Entrepreneur Brews Up Coffee and Wi-Fi in Ramallah

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ramallah's sole chain of coffee shops--ZAMN--was started by Huda El-Jack, who moved there in 2003 as a trailing spouse and saw a business opportunity when she couldn't find a good cup of coffee. She's now eyeing more towns in the West Bank.

JERUSALEM (WOMENSENEWS)--For the first six months after Huda El-Jack sold her California house and moved to the West Bank in 2003, she had second thoughts.

"I wondered what the heck I had done," she laughs during a phone interview. "I still sometimes wonder. I have a lot of questions about whether that was a good decision."

El-Jack, who has a graduate business degree and a background in information management, is a mother of two living in the Palestinian territories. There, in her husband's hometown of Ramallah, she co-founded the first and only branded coffee shop franchise, ZAMN (Time) in 2008. She now has two shops.

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El-Jack and her two partners are negotiating a potential third West Bank location and have fielded inquiries from Haifa, Nazareth and Tel Aviv.

"I have to be ready because there is stiff competition there," she says. "Here, we are kind of in a class of our own."

The two cafes today are managed by a former hotel administrator, freeing El-Jack to work as an investment manager at Siraj FUN I, a Palestinian private equity fund. She is the only female director of the portfolio firm Wassel Palestine Logistics and Distribution Company, the West Bank UPS representative, based in Ramallah.

In mid-July, the board voted in El-Jack as interim chief of the 1,000-employee company, making her the first female CEO of a publicly traded Palestinian business.

"She has really broken the glass ceiling," says Palestinian Stock Exchange CEO Ahmed Aweida, who is one ZAMN's two other co-owners.

Overall, fewer than 20 percent of Palestinian women are active in the work force. The percentage is much higher in cities such as Ramallah. The coffee-shop franchise currently employs six women among its 30 workers, a number that fluctuates since many of the employees are college students.

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Thanks for this great story - and all the other terrific Wenews stories. However, please note that it is not correct to speak about the difference between the Palestinian territories, Ramallah included, and "the rest of Israel." The territories are not legally part of Israel, but are occupied by it.
Philippa Strum