Printing success in Madaba

Jordanian and Syrian refugees collaborate setting up businesses in Jordan.

© UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle

Tapping away on his laptop, Khaled sits behind the desk designing logos and stickers in a small printing shop just off the main market street in Madaba, a city located about an hour south of Jordan’s capital Amman.

The business, started around two years ago, is the joint venture of both Khaled, a 24 year old Syrian refugee from Daraa, and Wael, 28, a Jordanian national and long-time resident of Madaba. Home to just under 15,000 refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq, over the last few years, the city has welcomed its new residents, many of whom like Khaled have gone onto thrive, not just survive.

UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle

After first meeting at college in 2014, Khaled and Wael explain that they became firm friends. Khaled had fled his home town of Daraa in Southern Syria the year before, abandoning his studies because of the conflict. After receiving a scholarship funded by the UK to continue his education in Jordan, however, he entered college in Amman to study IT and design. At that time, Wael was also studying accounting and after graduating, they both decided to pursue their ambition of setting up their own business.

“We are friends, we had similar goals and ambitions, skills which we knew would complement each other.”

UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle

Initially they began their business working from home, with just one printer and a determination to succeed. They marketed their products through Facebook, relying on word of mouth within the local community, but quickly realized if they wanted to expand the business then they would need more support and investment.

After applying and being selected for the Jordan River Foundation Daleelkom project supported by UNHCR, over the course of three months, as Wael explains, they were able to develop their skills and capacities.

“I learnt the basics of how to run a business. How to manage the accounts, the different channels I could use to market my products to the local community, how to price products, manage stock and customer requests.”

The Daleelkom project, which started in 2016, aims to improve the livelihoods of both host communities and Syrian refugees providing workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise training as well as private sector job opportunities. Building upon recent regulations put in place by the Ministry of Labour which allows Syrian refugees to operate home-based businesses in the food processing, handicraft and tailoring sectors as well as connecting refugees and Jordanians like Khaled and Wael, the programme has been instrumenting in giving many refugees the boost and skills they need to make a living.

One key feature of the project that Khaled and Wael benefited from was the start-up finance provided for small businesses when they graduate from the program. They pooled their money, a total of 2,000 Jordanian Dinar which they used to buy two printers. At a cost of almost 1,000 Dinar, the printers cost a significant proportion of their budget but have been essential in allowing them to make larger and higher quality posters and printing products.

UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle

Using the remaining money, they were also able to rent a small shop in the market in Madaba. Open from 9am to 4pm every day, they have built up their customer base of both private customers and local businesses so that there is now always a steady stream of customers coming into enquire about potential orders.

For Khaled, as well as realizing a life-long dream, owning his own business has brought him closer to the local community in Madaba.

“In the beginning there were challenges, but the environment here in Madaba is similar to what it was back in Daraa so I quickly integrated and began to feel at home.

“I come to the shop every day, I work on the designs of products and attend to customers’ orders. It gives me an outlet to be creative but at the same time I have made lots of contacts and friends through the work.”

In addition, Wael explains that working with Khaled has given him another perspective on Syrian refugees in Jordan. “When the crisis started, there was concerns about refugees working but I’ve seen for myself they’re hard working, committed to contribute to the economy as they build a life for themselves. As Jordanians you can’t complain about that.”

Now Khaled and Wael’s focus is on getting to a stage where they can expand their business, to rent the shop next door as a production space and buy bigger machines so they don’t have to outsource some of their printing. And as a refugee, for Khaled, growing the company has an even greater meaning.

“This city is now my home. I want to live and build my life here, to support my family, just like anyone else.”