Name: Zinah saleh
Business: Ishtar Handmade Soap
Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Industry: Consumer Goods
Reason for starting? I started Ishtar handmade soap to be the first business in Iraq that is run by women and creates jobs for women who suffer from the lack of job opportunities here. We create a national product that can support our economy and take the place of unhealthy foreign products in the Iraqi market. We do not only offer job opportunities but also workshops for vulnerable women who can learn soap making and sell their products in our weekly bazaars.
After the 2003 war in Iraq women started to struggle to find a job in a country that is still considered to be a war zone and where men are preferred over women as candidates for jobs. Myself and many women like me graduated from college with no job opportunities, so in 2013 I started Ishtar Handmade Soap which is a business run only by women. We hire young women who are vulnerable, refugee women and widowed women to work with us in soap making, packaging, orders and deliveries. We support women in Iraq and create a national product that serves the country by the hands of it’s own women. We are considered to be the only business that is run exclusively by women in Iraq. We aim to give hope to all women in the Middle East and encourage them to have their own business and not wait for a job opportunity but create it on their own.
How do you define success? For me success is the ability to change lives and inspire other people. It’s not about how much money you make but how much change you give to the people who work with you and your customers. Success for me is a young girl who comes to tell me that I have inspired her and she wants to start her own business in the future and hire women to support.
Since we started we were able to hire eight women full time and twelve additional women during sales season and for local bazaars. We make deliveries all around Iraq and we have sales representatives in each governorate. We host workshops for vulnerable women to teach them soap making and how to sell their products. Because of our work with women we have been offered to open our first brick and mortar soap shop here in Baghdad in 2-3 months. We are so proud of the lives we have changed and the young girls we have inspired.
Biggest success: My biggest success is that I have hired women who were threatened by poverty. Additionally we have been successful in delivering our products all around Iraq instead of just Baghdad. We created our online shop in 2015 and soon we will open our first shop that will be a one of a kind shop run by women. I believe in the power of change and I believe that each one of us were born to effect good change. Myself and many other women in the Middle East struggle to have a job and not be driven by a society that asks us to be married and controlled by men who should pay for us and feed us. I believe that I was born to tell society that women can create their own destiny and that they can work just like men and change lives. I believe that we should not be victims just because we were born in a war zone or a society that prefers men over women – being a victim is a choice that I will not take and neither will the women around me.
Related: Brokering Peace in the Middle East
What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? Our biggest challenge was finding a workshop where we can make our products and store them. To address this problem and not pay for rent we built a workshop in each garden of our houses so each one of us is responsible to store part of the products we make. Because we have weekly local bazaars we run out of products so quickly that space is not the issue any more.
Who is your most important role model? Oprah Winfrey was and still is my role model. She lived in a society with so much discrimination and faced all kind of struggle to be the great women we know today, who did not forget others and is still helping girls all around the world and supporting other women.
Edited by The Story Exchange