Pandemic restrictions a business boon for some Iraqi women

Pandemic restrictions a business boon for some Iraqi women
After Iraq imposed a coronavirus lockdown in March, Fatima is among a growing numbers of Iraqi women who are finding some good under the movement restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic: They're starting their own businesses from home. (AP)
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Updated 12 January 2021

Pandemic restrictions a business boon for some Iraqi women

Pandemic restrictions a business boon for some Iraqi women
  • A growing number of Iraqi women are using pandemic restrictions to establish home-based businesses

BAGHDAD: Fatima Ali was in her final year studying to become a medical analysis specialist when Iraq imposed a full lockdown in March. Forced by a raging pandemic to stay home, she spent her days on social media, looking for something to do with her time.
Then an idea came to her: Six years ago, visiting America on a young leaders exchange program, she and other students toured a Vermont cheese factory where aged cheese platters were displayed on wooden boards so inviting they looked like paintings.
“I liked it … I said to myself, why not be the first to do it in Baghdad?” She took a free online business course and researched cheeses and wooden plates available in the Iraqi capital.
Months later, 22-year-old Ali is successfully marketing her cheese boards, making a small but steady income and garnering over 2,000 Instagram followers.
A growing number of Iraqi women are using pandemic restrictions to establish home-based businesses. It’s a way to bypass discrimination and harassment that often come with working in Iraq’s male-dominated, conservative society — and bring in extra income as the economy worsens.
On a recent day in her kitchen, Ali cut up and arranged cheeses, dried fruit and nuts as she talked about her further dreams. She wants to go to culinary school abroad and one day open a school in Iraq for those “who have passion for cooking, like me.”
“This is just the beginning. I’m still developing myself,” she said. The slogan on her purple T-shirt declared, “You Have to Love Yourself.”
Rawan Al-Zubaidi, a business partner at an Iraqi NGO that supports start-ups and young entrepreneurs, said there’s been a noticeable increase in home-based businesses since the pandemic’s start, including women making food deliveries, sweets, accessories, crocheting and embroidering.
“It represents a solution to obstacles that Iraqi women face when trying to find a job,” she said, citing women whose husbands or fathers won’t let them work, unsupportive male colleagues, discrimination and lack of career growth opportunities.
“Some Iraqi women can’t find a job because conservative families or husbands consider that women talking directly with other men on the job will bring shame on them,” Rawan said.
Women’s labor force participation in Iraq is particularly low. As of 2018, only 12.3% of women of working age were employed or looking for work, according to the United Nations.
Tamara Amir, who manages a Facebook page to educate Iraqi women about their rights, said she receives dozens of calls each day from women facing sexual harassment at work. Often, they report feeling they have to give their male boss “something in return” to get a job or advancement.
Ali’s parents have been supportive of her home-based business, which she says is more secure and means she does not have to go outside and mix with people. Her mother helps her prepare her products, and Ali teamed up with a popular delivery app.
At first, she received two orders a week maximum. Now she can barely keep up with the multiple orders she gets every day.
Mariam Khzarjian, a 31-year-old Iraqi-Armenian, worked as an executive assistant in an engineering company for seven years. She quit in late 2018, feeling her career was going nowhere, and started her own home business selling handmade accessories inspired by her ancestors, who used to work as carpenters.
She called her business Khzar — Armenian for the art of cutting metals and woods — with the slogan “wear a story,” since Khzar designs are based on telling stories and building emotional communication with the clients.
She got off to a slow start. Distractions got in the way. But the pandemic forced her to focus, working on new designs and techniques during curfews. The move toward online shopping helped her business take off in a way she could not have imagined.
“Online became the only way to reach clients, and they in turn became more loyal and more confident about my art, because they are buying something without trying it,” Khzarjian said.
“Corona is terrible, but for those able to take advantage of the Internet and build connections with customers, it had its positive side,” she said.
Sara Al-Nedawi, 23, studied business administration and has tried to find a job for months.
“One day I sent my CV to a company, and they texted me to ask if I was pretty and whether I wear the hijab or not,” she said, referring to the headscarf worn by some Muslim women. Someone from another company she applied to called her to get more information, then told her she has a lovely voice and asked for a photo.
Now she is trying to start a home-based food-catering business but lacks the capital.
“I need to work first to collect enough money,” she said.


Jamjoom plans Saudi expansion after UAE Subway deal

Jamjoom plans Saudi expansion after UAE Subway deal
Updated 7 sec ago

Jamjoom plans Saudi expansion after UAE Subway deal

Jamjoom plans Saudi expansion after UAE Subway deal
DUBAI: Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group, (KOJ), the Saudi group that last week announced a major expansion in the UAE via a master franchise deal with US fast-food group Subway, could follow that move with a big initiative in food and beverage in Saudi Arabia.

Hisham Al Amoudi, KOJ group chief executive, told Arab News: ““We have an ambitious plan to acquire markets and brands in Saudi Arabia,” without identifying which brands. The move could take place next year, he said.

He cannot disclose the financial cost of the UAE expansion, but concedes it will be a “multi-million dirham initiative” to transform the stores with new training and uniforms for the staff, in addition to the stores’ facelift.

“Over the next 12 months, you will see a big difference,” he said.

Demographic synergy

Subway is run by a different franchise group in the Kingdom, but the attractions and synergies of fast F&B are apparent to KOJ, which operates big global outlets like Lego and Body Shop in addition to its own self-grown brands.

“The synergy lies in the demographic, the locations and the business model,” Al Amoudi said.

Each hour around the world, some 750,000 sandwiches or salads are sold by the ubiquitous Subway outlets, giving the brand fair claim to be the biggest restaurant chain globally.

The deal announced in the UAE will see a big increase in the number of outlets in the Emirates, as well as a major facelift for the chain.

“It is a huge opportunity going forward,” Al Amoudi said. “Subway is making bold and impressive changes to continue to grow its presence in markets around the world,” he added.

There are currently around 145 Subway stores in the UAE, but over the next few years that number will roughly double, and there will be a big change in the look and feel of the US-owned franchise under a refurbishment plan titled “Fresh Forward.”

Modern, minimalist

“The restaurants will look more neat and tidy, more modern, more minimalist, trying to avoid clutter and noise. They will have a new logo and color palette, and — above all — there will be a new emphasis on the taste of the food and the indulgence of the customer,” Al Amoudi said.

The Subway concept was born as a single sandwich store in Connecticut, USA, in the 1960s. Now, there are more than 40,000 stores in over 100 countries. Most are still in America, where it has more outlets than McDonalds and Starbucks combined.

It has formed partnerships with leading global franchise operators, like KOJ, to expand internationally.

“It is a global brand promising guests and customers consistent good experiences, and KOJ subscribed to that. We promise one voice, one message, one operating standard and one great experience,” Al Amoudi said.

Al Amoudi estimates that the total F&B business in the Emirates is worth some 62 billion dirhams, of which half comes from fast food, with the sandwich category accounting for 40 percent of that.

Known in the trade as the QSR model — quick service restaurants — Subway has a flexibility that allows it to adopt multiple store identities. The stores can range in size from 20 to 100 square meters, and can be located in malls, cinemas, high streets — “even inside embassies”, he said.

Subway is also big in the delivery space, which has been given a big boost during the lockdowns and social distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Born in Jeddah

The UAE expansion could be a game-changer for KOJ, which has been operating since 1987 with offices in its Jeddah birthplace, as well as Dubai and Riyadh. In addition to Subway in the UAE, KOJ is one of the biggest franchise operators in Saudi Arabia, where most of its total 675 stores are located.

Al Amoudi sees big synergies between its existing brands and Subway.

In addition to Lego, Body Shop and Early Learning Center, KOJ also has its own unique brands, like the lingerie chain Nayomi, the biggest in the Middle East, as well as the Mikyajy chain of cosmetic stores.

In Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, it also operates the Mihyar stores that cater to Gulf men with a range of traditional Arab clothing and accessories.

“We have been looking to diversify the group’s business activities, and F&B is a complementary activity. It targets the same profile. We serve the middle classes, we are not a mass or premium business, and Subway also serves the middle market,” Al Amoudi said.

Saudi Arabia is an ‘important partner’ in hydrogen cooperation, says Japan economy minster

Saudi Arabia is an ‘important partner’ in hydrogen cooperation, says Japan economy minster
Updated 10 min 36 sec ago

Saudi Arabia is an ‘important partner’ in hydrogen cooperation, says Japan economy minster

Saudi Arabia is an ‘important partner’ in hydrogen cooperation, says Japan economy minster
  • “The large-scale and inexpensive hydrogen supply is indispensable” - Kajiyama

TOKYO: Economy, Trade and Industry Minister KAJIYAMA Hiroshi says Japan recognizes that Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries are important partners in creating a hydrogen-based society.

“The large-scale and inexpensive hydrogen supply is indispensable,” Kajiyama said at a press conference on Friday. “To achieve our goal, it is important to utilize not only domestic, but also overseas renewable energy resources and hydrogen produced from fossil fuels.”

In April, Japan and the UAE agreed to work on hydrogen cooperation and exchange information on hydrogen supply chain construction, the minister said.

He added: “We are also discussing [cooperation on hydrogen] with other Middle Eastern countries, and we would like to continue to cooperate to realize a hydrogen-based society.”

Hydrogen and ammonia are attracting attention as new energy sources. According to Kajiyama, “[Technological development of this source] must be carried out in three stages: manufacturing, transportation, and domestic utilization such as power generation and utilization as a power source for automobiles.”

“Japan started developing hydrogen ahead of the rest of the world, but other countries are beginning to follow suit,” the minister said. “Under these circumstances, we would like to cooperate closely with potential countries such as Saudi Arabia on how hydrogen production will be carried out.”


Saudi Arabia, Greece agree to establish business council

Saudi Arabia, Greece agree to establish business council
Updated 29 min 15 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, Greece agree to establish business council

Saudi Arabia, Greece agree to establish business council
RIYADH: The Council of Saudi Chambers has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a Saudi-Greek Business Council to enhance bilateral trade and investment between the two countries, SPA reported.

The body will aim to open new areas for economic cooperation, facilitate continuous interaction between the Saudi and Greek business sectors, and remove obstacles to doing business.

The new council will also exchange information on available markets and investment opportunities, enable commercial and investment partnerships, and provide recommendations to the relevant authorities in the two countries to improve economic relations.

The agreement stipulates that the joint business council will consist of representatives of Saudi and Greek business owners interested in investment and trade, and the council will hold periodic meetings in Riyadh and Athens to discuss opportunities for trade and investment cooperation between the two countries.

Greek exports to Saudi Arabia slumped to $339 million in 2020 from more than $800 million in 2019, according to the United Nations Comtrade database. Of that, $202.5 million was fuel and distillates and $18.6 million was vegetable, fruit and nut preparations.

Saudi Arabia exported $184.2 million of goods to Greece in 2019, $111.9 million of which was plastics, followed by $47.5 million of copper.

China’s central bank rules all crypto transactions are illegal

China’s central bank rules all crypto transactions are illegal
Updated 24 September 2021

China’s central bank rules all crypto transactions are illegal

China’s central bank rules all crypto transactions are illegal
  • The global values of cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin have massively fluctuated over the past year partly due to Chinese regulations
  • Bitcoin, the world’s largest digital currency, and other cryptos cannot be traced by a country’s central bank, making them difficult to regulate

BEIJING: China’s central bank on Friday said all financial transactions involving cryptocurrencies are illegal, sounding the death knell for the digital trade in China after a crackdown on the volatile currencies.
The global values of cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin have massively fluctuated over the past year partly due to Chinese regulations, which have sought to prevent speculation and money laundering.
“Virtual currency-related business activities are illegal financial activities,” the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said in an online statement Friday, adding that offenders would be “investigated for criminal liability in accordance with the law.”
The notice bans all related financial activities involving cryptocurrencies, such as trading crypto, selling tokens, transactions involving virtual currency derivatives and “illegal fundraising.”
Bitcoin, which had already been falling before the announcement, sank by as much as 8.9 percent to $41,019 in European afternoon trading before recovering slightly later in the day.
The central bank said that in recent years trading of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies had become “widespread, disrupting economic and financial order, giving rise to money laundering, illegal fund-raising, fraud, pyramid schemes and other illegal and criminal activities.”
This was “seriously endangering the safety of people’s assets,” the PBOC said.
While crypto creation and trading have been illegal in China since 2019, further crackdowns this year by Beijing warned banks to halt related transactions and closed much of the country’s vast network of bitcoin miners.
Friday’s statement by the central bank sent the strongest yet signal that China is closed to crypto.
Bitcoin, the world’s largest digital currency, and other cryptos cannot be traced by a country’s central bank, making them difficult to regulate.
Analysts say China fears the proliferation of illicit investments and fundraising from cryptocurrency in the world’s second-biggest economy, which also has strict rules around the outflow of capital.
The crypto crackdown also opens the gates for China to introduce its own digital currency, already in the pipeline, allowing the central government to monitor transactions.
In June, Chinese officials said more than 1,000 people had been arrested for using the profits from crime to buy cryptocurrencies.
Several key Chinese provinces have banned the operation of cryptocurrency mines since the start of this year, with one region accounting for eight percent of the computing power needed to run the global blockchain — a set of online ledgers to record bitcoin transactions.
Bitcoin values tumbled in May on the back of a warning by Beijing to investors against speculative trading in cryptocurrencies.
“China’s ban on all cryptocurrency trading activity will have some short-term impact on currency valuation, but long-term implications are likely to be muted,” said Ganesh Viswanath Natraj, Assistant Professor of Finance at Warwick Business School.
“This ban will result in the migration of crypto investment opportunities to other hubs in Asia, such as Singapore’s launch of the DBS digital currency exchange earlier this month,” he added.


Saudi Arabia insurance reforms will enhance sector — CAIS CEO

Saudi Arabia insurance reforms will enhance sector — CAIS CEO
Updated 24 September 2021

Saudi Arabia insurance reforms will enhance sector — CAIS CEO

Saudi Arabia insurance reforms will enhance sector — CAIS CEO
  • Adoption of IFRS 17 standards will increase investment in the sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia may be the first country in the world to witness a merger between three insurance companies following regulatory reforms, according to Sulaiman Binmayouf, CEO at United Co. for Actuarial Services CAIS.

Many of Saudi Arabia’s 29 insurance companies need capital infusions or mergers to meet the requirements of regulators, after they ordered to triple capital to SR300 million from SR100 million, Binmayouf said.

The Kingdom’s insurance companies are only profitable with high premiums, some of which they have to freeze as reserves, meaning they can’t invest the money, he said.

However, he expects the adoption of IFRS 17 standards by the insurance sector in the Kingdom will help solve the problem.

IFRS 17 is an International Financial Reporting Standard that was issued by the International Accounting Standards Board in May 2017.

The financial statements of insurance companies on the Capital Market Authority (CMA) website are not sufficient for taking an investment decision, said Binmayouf.

The standard will provide a more accurate supervision and disclosure process in the development of financial statements, giving investors a clearer idea of whether they want to invest in the company or not, he said.

“Investors should look at the status of insurance companies in terms of the board of directors and committees, and review the strategic plan and financial statements to make the investment decision,” he said.

That will lead to more capital flowing into the insurance sector, while supporting its stability, he said. IFRS 17 will be implemented in stages, as decided by the central bank.