“Small businesses often reflect the character of a neighborhood or a community. The relationships created between customers and those that work in independent business frequently go beyond just purchases”
With the goal of empowering small businesses in order to survive economic adversity in Jordan, the USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project (LENS) has been working with small and micro businesses through providing them with in-kind and technical support to help them start up and grow.
Most stories about rural communities focus on loss of opportunities: the lack of resources, the closure of businesses, lack of jobs and the relocation of a younger generation. The people who live in these areas, for instance, no longer necessarily work there; they commute to bigger towns in hopes of finding better opportunities. Even when it comes to the simple things like shopping or taking care of daily errands, people living in rural communities find themselves in other towns simply because they cannot find what they need in their own communities.
Up until a few years ago, Shoula, a small town in the north of Jordan, was not very different.
Albeit small, Shoula has a huge student community due to being close to two major universities in Irbid, about an hour drive from Shoula. “The closest bookshop to this town is in Irbid’s city center which is at least 25 km away from here. If students needed to print or buy something for school or university, and didn’t manage to go there and come back before sunset, they had to pay for a private car which is costly, or had to spend the night in Irbid because there is no public transportation available after that time” said Osama Tawalbeh, owner of a small bookshop in Shoula.
Osama has always been fascinated with computers. He remembers vividly how there was only one computer available for the entire class when he was in school, and how he would anxiously wait for his turn to use it.
After noticing this gap in his hometown, he decided to open a small stationary shop to serve the growing student community as well as anyone who needs printing services, stationary, and other services that were not available in Shoula at the time. Given that Shoula is on the lower-end of the income spectrum, many people use public internet cafes or bookshops to send emails and download files.
Needless to say, demand was very high, so about a year after opening, he approached the USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project (LENS) for support to purchase new printers and devices that will allow him to serve a bigger segment of the community, including the Syrian refugees who frequently need to send and print papers to finish their transactions.
With the grant, he was able to purchase all the machines he needed, and rent a bigger space which eventually allowed him to hire two new employees, a woman for the morning shift and a man for the evening shift. Osama has also seen a revenue increase of 200 jds a month since receiving the grant and expanding his business as a result.
“The bookshop has given Shoula a much-needed lift, and brought new life to the area. It’s such a relief to have this kind of shop near your house, especially around the exams period which is stressful enough without the daily commute to and from Irbid” said Nour, a university student who lives in Shoula.
Osama’s next steps include expanding his small shop into a fully-operational printing business which he believes will boost Shoula’s economy and ease the financial burden other local business owners must bear for basic printing services.