Yasser creates a sustainable local food market in the refugee camps by providing people with accessible home-based production techniques, training and equipping women and their communities to organize for production and sale, and fostering a local market. He trains Palestinian refugees to build and sustain greenhouses and production facilities, while also providing business management and marketing skills. He collaborates with the several UN agencies like UNRWA and UN-habitat for example, to coordinate between entrepreneurs and suppliers of needed materials for establishing businesses. He then supports refugees in scaling the impact of their business through his ever-growing network of entrepreneurs and local markets, within and outside of the refugee camps.
Yasser developed a technique of low-cost greenhouses, suitable for the roofs of homes in the refugee camps and made from easily available materials. For instance, his technique uses PVC pipes for drip irrigation and agriculture engineering and recycles vegetation by-products to be used as part of the soil for further plantation. He partners with the UNDP, UNRWA and UN-Habitat to provide necessary materials (such as seeds) and helps women establish their own rooftop greenhouses using other materials in their homes.
Women are also given the tools and knowledge to sustain their greenhouses in order to yield healthy harvests. Yasser’s organization trains the women to make soil and fertilizers and to fight plant diseases. As such, he enables Palestinian refugees to grow and sustain their own greenhouses. He partners with the UN and Ministry of Agriculture to support the training and to help with monitoring during different agricultural seasons in the year. As the initiative has grown, women are increasingly able to train and learn from each other rather than relying on Yasser’s organization and partners.
As part of the initiative, a contract is established in which refugees agree only to not produce drugs or mismanage the resources provided to them. Some women use the greenhouses soley for their own family needs or to sell to neighbors. But most collaborate with the broader network of women and families who maintain greenhouses, organizing to produce at a larger scale for market.
The women learn to form associations with elected leaders, through which time and labor are efficiently divided among the association members. For instance, households agree to grow different types of produce to maximize efficiency and production capacity and increase the diversity of product offerings. Yasser also works with them to establish facilities to process food products (such as pickles, dried herbs, and syrups) to tap a wider market. Women who don’t have space for greenhouses can participate in the food processing and packaging stages, or do administrative work or sales.
Through this organization, they create new market dynamics, which trigger and lead to change in the economic situation of their whole refugee community. Yasser makes sure that at least 80% of the leaders are women, whose activities were previously limited to preparing food for their households and caring for their children. Granting these opportunities to women and enabling them to fully leverage them, increases social capital in the community by enabling stronger kinship and community resilience against the adversity that refugees experience in their everyday lives. In addition, Yasser facilitates knowledge sharing between experienced and relatively new businesswomen, preparing them to sustain and scale food products markets inside and outside their camps.
Over the course of four years, Yasser has enabled 100+ families to build 15+ greenhouses, and is currently establishing 10 production units in 2 camps. Since 2013, Yasser has empowered 50+ entrepreneurs, and 150+ women who are engaged in different services to support the selling of food and dairy products, such as packaging and delivery. Women previously depenedent on their husbands are now empowered greenhouse and production facility owners, sustaining a profit of $150/month. Yasser has enabled all supported families to find a sustainable alternative responding to 100% of their need for vegetables, herbs and some processed foods (such as dried tomatoes).
Yasser has managed to extend the reach of his work across three cities (Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah) in Palestine. He has also targeted over five highly populated camps like Dehisha (15,000+ inhabitants) and Aida (3,150+ inhabitants) for example, where population growth rates of over 5% annually have led to camps housing refugees at three-times their intended limits. In a further two camps, camp leaders successfully replicated his model. In addition, his model has been replicated in three other camps through UNRWA and UNDP. He also co-implemented the West Bank Job Creation Programme (JCP) with UNRWA in three camps (Dehisha, Aida, and al-Azza) impacting more than 100+ entrepreneurs. The success of Yasser’s initiative has been built on the establishment of a sustained network of 600+ volunteers, 30 project-based employees, several NGOs and government institutions interested in enabling the economic empowerment of Palestinian refugees.
Yasser has recently received $1.1 million from the EU to expand his work to other camps. This will enable him to train 2500+ entrepreneurs starting in January 2017. The goal will be to establish 130 production facilities across 13 camps in Palestine. He will also expand to new markets, opening channels to sell herbs to pharmacies and start production of roses for sale to shops, as well as the development of a palm tree farm managed by young refugee entrepreneurs and focused on the processing of palm products. Yasser also plans to engage agricultural engineers to help scale the trainings that he provides. Additionally, after having implemented a pilot project in Zaatri camp in Jordan, Yasser wants to lobby the EU delegation for Palestine to help replicate his model in refugee camps across the Levant.