Equipping Young Peacemakers initiative spotlight: MyBeeBee
written by EYP participant Sadeer Issa
When thinking about economic opportunities in MENA, it is clear that a massive market gap exists for refugee women in underdeveloped or vulnerable areas. Unemployment rates have reached over 28% for women in Jordan after the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Although many women aspire to work and legal work permits are available for refugees in Jordan, data shows that only 5% of the work permits issued prior to 2019 were issued to women. High costs of transportation to the workplace, the lack of childcare, low wages, and poor working conditions all contribute to gendered disparities in employment rates. There is limited support for women to work and innovate to provide a sustainable living for their families.
That’s where MyBeeBee comes in. While working in the northern region of Jordan in 2018, one of our co-founders met a group of refugee women who had learned to sew toys at a humanitarian training but had no market for their products. The women wanted to work to support their families. Many had lost the humanitarian aid their families relied on over the past year, but were unable to find safe, legal work that was compatible with cultural norms and personal responsibilities. As a result, many of these women were considering returning to Syria – despite the unsafe conditions – because life in Jordan had become just as challenging, economically.
MyBeeBee aims to train urban and rural dwelling refugee women in Jordan to produce environmentally friendly toys. We will also support these women in obtaining home-based business permits that allow them to legally produce and sell from home. Refugee women will have sole-distributorship contracts with MyBeeBee, being compensated on a per-item basis for all approved products at a living wage basis.
This model first took shape in 2019 in Shenzhen, China, during the UNLEASH Innovation Lab for SDGs, one of the largest accelerated innovation programs in the world with over 1,000 participants from 162 countries. At the UNLEASH+ acceleration program, we honed our model for the first large-scale toy line: play tents created from upcycled waste textiles, complete with audio storybooks and enriching materials. MyBeeBee is a hybrid company with a non-profit arm in Jordan for training and capacity-building, and a for-profit social enterprise in the United States focused on distribution.
The MENA region has suffered from a lot of employment hurdles, especially this year. Understandably, the most pressing focus for grants and financial support has been the medical field and public health activities, which has made it harder for smaller organizations to reach their desired impact and work at full capacity. Moreover, the closing of businesses to reduce infection rates – while necessary – has made it challenging to establish a well-rounded and efficiently managed supply chain and operations line. In order for the Sustainable Development Agenda to meet its goals, we must constantly work to solve relatively short-term problems like the COVID-19 pandemic without losing sight of longer-term, systemic issues like sustainability, gender equity, and economic empowerment. At the end of the day, these are all deeply connected, and we can only progress when all of them are addressed together. The MyBeeBee model is an economically and environmentally sustainable humanitarian response that addresses a lack of sustainable work opportunities, meeting refugee women’s needs while upskilling through training to build their capacities for a better future.
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