Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Iran: Stories of Success and Resilience
15 August 2023
Meet six remarkable women, each with a unique story to tell
In Iran, a surge in online platforms has emerged during and after the Covid19 pandemic, but challenges persist in bridging the digital divide between urban and rural areas to expand economic opportunities for micro and small businesses. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Iran collaborates with national and international partners to empower vulnerable groups, like women-headed households and youth, ensuring access to know-how and support services. This is in line with the national plans to move towards a knowledge-based economy which can help bridge the current economic divide between rural and urban communities.
UNDP's partnership with the private sector includes a strong focus on rural development and entrepreneurship, leveraging both digital and traditional marketplaces. Our goal is to identify structural barriers and pilot innovative projects that can be later scaled-up and replicated for impact.
UNDP is proud to be supporting Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises in Iran while ensuring their revival and strengthening of value chains, building marketing, and branding potential based on the local comparative advantages.
Women play an important role in revitalizing local economies by leveraging their traditional knowledge and engaging in value chain in rural areas. Through UNDP's initiatives, they've grown into leaders of their enterprises, offering decent work opportunities to various groups, including women and youth.
Aylar is an herbal medicine expert from West Azerbaijan and started her business three years ago. She focuses on herbal medicine services and sustainable agricultural production, including organic pesticides and insecticides, benefiting the agricultural sector and Lake Urmia basin's environment.
Through UNDP's digital initiatives, Aylar joined a virtual platform, leading knowledge exchange across agricultural value chains. She credits UNDP's Conservation of Wetland Project for connecting her directly with farmers, allowing her to enhance their knowledge in environmentally friendly practices.
“6, 7 years ago, I learned about UNDP Conservation of Wetland Project (CIWP). Through UNDP’s digital intervention on connecting value chain actors together, I was able to have direct contact with farmers as my potential customers and enhance their knowledge and capacity in using environmentally friendly practices.”
Maryam is a hardworking entrepreneur from Pol-e Dokhtar county in Lorestan province. Her passion lies in harvesting and processing figs and other agricultural crops. With the help of her newly acquired digital marketing skills, she now sells her seasonal-picked products on online platforms, turning her crop processing into a thriving business.
Not content with her success alone, Maryam dreams of creating job opportunities for other women in her community. She learned about UNDP projects through the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad, which provided her with valuable insights into fig processing. As a result, Maryam has already created jobs for five other people and continues to expand her network for packaging and marketing. “I hope one day the 4,000 farmers and farm owners from my region can benefit from such initiatives and expand their livelihoods.”
Faezeh is a driven entrepreneur from Hormozgan province. Along with 29 other women, she is part of a village micro-credit fund, equipping a workshop for processing and packaging agricultural products.
Before UNDP's intervention, they worked individually, selling products in bulk without adhering to health standards. However, with UNDP's support, their network and knowledge expanded significantly. They learned the value of collaboration and now work collectively as a family business.
Faezeh's leadership extends to managing the rural micro-credit fund. “With a population of 5,000 inhabitants, 3,000 people are directly or indirectly benefitting from this initiative. Through unity and determination, we are making a positive impact in our community.”
Zahra is the dedicated manager of HASHTPAR, a women's cooperative in the Sistan region, committed to fostering alternative livelihoods for local communities. Her journey began in 2019 when she started producing handicrafts.
Through UNDP’s support, Zahra's cooperative has grown significantly. Now, 300 women and young girls from 15 villages benefit from the cooperative, ready to join the local economic chain.
Over the past year, UNDP's intervention has been instrumental in expanding their network and sharing traditional techniques with more women. As a result, they've created numerous job opportunities for the local community. Their hub in Zabol, the first handicraft store in the area.
“I take pride in directly providing jobs for 300 women, most of whom are youth. The establishment the store allowed us to reach more customers nationally and internationally.”
Razieh is a determined entrepreneur from Hormozgan province, managing a rural microfinance fund. Alongside nine other members, they run a tailoring and local clothing business.
Through the cluster of local businesses, Razieh has not only enhanced her entrepreneurship skills but also empowered 170 women in neighboring villages, equipping them with the competitive edge needed to thrive.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the community faced hardships, with families struggling due to a lack of jobs and livelihoods. Family members were even hiding from one another. This is when UNDP stepped in, providing essential tailoring equipment to help sew masks and health packages. These vital supplies were distributed among locals, aiding in reducing COVID cases and protecting the community while providing job opportunities for the local community. Access to more equipment resulted in increased production, allowing our business to cater to more clients. Although Friday bazars were initially closed due to the pandemic, UNDP's support in enhancing digital literacy enabled us to sell products online. With the re-opening of the Friday bazars, 300 people now directly benefit from job opportunities.”
Haleh is a dynamic entrepreneur hailing from West Azerbaijan province. She passionately provides digital services to rural producers through digital mini hubs. UNDP’s digital intervention allowed her to enhance her digital capacity and access.
As the manager of one of the 12 digital hubs in the region, Haleh supports ten rural businesses across eight diverse product clusters in four villages. These clusters encompass food products and handicrafts, reflecting the rich diversity of her local community.
“Through the establishment of the digital hubs, 300 local producers have benefited from digital capacity development training, building their skills and confidence in the digital landscape. These hubs serve as vital connecting points where local producers package, market, and post their products to Digikala dispatch centers. Impressively, almost half of the trained local producers have registered their products on the digital platform, with women representing nearly 70% of them.”
Skills, micro-finance, creating value-chains and streamlined onboarding into new digital marketplaces are key success elements. All our initiatives aim for greener jobs, improving the use of natural resources and reducing waste.
Haleh and her fellow entrepreneurs are shining examples of success in their communities, demonstrating determination and resilience on their journey to success. With a promising future ahead, they aspire to expand their businesses, not only in Iran but also overseas. Motivated and full of potential, they are unstoppable in their pursuit of reaching new heights.
Together with its partners, UNDP Iran is steadfast in its commitment to empowering women and youth through transformative initiatives and projects, contributing to a brighter and more inclusive future for all.