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Supporting women’s cooperatives in Palestine

“Suddenly the wall was there and my husband could not go to his work in Israel anymore”.

Unemployment is extremely high in the West Bank and when the wall went up the family of Amal, mother of eight, was left without income. The wall that Amal talks about is a wall built by Israel to divide Palestinian territory from  their own.

In order to help their families survive, many women in West Bank cities and villages are eschewing their traditional roles and taking the initiative. Amal decided to participate in a women’s cooperative in the Bili´in village just north of Ramallah. Her perseverance has motivated many other women to become members of the cooperative.

International Service posted a Development Worker for two years with the Arab Centre for Agricultural Development (ACAD). ACAD aims to support women’s cooperatives in the management of their local savings and credit fund (SCF) – this helps increase access to finance and related services for people who are not eligible for conventional bank accounts. Our Development Worker’s background is in training and capacity building related to savings and credit funds.

Amal reports: “During meetings with ACAD, we discussed the situation in the village and how we could make an income for ourselves. Suddenly we realized that what we needed was a grocery shop. None of us would be able to set up a grocery shop alone, but why not set it up and run it together through the cooperative?”

With the support of ACAD, the cooperative opened a grocery shop and developed a shareholder system. Now the members buy what they need from the shop, and distribute the profits at the end of the year.

Focusing on strengthening the human and financial resources of the cooperatives, we delivered training to members of 10 women’s cooperatives in the northern West Bank. The training programmes greatly improved the cooperatives’ organisational and financial performance, and have served to promote good governance, portfolio management and leadership skills.

As a result of the posting with ACAD, we were able to support all cooperatives to review their by-laws and develop strategic plans. As well as reviewing and upgrading SCF manuals and working procedures, each cooperative developed a financial business plan based on primary data collection and questionnaires. In conjunction with the capacity building and training we supplied, ACAD obtained funding for the cooperatives to equip their offices.

This project really supported the cooperative members to achieve a sense of ownership, self-reliance and self-determination. ACAD is now channelling some of its community projects through these cooperatives – this will enable the cooperatives’ income-generating projects to strengthen throughout the coming years.

“When I look back, I realise how strong our cooperative has become and how we ourselves have grown. It is our cooperative and we feel proud and confident that we can build a better future together.”