Sidab - An Omani Village Empowering Women Through Entrepreneurship
Sidab is a small village on the road between Muttrah and Muscat, the 'twin cities' of Oman. It hosts a small shop and several white-washed houses. A good number of pick-up trucks, donkeys, goats and kids roam the streets. Just across the road from a serene looking green domed mosque, you'll find a quaint little house. Its door is painted a calm blue and a blue sign indicates that you have reached the community centre of 'Sidab Women.'
Sidab Women's Sewing Group was founded in 2004 by Badriya Al Siyabi. Badriya grew up in Sidab, but spent time living in the US as a young adult. While there, she experienced community centres and the positive impact they can have in terms of personal growth and empowerment. Back in Oman, Badriya decided to set up Sidab Women's Sewing Group to empower the women of her village and provide them with a means to an independent income.
Assisted by Australian expatriate Sue Ross, she created a community centre and proceeded to teach the women of Sidab sewing skills, business skills and communication skills. The Sidab products turned out to be popular. Sturdy and practical environmentally friendly calico bags with a local flair and a local story make for great gifts - in the corporate as well as the tourism industries.
Onwards and upwards
Last month, I met with Roqaya Al Wahaibi and Eklas Al Hashmi to discuss the way forward for Sidab Women's Sewing Group (Sidab Women) and their community house.
Roqaya Al Wahaibi has been involved in Sidab Women since its infancy. She started with stitching, but over the years, her responsibilities have increased and developed and today, she is considered an authority on the group and their activities. She is currently responsible for the tourism and hospitality branch of Sidab Women.
Eklas Al Hashmi works with Dar al Atta, Oman's leading charity, who recently stepped in to support Sidab Women and help develop a viable business for the future. Dar al Atta has been responsible for a full renovation of the community house, and they have also hired a house manager to run the business and help maximize income. However, stated Eklas, "Afrah, Roqaya and Atiyah, the group founders, run the show. They are committed whatever happens. They own this place and they are committed to that; this is theirs."
The newly refurbished and re-opened Sidab Women's community house is a not-for-profit organisation and all income goes to the community. The renovation project, as well as Sidab Women, is sponsored by Omani construction company Al Habib.
The community house supports three main activities and sources of income:
PRODUCTION AND SALE OF MERCHANDISE
Sidab Women make a variety of items. They still produce their signature calico bags, but also make-up bags, tissue holders and plastic bag holders are made, combining traditional materials with new ideas. While some of the seamstresses sew from home, many come to the community house to work. The house has a production room with sewing machines, and this is also where measuring and cutting of material takes place.
The house functions as a business centre where seamstresses come together to discuss ideas and designs for new products. Designs incorporate Omani traditions and materials, using them innovatively. Once a design has been agreed upon, material is bought locally in Mattrah Souq and the production starts.
A small show and sales room sits at the sunny and cheerful front room of the house, but the group's main source of sales income is corporate orders. For example, Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Heritage may place orders for exhibitions, and last year, 550 custom designed calico bags were delivered for the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference hosted in Oman. In addition to corporate orders and the Sidab shop, products are represented at the airport, at local fairs and markets.
TOURISM AND FOOD
As an alternative source of income, the Sidab Women's community house promotes Omani food and heritage through the tourism and hospitality sector. The house can welcome tour groups of minimum 10-20 people through local tour agents. Tourists are treated to sumptuous Omani food cooked in Sidab village, and they are encouraged to interact with their hosts. The house has a small room where guests can try on Omani clothes and in the kitchen, tourists can learn how to brew their own Omani coffee - qahwa - all with the help of the Sidab ladies.
The tourism section falls under the leadership of Roqaya al Wahaibi. She is responsible for everything relating to food; from welcoming guests to coordinating the tourism aspect of the business. Roqaya already has years of experience coordinating projects, delivering orders and welcoming guests to the Sidab community house.
But if you don't have 20 guests at hand for a full meal but would love to visit the house, fear not. The Sidab community house welcomes guests for tea in the front garden throughout the day. Garden Tea offers lovely views of the village and the neighbourhood mosque with its bright green dome, as well as a chance to meet and interact with the members of the sewing group and their children.
Sidab village is home to a number of unemployed young girls. Through their community house, Sidab Women aims to offer vocational training and an income to these girls, supporting them towards financial independence. By helping to organise and host tourism events, the girls have a chance to develop organisation- and communication skills as well as a sense of personal accomplishment - that can be useful for future employment.
Sidab community house - making flexible independence and personal growth possible
There are no set working hours nor required work place attendance at Sidab Women, and the group is large enough to be able to absorb the work load should some members be temporarily absent due to family responsibilities. These factors mean that the women, most of them mothers and wives, can earn a flexible, independent income while remaining in charge of the home and the family.
Through this project, Dar al Atta'a's representative Eklas al Hashmi shared, women learn new skills, take on responsibility, manage timekeeping and adhere to business deadlines. Through responsibility, they grow and develop, feeding their new skills back into the business.
I can't help but notice that everyone I've met in the community house seem happy to be there. The energy is good, young kids are welcome, smiles are plentiful.
"This project is part of my life, this is my home," said Roqaya, concluding our conversation with a smile.
For further information on the Sidab women's group, see the following articles:
- Khan, G.M. (2013), 'Sidab Women's Sewing Group: an example of social entrepreneurship in the Arabian Gulf', Int. J. Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp.47-56.
- Sidab Women's Sewing Group: An example of Social Entrepreneurship in the Arabian Gulf
This text was originally published on Pink Jinn, a website focusing on culture, politics and sustainability in the MENA region.