‘Sougha’ seeks to preserve Emirati heritage


By Khadeeja AlHosani

ABU DHABI—Who knew that the small villages around the United Arab Emirates would at some point rise in competition, and that the Bedouins would form their own team of players in the world of business and entrepreneurship?

The surprise came to people in 2009 through “Sougha,” an enterprise initiative at Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development.

Through this initiative, more than 100 home-based artisans in different regions of the nation got the chance to weave their way through the world of business, continuously designing different products that help to preserve the country’s heritage in a modernized way. Those artisans where offered the chance to develop their technical and entrepreneurial skills through different programs.

Sougha first started as an idea of a dreamer with a persistent attitude, who decided to choose “passion” as a guide to her coming life achievements. Leila Ben-Gacem, 42, senior manager at Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, came up with the idea of this program while travelling around the country.

Ms. Ben-Gacem decided to leave her job in the field of medical technology and “let her dream become her boss.”

“I decided I love people, and one thing lead to another, until I found myself buying handicrafts, traveling to Europe to get orders for artisans back home in Tunisia who obviously had a struggling business,” Ben-Gacem said, “in the process, I discovered un-seizable opportunities because of wrong business practices and lack of market knowledge.”

Spotting a problem that stopped many artisans from using their talents and bringing them out to the world, Ben-Gacem decided this was where her help might come in handy.

“I wanted so much to equip and enable them to sustain their craft, improve their livelihood and improve their socio-economic wellbeing, and this became my new mission since 2006,” she said.

Since 2009, Sougha’s pilot project of 12 artisans from the western region of Abu Dhabi has expanded to towns from Sila to Dibba.

“Sougha today is a social enterprise which markets and sells trendy Emirati heritage inspired products, hand-made home-made by local artisans” she said.

Sougha products could be found in many different places in Abu Dhabi: Central Market Souk, Aloft Hotel, Monte Carlo Beach Resort, Jumeirah Etihad Towers and Etihad ticketing office Marina Mall. They can also be found in different places in Dubai and are suitable for different tastes and different affordable prices.

Sougha certainly received plenty of support as an idea and as an attempt to preserve heritage and provide chances to different people.

Dr. Nawal AlHosany, a sustainability director at Masdar and one of the successful women in the Emirati work force, showed her enthusiasm and support to the idea of this program.

“Most small businesses fail because the entrepreneur is under-skilled not under-capitalized and this is why I think Sougha is very unique initiative” Dr. AlHosany said, “Through professional training and empowerment Sougha aims to develop a trendy collection of traditional and cultural products, of high quality that will be commercialized in a modern way hence preserving the craft and improving artisan income” she said.

The leadership at ZU, which provides its students with different events and programs to help them develop and improve their entrepreneurial skills, thought that Sougha would be a clear and perfect inspiration to the students.

Amal AlKhouri, senior activities consultant at ZU, showed lots of support for Sougha and promised to keep it in mind to try to give the program a chance to participate in future business events on campus.

Amena AlHosani, 19, a student in psychology and human services, chose to introduce Sougha products to the students at ZU as a gesture of support.

“I saw the passion in Leila’s eyes as she told us about how the Emirati women were getting to experience success and have a huge part in the Emirati business and this is what caught my attention,” Ms. AlHosani said. “A person this passionate deserves all the help and support from everybody who has the chance to do so.”

To join in on this heritage preserving experience, Ms. AlHosani got a booth on campus to display Sougha products during the coming yearly Spring Festival, and is trying to gather support from the other business stores in the Promenade.

“After displaying the products in the booth, we will see what is being sold the most and then try to sell more of these products through different business programs on campus, and ZU’s Fashion Club is willing to help out,” she said.

Sougha’s income goes to artisans, who price their products themselves. So, in general, there are many sides that benefit from this program throughout the country.


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