SITTI: Refugee Self-Reliance is the Ultimate Goal
SITTI began in 2014 after co-founders Noora Sharrab, Jacqueline Sofia and Safiah Abu Shanin gathered with a small group of women and several hundred of their bars of olive oil soap they made for their families and community in Jordan’s Jerash refugee camp. The co-founders were determined to create a brand around the high-quality soap and sell it outside the refugee camp so the artisans could earn a living wage.
“These women all ran into the same challenge – they had a beautiful product, cold-press olive oil soap, and incredible tenacity, but very limited resources to reproduce and sell their product,” said Co-Founder and CEO Sharrab. “We didn’t have any business acumen, but we found a way to make it work and sell this all-natural soap rooted in traditions and passed down from generation to generation in the refugee community.”
The co-founders launched a website and started selling the traditional soap online. Since those early days, the SITTI product line has grown and now offers 10+ popular skincare and home good items. SITTI is also now a multi-national brand with customers from Australia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.
“What started as a small bar of soap soon transformed into a social enterprise with a mission to support refugee participation in the global economy,” said Co-Founder and Chief Strategic and Impact Officer Sofia. “Refugee self-reliance is the ultimate goal, where the refugee community has equal and fair access to the tools they need to become self-reliant.”
Launching the small women-owned business from a refugee camp came with its share of challenges. Most importantly, the co-founders didn’t have much capital to put into the business, so they worked their own full-time jobs and ran SITTI on the side. Eventually, the company took off and the co-founders were able to focus on SITTI full-time.
Then Covid hit.
“As a small business working with a marginalized community and a remote leadership team, Covid was definitely a difficult time,” said Sofia. “People’s spending habits also shifted so we had to adjust our marketing strategy, and we were determined that everybody would keep their jobs. It required a lot of hustle, but we made it work.”
SITTI did have help along the way. In 2019, the company became certified with WEConnect International, a member-led, global non-profit that connects women-owned small and medium-sized businesses to qualified buyers around the world.
Earlier this year, UPS partnered with WEConnect International to launch the Proudly Unstoppable Women-Owned Small Business Grants Program. SITTI was one of many applicants for the grant, which intended to provide up to $5,000 USD to businesses with financial need. SITTI was selected as a grantee and the co-founders will use the funds to continue growing the business.
“UPS is committed to helping small and medium-sized women-owned businesses reach their goals in a rapidly-changing world,” said Betsy Wilson, UPS VP Digital Marketing and Brand Management. “UPS’s Proudly Unstoppable initiative helps these businesses compete with large ones. UPS teamed up with WEConnect International because both organizations believe women should have the same opportunities as men to compete in the global marketplace.”
WEConnect International’s mission is to drive money into the hands of women-owned businesses (WOB) by enabling them to compete in the global marketplace. They do this by connecting WOBs that have registered for free with WEConnect International with its 160 multinational member buyer organizations. All these multinational organizations are committed to supplier diversity and buying more products and services from WOBs globally.
“We are grateful to UPS and WEConnect International for working together to provide SITTI with capital resources to reinforce our company structure as we grow into new markets,” said Sharrab. “WEConnect International’s Women’s Business Enterprise certification (WBE) process continues to be a source of pride and accountability for us as a women-led and owned company, and we look for other WBE-certified companies when looking for prospective collaborators.”