The Jerusalem Business Development Centre (MATI) helps people create or expand businesses in Jerusalem. Two leaders of the Israeli organization visit Vancouver on May 11 as part of a Canadian tour. (photo from CFHU Vancouver)
Every year, the Jerusalem Business Development Centre, known in Hebrew by the acronym MATI, helps thousands of people create or expand businesses in Jerusalem. It does this through a range of services – from personal mentoring to training in various fields to the granting of loans – focusing its efforts on new immigrants, the ultra-Orthodox and residents of East Jerusalem.
On May 11, as part of a Canadian tour, Michal Shaul Vulej, deputy chief executive officer of MATI, and Reham Abu Snineh, MATI’s East Jerusalem manager, will be in Vancouver for “a conversation about shared living in Jerusalem, about mentoring and creating entrepreneurial opportunities for women and promoting diversity as strength.”
Abu Snineh joined MATI in 2011, as a project coordinator for a program to promote women’s entrepreneurship in East Jerusalem. Today, she heads the East Jerusalem branch, leading a team of seven employees.
“The beginning was challenging,” she told the Independent. “The decision to join an Israeli organization was inconceivable. I was afraid of the reactions and criticism of those around me. It also took me awhile to get comfortable with the staff. In addition, I did not speak Hebrew. I grew up in East Jerusalem and studied for my law degree and, later, further degrees in Jordan. All of my studies were in Arabic and I had never considered working with an Israeli organization. I realized that, if I ever wanted to really be able to help my community, I had to find a way to move forward and, over time, things settled down and today I feel completely part of the team.”
For Abu Snineh, it’s the social impact of MATI that most excites her – “The feeling that I am helping people in a difficult socioeconomic situation; helping individuals, families and women to improve their economic situation in general.”
For Shaul Vulej, it’s the “combination of social welfare and the entrepreneurship and business development – the stories of the women who manage to start a business, make a living and be financially independent, and even employ other women.”
MATI measures success by the number of participants, the number of businesses that develop, the number of businesses that expand and the number of new jobs that are created in Jerusalem because of its activities. All MATI’s programs include participant feedback, an annual review and an evaluation process.
Abu Snineh and Shaul Vulej shared one of MATI’s success stories with the Independent, that of Hiba, a fashion design instructor. They said Hiba, 36, grew up in East Jerusalem in a traditional Muslim family and was married at age 16. Despite various factors hindering her progress, she studied fashion design and proceeded to hold several jobs. She wanted to establish a sewing and fashion design school, so she joined some of MATI’s programs: the business establishment and management course, a digital marketing workshop and, recently, a program for import/export from Turkey, which will allow her to import fabrics herself. Together with her artisan husband, she rented an apartment and currently trains several groups, as part of a professional training project for teenagers, and promotes her business.
About 60% of MATI’s clientele are women, who have a range of educational backgrounds. The organization focuses on residents of East Jerusalem who are looking for employment, people who want to start a business, and existing business owners who need assistance to take the next step.
Abu Snineh described some of the challenges people living in East Jerusalem face. Difficulty communicating in Hebrew contributes to a “difficulty in being able to develop entrepreneurship and businesses that can be relevant also in Western Jerusalem, a barrier in the ability to market and sell goods and services to the Hebrew-speaking public, a barrier in dialogue with institutions and authorities in the business framework.”
A lack of trust in the Israeli government system, which does not recognize many of the East Jerusalem businesses as legal entities, has “created a situation where legal business owners in the country received grants, [while] many of the businesses in East Jerusalem (mainly small and medium-sized ones) were left without the financial security granted to others,” said Abu Snineh.
Other factors include the political and security situation, digital barriers that make it difficult to market outside of East Jerusalem or online, insufficient knowledge about business laws, “which blocks the ability to make the business legal and granting rights alongside obligations,” and “a lack of domestic and foreign tourism.”
When asked how Vancouverites could help or participate in MATI, Abu Snineh and Shaul Vulej said, “To help us establish the first hub in East Jerusalem…. A hub would provide the appropriate and technology atmosphere similar to other areas in the world.”
Also needed, they said, is support for “all the ongoing programs that provide for the progress of Arab society in East Jerusalem” and for “a program for the advancement of women in East Jerusalem.”
The May 11 event is presented by the Jerusalem Foundation in partnership with Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, and it is sponsored by the Asper Foundation, as well as the Canadian Memorial United Church. It takes place at the Canadian Memorial Centre for Peace, 1825 West 16th Ave., starting at 7 p.m. To reserve a spot, visit cfhu.org/upcoming-events or call 604-257-5133.