How OPIC’s support is helping small businesses flourish in the most challenging places.
By Bethel Stevens
Officer, Investment Funds
In 2010, OPIC approved a $30 million loan to Siraj Palestine Fund I managed by the Siraj Fund Management Company (SFMC), a first time fund manager investing exclusively in the West Bank. OPIC’s investment in Siraj is just one example of how the Agency’s investments in frontier markets is helping drive additional private sector capital to where it is needed most. In the West Bank, tackling unemployment and economic slowdown by supporting businesses is not only key to addressing critical development challenges, but is also vital to sustaining peace.
Today, Siraj has fully invested its first fund and boasts a robust portfolio of 14 companies across diverse sectors such as agriculture, energy, healthcare and financial services. In a recent visit, members of the OPIC team were able to see first-hand some of these investments and learn about the impact these companies are having in the greater community.
Nakheel Palestine is a company located in Jericho that specializes in the production, packaging and sale of highly prized Medjool dates. At the time of Siraj’s investment in 2011, Nakheel was a small startup with two farms and 11 permanent employees. Since then, the company has acquired additional farms and added a cold storage and packing facility. Today Nakheel is thriving with a total of six farms, 70 permanent employees and 230 seasonal employees, 30% of whom are women. The company is also one of the largest date producers in the region and there is increasing global demand for its high quality product. With help from Siraj, Nakheel was able to strengthen its managerial team, institute new technology and develop its long-term growth strategy. Today the company shows no signs of slowing down and is negotiating the purchase of 2 additional farms, which is expected to increase production by 200% of current capacity.
PalGaz is a distributor of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a low-carbon alternative to traditional rural heating fuels such as kerosene. Siraj first invested in the company in 2011 when it was a family owned business distributing gas cylinders from a single local station in Nablus. Siraj carried out a turnaround strategy of PalGaz, which included a company reorganization, expansion of infrastructure, introduction of new technology and repositioning of the company as a regional supplier and service provider. In addition to central gas distribution, PalGaz now also offers add-on services such as diesel-to-LPG conversion solutions for businesses. Among the company’s clients are hospitals, universities and manufacturing plants, all of whom are using LPG as a more affordable solution. For example, converting one boiler from diesel to LPG can save a hospital an average of 35%-40% a year in energy costs. Although most business today still rely on diesel, PalGaz has embarked on a public awareness initiative, holding multiple workshops and trainings each year on the environmental and business benefits of conversion and offering free feasibility studies for interested businesses.
The National Bank is one of the fastest growing commercial banks in the West Bank with 13 branches nationwide. As an investor in the bank since 2012, Siraj has served on the board and has helped the bank improve internal governance and controls. The bank has been a pioneer in the local market in integrating technology such as mobile banking into its services, and has launched an ambitious expansion strategy to reach more unbanked and under-banked clients, with a wide array of unique financial products. These products include special agricultural loans with non-traditional collateral requirements and customized repayment schedules and those that promote women empowerment and entrepreneurship. The Hayati savings account, for example, is a product specifically designed to help women save and become financially secure by offering micro loans at zero interest rates. Women who open and maintain a savings account are also automatically enrolled in an annual lottery system, which gives out scholarships, grants and even a chance at owning a house.
Bahiya Falafayl [Pictured right] is a part of the Hayati program and received a zero-interest loan to start a clothing business. Bahiya borrowed $25,000 through the program, which she used as seed capital to buy equipment and material. She now has up to forty women working part-time for her to fulfill orders of her one of a kind embroidered scarves and dresses, which she also exports abroad.