UNICEF's GIL youth programme guides Aseel to export success
At 21, her friends regarded her as a failure. Three years later, supported by the Prospect funded UNICEF- Generation of Innovation Leaders programme, she's the hands-on owner of a composting company called “Cultiva”
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At 21, Aseel Jafaar's friends and family regarded her as a failure. Three years later, following support from the UNICEF - Generation of Innovation Leaders programme, she's the hands-on owner of the Lebanese composting company called “Cultiva”. With export contracts for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, plus Germany and Egypt on the cards within the next twelve months, she reflects on her path to success and says, "It's a dream come true".
Like many youth of her generation, Aseel has felt hopes dashed by the multiple crises faced in the country. Youth employment prospects around her home in rural Bekaa are among the lowest. However, unwilling to see her ambition unfulfilled, in 2020, together with friends, she first launched a commercial composting project.
"We established a business on the back of a great idea", she insists. "However, we quickly failed".
Unable to secure even a small bank loan, friends dropped away from the project, and her family started pushing for her to focus back on her education and complete her university degree. Aseel remained convinced that the business’s failure was not due to a flawed concept but through an ill-conceived commercial strategy.
"My family told me not to waste my time pursuing my dream. They tried to convince me that girls don't do things like this, and others in my community amplified this negative sentiment.
"Everyone looked at me as a failure, but I still believed in the project", she recalls. "I knew I needed to learn the basics of entrepreneurship and how to nurture my dream to become a reality".
"Everyone looked at me as a failure, but I still believed in the project and the people I met through GIL became became my family. They trusted me, they encouraged me to believe in myself"
Early 2021 proved to be a turning point for Aseel's project when she was introduced to the UNICEF- Generation of Innovation Leaders (GIL) programme.
Established to help address high unemployment rates among youth in Lebanon, the mission of GIL is to empower, train, and educate youth by giving them access to resources that help them develop their skills, improve their livelihoods, and ultimately shape their future.
Through innovation, technology, and an entrepreneurial mindset, GIL creates young leaders and innovators.
Aseel says, "The people I met through GIL became my technical support, personal support, business support, and financial support. They became my family. They trusted me".
Judging by the commercial strength Aseel's Cultiva has gone on to achieve, she has repaid this trust many times over and has produced a sustainable success.
Having pitched her business plan on the first GIL meeting, Aseel was swiftly paired up with mentors who helped guide her through the realities of establishing a start-up in Lebanon's current context.
So impressed was GIL with Aseel's project and how she accepted advice and took on best practices that she was provided with a seed-funding of $2,000 to purchase essential equipment for the project set-up based on a well-defined business plan.
UNICEF Adolescents and Youth Innovation Development Officer Jessica Hanna- GIL programme manager, is eager to highlight Aseel as an exemplary model of what GIL was created to accomplish. "Through her ambition, vision and hard work, she managed to reach her dream and create job opportunities for young people", she notes. "GIL aims at unboxing youth's potential and supports them to reach their goals of becoming change-makers in their communities".
"In 2021, when I approached banks for just $200, they wouldn't arrange a loan for me", she remembers. "Just two years later, empowered with additional knowledge, the $2,000 provided by GIL were enough of a launchpad to get me to where I am today".
Cultiva now comprises seven staff on a full-time basis, whereas an additional 35 women are working on seasonal basis to collect the biowaste materials needed to keep Aseel's composters full.
"GIL empowered me with knowledge, connections, and the financial boost, they encouraged me to believe in myself"
A recent partnership with Compost Baladi – a Beirut-based social enterprise that supports composting in the community – has provided additional technical assistance.
Bioresource potting soil is too expensive to import. Still, with its 100% organic locally produced soil, Cultiva is today supporting more than 100 farmers and 35 rural women in Lebanon during challenging times by helping them increase productivity while at the same time reducing their costs.
Her company has gained a solid reputation and was identified by Lebanon's Minister for the Environment in February 2023 as a key supplier to support an upcoming reforestation plan to add 1,000,000 trees to Lebanon's countryside.
"GIL empowered me with knowledge, connections, and the financial boost I needed to get started. But most of all, they encouraged me to believe in myself", she insists.
"I learned I am a great woman, not a failure. I now know that with the correct planning and good support, nothing is impossible", powerfully concluding, "I encourage all women to follow their dreams".