Palestine’s Felestineya (“Palestinian woman” in Arabic) Women’s Market program was launched in March 2015. In addition to the Mini MBA initiative, the program offers specialized financial products for women, like a collateral-free loan, a gold-guaranteed loan, and a children’s account – available thanks to a policy the bank developed that works around a law requiring fathers’ legal consent to open any account in a child’s name, just as GBA member BLC Bank of Lebanon has done. Additional services include financial awareness programs, an online business toolkit and networking events in partnership with Business Women’s Forum.

Given the Mini MBA’s success, Bank of Palestine intends to continue to have at least one new cohort of students per year, with plans to integrate previous program graduates as mentors.

“I had high expectations for this program, and it’s really exceeded all of them so far,” Mrs. Sbitany said.