For much of their lives, Fatima Nasser and Aziza Adam have lived with war. And yet it has not stopped the young Libyan entrepreneurs from trying to make change in their society.
They are the co-creators of Yummy!, an app that connects home-based cooks with customers who want delicious, fresh homemade food delivered to their door.
Their idea came from a situation that most of us find ourselves in — what to do about lunch?
“My colleague Aziza Adam and I were giving a workshop,” Fatima says. “We were hungry, so I told her; ‘imagine there is an app delivering homemade food’. At the beginning it was only an idea, but after we developed it, it became real.”
Yummy! provides a vital service in a country where only one in four women are employed, and their rights and opportunities are often curtailed by culture and by conflict. Fatima and Aziza want to do more than help connect cooks and customers — they want to be examples of change, and to provide opportunities for women and girls.
“Surrounding girls with fear and overly protecting them as they grow up is reflecting badly on their lives. They don’t get much choice when it comes to decision-making or handling problems outside of the house, which is a barrier preventing them from reaching or using their full potential,” Fatima says.
The food delivery service started in Sebha, in the south west of Libya, but it has since expanded north to Benghazi and Tripoli. It’s benefited from a three-year, European Union-funded partnership launched by UNDP Libya and Tatweer Research, which supports local entrepreneurs and boosts security and economic recovery by creating jobs.
Tatweer Entrepreneurship Campus, TEC, is a co-working space where young Libyans can develop their business plans, get training, mentoring, office space, and financial support. The TEC team is also incorporating entrepreneurship education into university curriculum, and working with local governments to reform business regulations to create sustainable jobs outside of the public sector.
The security situation remains unstable in Libya — Fatima recalls armed clashes taking place outside in Sebha while they were developing their app. But she refuses to let that stand in her way. And she and Aziza want to encourage other women to do the same.
“A lot of females have great ideas for businesses, or a desire to build careers but they are forced by society and recent security challenges to stay on hold, waiting until everything is magically fixed. This is used by a lot of people as an excuse to hold women in, or by women themselves. I highly support raising awareness on how we should all contribute to fixing the situation; and that staying put is not the answer,” Fatima says.
The EU and UNDP, in partnership with Tatweer Research, has given grants to Yummy! and five other start-ups.
One of the other women-led projects is an app called School Connect, which aims to improve communication between parents and teachers, with the goal of improving students’ academic performances. It was developed by Aziza Al-Hassi and Tufahah Saheem.
“One of the most rewarding aspects is the parents’ reactions when they use the app and see the positive impact in their children. This is something that we will not forget. My advice to every girl and every person that has an idea that can be put in practice is to develop this idea because Libya needs all the ideas and all the experiences,” she says.
More than just money, Tatweer and UNDP have given the women they support more confidence and ambition.
“Tatweer Research have opened the door of possibilities for us. We came out with more knowledge and the right basis to start a business from scratch, and with support of experts volunteering their time to help us, which opened channels of communication that did not exist before,” Fatima says.
Yummy! has helped talented home cooks such as Ekhlas Ekram, who was struggling to expand her business because she was having to do her own marketing and customer outreach, that she didn’t have enough time for her true passion.
“Now she is only required to do the thing she loves, which is cooking, and we take care of everything. Even her family supports her working with us,” Fatima says. “Now Ekhlas has regular customers and has catered more than five events.”
As Yummy! continues to grow, Fatima and Aziza want to help as many women as they can, by channelling their own dissatisfaction with the status quo.
“It made me realize and see my true passion and goal in this life, which is to help women in every possible way. I realized that business is where I fit, and can make tangible change, impact the community in a positive way, and mix some technology in the middle, because it is the future,” Fatima says.