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Yezidi Women Learn, Earn, and Thrive

Creating a thriving community-based enterprise

In 2020, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) opened bidding for an organization to take over its Khanke carpet-making factory, located outside a large IDP camp in Duhok province, Iraq. The factory was created to train and support Yezidi women. The Yezidi population is one of the most persecuted ethnoreligious minorities in the world, and has been primarily left with no homes, limited education, and lacking financial means for recovery. Since the Yezidi Genocide perpetrated by ISIS in 2014, most of the population remains displaced, living in IDP camps in Iraq.

The IOM identified funding and built a new facility to help Yezidi women, victims of the genocide, through training and a monthly stipend.

The Yezidi population is one of the most persecuted ethnoreligious minorities in the world, and has been primarily left with no homes, limited education, and lacking financial means for recovery.

Women were welcomed into the program, trained on textile creation (if needed), and given a monthly stipend for the work they produced. Regardless of whether the women created textile pieces, how long it took them to do so, or the cost of materials selected, the monthly stipend was always received and in the same amount. While the aid and training were welcomed, any long-term success would require the Yezidi craftswomen to engage in product decision-making and how to gauge material costs, time invested, and adapt decisions to the market.

Woman working loom at Yezidi Rug Factory

From handouts to a hand up

Pari Ibrahim, the young founder and Executive Director of the Free Yezidi Foundation, worked with FYF team members and her Board of Directors to develop and submit a proposal to reframe the facility as FYF’s Enterprise & Training Center (ETC). Speaking with Ms. Ibrahim, she says, “We need to start investing in success and sustainability, not dependency on aid without a plan for business models that can be maintained in the future. FYF is still seeking core funding to bolster our ETC for the next 2-3 years. But after that, this business will succeed and thrive without external support. If this model can be replicated, we could see our community advance from desperation and recovery to self-reliance, economic strength, and sufficiency. For our human rights and the safety of our minority community, I believe small business and enterprise are key elements for our defense.”

We need to start investing in success and sustainability, not dependency on aid without a plan for business models that can be maintained in the future.

The Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF) won the bid and was selected to take over the facility. Ms. Ibrahim, a Yezidi woman who escaped Iraq with her family as a child, knew the Yezidi women artisans could do more. With her and her team’s intimate knowledge of the Yezidis, the harsh living conditions in Iraq, and local product demand, combined with their belief that these women deserved better and more, the Enterprise & Training Center (ETC) was born.

Through activities, trainings, and enterprise opportunities, program participants are provided the chance to develop tools, improve their economic prospects, collect relevant information, and begin earning income. Earning is the operative word here.

A thriving community of independently sustained artisans

The FYF Craft & Enterprise Center housed within FYF’s Enterprise and Training Center (ETC), undertook a new business model. The Craft & Enterprise Center was redesigned as a hub for training, enterprise, and the scaling up of Yezidis’ prospects for economic activity and self- sufficiency in the form of an artisan’s collective.

If this model can be replicated, we could see our community advance from desperation and recovery to self-reliance, economic strength, and sufficiency.

Women makers are now allowed to choose which textile items they wish to make. Inherent within this is the development of business acumen. For example, while a rug may take 30 days to produce, and sell for $2-300 USD, blankets take far less time, as do small textile handcrafts. They sell for much less, but can be made more quickly and, often, sold more readily.

Yezidi Rug Factory Woman holding rugOn a monthly basis, program participants decide how much time they wish to invest: 30-days on one rug or far less time creating multiple, smaller products. FYF provides the raw materials, the guards, and the electricity. Meanwhile, the artisans determine which wool they will use (some wools are more expensive than others), which colors they will incorporate, and lastly – the design of their textiles.

A portion of the product revenue helps cover operating costs, and FYF covers the rest. The artisans receive the lion’s share of the direct profit from their own work, rather than a predetermined handout. In turn, the women’s business sense increases month-over-month. These Yezidi women are empowered to assess their evolving financial needs, which may drive their monthly production planning. Not surprisingly, this business model resulted in more products sold in the first few months than the previous years combined.

While transforming the artisanal program, FYF simultaneously adopted a self-sustaining business model with the newly established Sugar is Sweet Café, also located within the ETC campus. Utilizing the same spirit of local training and development, the café is not only developing Yezidi bakers, managers, marketers, and café staff, it has created a place of joy and gathering, not just catering to the Yezidi community, but welcoming all in to taste, celebrate, and gather. Both the café and the textile factory regularly welcome foreign visitors as well as hosting local birthday parties and engagements. What the visitors find in both facilities, beyond beautiful crafts and food, are women who are building self-sufficiency, community, and self-directed decision-making.

tea on woven rug

FYF’s Craft & Enterprise Center and Sugar is Sweet Café are currently open for in-person shopping at our ETC, located just outside the Khanke IDP camp. The GIS coordinates for the Crafts & Enterprise Center are 36.7774448, 42.7810635.

Susan Barrows Libby is a Development and Communications Advisor to the Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF). Prior to FYF, she led content development for FHI 360. Susan is the co-editor of Amplifyii: The INGO Value Proposition for Impact Investing and Amplifyii: The Next Mile of Impact Investing for INGOs.
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