DIPLOMATIC ECONOMY

EBRD, EU Support Small Business Blessing In Lebanon

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By Dima Hamdallah

With business advice from the EBRD and support from the European Union (EU), small enterprises in Lebanon like Blessing are able to improve their operations and become more efficient.

“It all started 23 years ago, when my son Fouad was born and my sister Rima decided to plan his baby shower,” says co-founder of the Lebanese company, Rana Kotaiche.

“She couldn’t, however, find any presents that she liked in the local markets so eventually she decided to make her own! This opened our eyes to the idea of producing party gifts and turning it into a business.”

The company’s name was inspired the birth of Rana’s son, which encouraged her to start her own business designing and manufacturing party favours, gifts and invites.

Rana runs Blessing with her sister Rima. Their enterprise helps party hosts and planners transform events into truly memorable ones and, true to the name, they believe that the best way to celebrate life is by giving a ‘blessing’ or otherwise gifting to your guests.

For over two decades, Blessing has been producing customised gifts, invitations and chocolates for a wide range of occasions – from baby showers, wedding ceremonies and Christmas parties to graduations and business functions. Their clients include private individuals, corporate groups and event planners.

The Kotaiche sisters grew the business on their own, initially managing, designing, producing and delivering all the gifts by themselves. They started from a small room in Rana’s house but today, Blessing operates in a 3,000 square meter space in Beirut which serves as a storage, retail and office facility.

Rima and Rana believed that they had not achieved their full potential as a small business just yet and they aimed to make their company internationally known. They saw that they had the basic tools but still needed a wider market. Blessing exports 60 per cent of its production to the Gulf countries and also sells to Lebanese clients living abroad. The company expanded with franchises in Oman and Bahrain in 2009.

But this growth translated into an increasing need for operational improvements. To enhance their internal processes, they hired a consultant in 2018, through the EBRD’s Advice for Small Businesses programme, which in Lebanon is funded by the EU. The consultant worked on restructuring four main aspects of the company’s operations: the collection curation process; the communications, sales and pricing procedures; the organizational processes; and the internal reporting flow.

“What makes us unique as a local business is our competitive design and quality. We are driven by our tenacity to succeed and I believe our credibility and work ethics helped us persevere,” says Rana, adding that the EBRD programme helped put everything into perspective by indicating where they needed to make improvements and how to run their business more efficiently.

One year after the project was completed, and despite the difficult economic and political situation in Lebanon, Blessing has been able to grow. The company increased its turnover in 2019 by focusing on exports, which now account for around 65 per cent of its turnover.

The co-founders believe that the empowerment of women is at the heart of what they do and that is why 54 per cent of their employees are female. But the company didn’t stop there. In 2012, Rima established the Blessing Foundation to help women in business gain access to a network of peers and to a special mentoring programme.

Today, the company is helping out during the coronavirus pandemic. In April Blessing launched the ‘Get a Blessing, Give a Blessing’ initiative, whereby with every gift basket that a customer buys, the company will donate a food box to a family in need. This initiative was developed in collaboration with Beit al Baraka, a Lebanese NGO that supports families in need and retirees, and will last throughout the month of Ramadan.

“Small and medium enterprises are the backbone of any economy. In Lebanon, the European Union continues to support small businesses like Blessing, as they are key to ensuring economic growth, innovation, job creation and social integration. We strongly believe that the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation will be determinant in overcoming the current economic crisis”, said the Ambassador of the European Union to Lebanon, Ralph Tarraf.

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