My Bee Bee
My Bee Bee empowers Syrian refugee women in Jordan to support their families by producing sustainable motor skills toys to sell to the US market. As they are part of two-parent households, these women are considered “not vulnerable enough” to receive humanitarian support, yet they struggle to access a stable income due to work permit, gender equality and safety limitations in the Jordanian market. As a result, they are unable to support their families, and are forced to return to the conflict zone in Syria.
There are 68.5 million displaced people in the world. Of these, almost 750,000 are Syrian refugees living in Jordan. While many of these refugees are supported by humanitarian organisations within refugee camps, over 80% of these people live on the outside. Many of these people still receive support from aid organisations such as the UNHCR. However, as budgets are cut, these people are often the first to lose their funding, especially if they are part of two-parent households.
Without aid funding, refugees need to find work in order to survive and support their families. However, in a Jordanian job market that faces an unemployment rate of 19.2%, it is extremely difficult to access work through legal means. If Syrians work legally, employers must sponsor their work permit and pay them the same amount as Jordanians. If they work illegally, they can access work more easily, as they are willing to accept less wages than Jordanians competing for the same jobs.
Currently, 147,000 Syrians have accessed work permits in Jordan. Of these, just 7,000 are women.
A partial explanation for this is that when employers sponsor a work permit for a woman, they are agreeing to cover gender related expenses such as maternity leave and parental leave, and they are therefore less inclined to employ a woman.
For women, a lack of access to humanitarian aid or a decent income can leave them unable to support their families in Jordan. As a result, many are forced to return to the conflict zone in Syria.
Our solution – My Bee Bee – empowers Syrian refugee women to earn a stable income to support their families by making sustainable plush toys for the U.S. market.
The company is registered in the U.S., and contracts Syrian refugee women on home-based work permits to produce the toys. Materials to make the toys are drawn from discarded materials from donations to humanitarian organisations that would have otherwise gone to landfill. After the materials are washed, they are sent to Syrian refugee women to create the toys. As each handmade toy is made from different materials, each one special and unique – just like the children whose parents will serve as the end user for the products.
Once the toys are created, and quality checked through Jordanian women (who are also involved in the process to promote social cohesion between Syrian and Jordanian women), the toys are sold to major supermarkets in the U.S., such as Target. Other potential business-to-business customers include hospitals, schools and community organisations.
The toys are ideal for developing motor skills in young children (aged 2-5 years), as each unique toy features items such as zips and buttons, that can support children’s learning and development.
The main objective, however is to enable the Syrian refugee women to support their families. When we tested the concept with women in our target market (Syrian refugee women living in Jordan who are not receiving aid funding), we heard a resounding response. One woman asked,“When can I start?”
Our inclusive, multicultural business model makes our business unique. We primarily compete with other companies that sell sensory and motor skills development toys in the U.S. Our solution targets an unsaturated niche market within the toy industry which is growing rapidly.
When we scale, we may also compete with other social enterprises that employ forcibly displaced women and who may compete with us in the labour market.
This solution has not yet been implemented because of the connections that are needed across three communities (Jordan, U.S. and Syrians in Jordan). We are uniquely positioned to carry out this solution due to our wide range of deep connections in these communities, including close connections with Syrian refugee women in Jordan in our target demographic. Our solution is designed for the “missing middle,” who are refugees who have been classified as “not vulnerable enough” for humanitarian aid, but who are not economically self-sufficient. This category has historically been left out of interventions and business solutions, which is what motivates us to address the needs of this population.
We create impact by creating job opportunities with living wages for Syrian refugee women in Jordan who are not supported by humanitarian aid organizations. By creating sustainable livelihoods that overcome work permit limitations in Jordan, we decrease families’ needs to return to conflict zones in Syria prematurely due to inability to meet their basic needs in Jordan. We will measure our impact by the number of Syrian refugees who are able to earn a living wage through our enterprise as well as the number of Jordanians (19.2% unemployment for Jordanians in Jordan) we are able to employ in quality control and logistics roles in the enterprise.
Our next steps are to develop a comprehensive business plan that maps our stakeholder networks and market opportunities. We will also seek to attract seed funding to cover set up costs for the business, so we can set up our company in the United States and conduct research visits to Jordan to conduct further interviews with Syrian refugee women in Jordan. We will also look to establish relationships with potential business-to-business customers for the product.
Funds to start the business in the US, access to networks that connect us with potential buyers in the U.S. market, and networks in Jordan who could support us to set up the supply chain and access potential beneficiaries of the program.