Strong Coffee, Strong Women

Friday, October 4, 2019
Female entrepreneur Sameeha founded Rover Bird, a company that distributes a wide range of local agricultural products, with a focus on coffee.
Rover Bird for USAID

Forging a New Chapter for Yemen

“We should not forget that being a woman in a man’s world is very difficult, especially in Yemen. The International Women’s Coffee Alliance is like a passport for me.” -- Sameeha

Female entrepreneur Sameeha founded Rover Bird in 2009. The company distributes a range of local agricultural products, with a focus on coffee. “We faced huge problems in the beginning,” Sameeha recalls. “I was one of the very few Yemeni women to enter the coffee business. Men dominate the industry, and management level opportunities for women are very rare. Despite these hurdles, I managed to export to Japan, Ukraine, and some European countries – tiny quantities, but I realized I had real potential to grow.”

Rover Bird has strong growth potential thanks to the quality and cachet of Yemeni coffee, which have generated significant domestic and export demand. Yemen is home to one of the world’s oldest coffee drinking cultures and some of the best beans on the global market. Coffee represents the largest cultivated surface area in Yemen, providing direct income to almost 90,000 small-scale farmers.  With proper support, small businesses like Rover Bird can serve as an engine of growth and play a catalytic role in Yemen’s economic recovery and community revitalization.

In 2018, Sameeha began working with USAID through its Yemen Economic Stabilization and Success Program (USAID/YESS). USAID/YESS pilots enterprise-led solutions to Yemen’s social and political challenges, growing the economy by generating thousands of sustainable jobs and enhancing competitiveness in key growth sectors. Together, with a USAID/YESS business advisor, she identified key constraints to growth and developed a strategy to overcome them. “I had lots of outreach strategies, but the consultant that worked with me organized all of my ideas and suggested new ones. He showed me where I should start in order to overcome the growth hurdles I was facing.”  The strategy they developed allowed Rover Bird to define its product offerings, target sales and marketing strategies to different markets, and efficiently allocate human resources to the company’s needs.

Rover Bird is one of over 100 small and medium-sized businesses to partner with USAID/YESS over the past year to promote sustainable employment across the country. The project begins by identifying partner firms in high-growth sectors and then determining their key constraints to growth. USAID/YESS translates this analysis into goal-focused partnership agreements that create a shared vision of the pathway to sustainable growth, define growth targets, establish productivity enhancement parameters, and prioritize related areas of technical and training support. As businesses increase their productivity, they rapidly generate new jobs to meet market demand. To date, the program has generated commitment for about 3,500 jobs.

“One of the core competitive advantages of our business model and strategy,” explains USAID/YESS business advisor Henri Stetter, “is the fact that after we deliver our technical assistance to our partner enterprises, we work hard on developing new, innovative, and concrete market linkages with and for these enterprises.”

For Rover Bird, YESS assistance has helped raise the company’s profile and standing in the region. It has opened new export markets and improved consumer perception of the brand. As a direct result, Rover Bird has doubled its staff from two to four employees to meet additional demand, and it successfully launched the Yemen Chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA). The mission of the IWCA, a global network of independent chapters in more than 24 countries, is to empower women in the international coffee community to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives; and to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry. As a global organization, the IWCA achieves empowerment through leadership development, strategic partnership, and market visibility. The Yemen chapter is creating an economic entity, with a specialized center for processing and marketing, designed to secure women’s livelihoods and connect them with local and international markets.

“This is an incredible step,” reflects Mr. Stetter. “It will open many new doors for the Yemeni coffee industry, as well as for women-owned Yemeni enterprises.”

For Sameeha, it is just the first of many big steps to come. “In one year, I am planning to have a Rover Bird brand that will be distributed in major European cities, North America, and Japan,” she says. “In five years, I will have my own coffee shops in Yemen and beyond. By then, we will be able to guarantee the quality, product traceability, and price.”

USAID’s Yemen Economic Stabilization and Success (YESS) program supports self-reliance and resilience by facilitating trade, increasing employment, supporting sustainable livelihoods, and stabilizing crucial macroeconomic policy issues. In the past year, YESS has leveraged private-sector commitments to generate about 3,500 jobs for at-risk populations, built international stakeholder support for a trade facilitation agreement, provided livelihood support to over 3,500 farmers, and assisted the Central Bank of Yemen to articulate major macro-financial reform challenges and support needs. The program is part of the USAID Middle East Economic Growth Best Practices Project, which provides the Middle East Bureau, Missions, and Operating Units with tools to support economic growth and reform across the Middle East and North Africa.

Last updated: March 02, 2020

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