HERO: Um Ala
Exclusive one-on-one interviews with extraordinary individuals working on behalf of women, children, and families worldwide.
“I dream that all Jordanian women will become entrepreneurs, decision makers, and productive participants either in their homes or in their local economy.”
Why she’s a hero:
Um Ala is a successful businesswoman and mother in Jordan, where female business owners are a rarity. She began her business as a side street vendor, and now owns three small grocery stores. She is her family’s primary breadwinner, and employs both her husband and sons, who support her in her business ventures. She participated in CARE’s business training project in Jordan, and now mentors other women who have joined the program.
A Chat with Hero Um Ala:
What is the POWER Project and what is your involvement in it?
The POWER project supports women who want to create their own small and micro businesses by offering financial assistance through loans. It also encourages these women to save a certain amount of money every month by creating a Savings fund. I have participated in the POWER project since its inception in 2007, where I was one of the first women who got loans and saved money. From 2007 until now, I have taken and repaid the loans on time.
How did you become the owner of a three door supermarket? Please tell us your story.
My story began in 1999. At that time, there were ten people in my household, and we only had my husband's salary that was about 140 JDs (Jordan’s currency, dinar). My father in law wanted to sell his small store, so I bought it with 300 JDs. I made my money back the first year, and the second year, I made even more profit. Later on, I rented a new store with a larger area, and I was there until 2009.
How has expanding your business affected your family and your relationships with family members?
After expanding my work and having a bigger store, I have less time to spend with my family because the work takes a lot of my time, but I keep trying to balance between my private life and my work life.
What has it been like balancing motherhood and your career as a business owner?
The balance between the roles of mother, housewife and business women is very difficult to achieve, because of physical and mental fatigue. I open my store at 5:30 am, and stay there to 2:30 pm then I go back home to prepare food for my family, clean the house and have some rest. I come back to the store at 9:00 pm and close the store at 1:00 am
Are there any similarities in being a mother and being a business owner?
Yes, I consider my work as one of my children. It requires extra care and attention to grow and thrive. I believe that the mother's responsibilities are similar to the businesswoman’s responsibilities to a large extent. I can tell you that during the holidays or vacations I miss my store and my work as much as I miss one of my children when he or she leaves.
You now mentor other young women who want to participate in the POWER project. Why did you decide to mentor these young women?
I started mentoring other business women in 2008, and I decided to mentor these women to encourage them to start their own businesses and become participants in the economic life and to increase their families' incomes.
Are you more of a leader now?
After more than 10 years of continuous work, I feel that yes, I am a leader and I have a high self-esteem.
What are your next plans? Where do you see yourself in another 10 years?
I plan to expand my store and increase the quantity of goods. After 10 years, I see myself owning a big mall in my area
What advice can you give to other business woman who are not accepted or supported in their endeavors?
Try always to have a very high self-esteem, and have confidence in your decisions. In addition, do not let anything discourage or reduce your determination.
Has your role as a business owner, and now a partner with Working Women’s Society, changed how people view you and your status in society?
After the success I achieved, many of my neighbors began to believe that women are able to manage businesses successfully, and that women can be effective in increasing the family income while also balancing her roles as a mother, housewife and businesswoman.
Tell me about your most defining moment(s) in your work—what makes you most proud?
The most defining moment happened in 2009, when I expanded my store for the second time, in that time I owned a 3-door store with a wider area. Moreover, the thing that makes me proud of what I achieved are that I have improved my family’s financially situation, so I was able to buy new home furniture and buy a car, and I do my best to secure all my children’s needs.
What’s the change you’ve been able to instigate that you feel most proud of?
The biggest change was in my mental attitude. I become bolder and more integrated in society. I also became a leader and a decision maker and all of that, because I feel that I am a productive person.
Who inspires you the most in your work?
My husband. He supported me and shared all the chores and the work at the stores with me. He also keeps lifting up my spirit and encourages me to continue in my work.
What is the best lesson or advice your mother (or mother figure) ever gave you?
My mother passed away a long time ago, but I had a neighbor who was much older, and she would encourage me by telling me that by being patient, a person can achieve their dream.
What is one thing that many people don’t know about you?
I am very good at knitting woolen clothes, and most of my husband's winter blouses are made by me. I am also very good at making pastries.
The majority of women face the "double shift" of daily paid work and family responsibilities, making work-life balance a pressing issue for mothers. What can be done to alleviate some of the burden?
Pattabi Raman’s photo series portrays of women in rural India who fulfill the dual roles of mother and financial breadwinner for their family.
This short film illuminates the economic value of mothers’ work and the need for policies in the U.S. to effect life/work balance for mothers.
Irene Natividad, President of the Global Summit of women, says required, paid leave for both mothers and fathers is just a start to supporting working mothers effectively.