Shorooq Erikat has been a go-getter her entire career, and a master at finding a niche and excelling in it. A natural multi-tasker, she seems to effortlessly handle working 2 or even 3 jobs at the same time. Graduating at the top of her class from Yarmouk University in Jordan with a degree in journalism and media, she was not satisfied with the low-paying job opportunities that she found. So, she decided to forge ahead and create her own job opportunities.
Since the moment she learned how to drive, Shorooq has been passionate about it. “Everyone around me would always say how I’m the best driver they know, and they all felt safe with me, “she says. This is how she decided to become a driving instructor. It was a grueling 2.5-month training program.
“While I was training to be a driving instructor, I also had a job teaching Arabic to foreigners, which I also really enjoyed,” the mother of three says. “It really gave me the inspiration to differentiate myself when I became a driving instructor.”
With her driving instructor certification in hand, Shorooq bought a car with her savings and started giving lessons. At the time, almost 20 years ago, she was one of the very few women driving instructors in Jordan. Notably, she was the only one who knew how to speak English. Using that to her advantage, she placed an ad in the English-language newspaper The Jordan Times, and the calls started coming in.
Within a few years, Shorooq had acquired a solid customer base and a strong reputation, especially among the expatriate community in Jordan. “I trained people from so many nationalities: Russian, British, Saudi Arabian, Sri Lankan, Ukrainian are just among a few of these nationalities. I loved meeting people and I made so many good friends.”
However, it was by no means an easy job. “I had to work at least 10 hours a day to make ends meet,” Shorooq says.
Shorooq with her office manager Fatima
Despite her busy schedule, Shorooq still aimed high; she wrote a simple business plan for a women’s-only driver’s education center and tried to find investors. Eventually she was able to find an investor but quickly realized that she needed more support to establish her business. This is when she applied to the USAID Local Enterprise Support Project’s grant program for women in non-traditional sectors.
Recognizing the importance of supporting a woman trying to establish ownership in the transport sector where asset ownership is predominantly male, the USAID Local Enterprise Support Project awarded Shorooq a grant to equip the center with needed furniture and supplies and helped her cover her operational costs such as rent and employee salaries as her business was getting off the ground.
The fully-equipped center includes a classroom for theoretical instruction
“The support that USAID extended to me meant everything. I was able to equip my center and hire seven women: six driving instructors and one office manager, and the grant improved my trust and credibility as an employer.”
In a collaborative approach to development and women’s economic empowerment, the USAID Jordan Loan Guarantee Facility also supported Shorooq in accessing a loan through a loan guarantee program for small businesses.
Shorooq was so committed to making sure that she was able to take care of her family, she began a Master’s program in Journalism around this time. “Setting up the business and the loan and grant application processes took months. At the same time, I was accepted into the Master’s program after years of trying. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity so somehow I ended up doing all of it together.”
Shortly after she established her business, she was contacted by the King Abdelaziz University in Saudi Arabia in late 2017. Saudi Arabia had recently lifted the ban on women driving, and the university was setting up a driver training center for women. “At first, I refused; how could I possibly find the time?! But they were very persistent.”
In a great example of service export, Shorooq became the first woman driving instructor to visit Saudi Arabia and establish the driving instructor course and curriculum for women in January 2018. Within a year, she trained over 200 Saudi women to become driving instructors. “From my days instructing women employees at the Saudi Embassy in Jordan, I knew how to deal with their culture, so that helped me a lot. Not only that, I invested almost all the money I earned from my work in Saudi Arabia back into my business in Jordan.”
Shorooq’s strong reputation as a business owner and well-known driving instructor led an investor from Saudi Arabia to contact her. With her Saudi partner, Shorooq identified a business opportunity in the underserved town of Quweira in the south of Jordan. “There are no driving schools for women at all in that area, so I really feel that I can help empower women there to become driving instructors. We are now setting up the business and we will be opening within the coming months,“ Shorooq says, beaming.
With Shorooq’s extraordinary drive and ambition, she is a role model for so many women trying to enter sectors where they are under-represented, and a champion for women’s economic empowerment in Jordan.