Rudaina Haddad was one of the first women tour guides in Jordan. She soon realized the limits of the classical “tourist package” offered to visitors in Jordan, mainly consisting of visiting archaeological sites. In fact, she felt that, somehow, she was contributing to a type of tourism that marginalizes the local population and fails to allow tourists to really meet the true, local Jordanian culture.
Rudaina remembers very well the dissatisfaction she experienced before founding Bookagri.com:
“If a tourist comes to Jerash, a great Jordanian city, after the visit he or she is taken to souvenir shops where the 99.9% of what is sold is made in China or India. This marginalizes Jordanian heritage and products whereas these shops should sell only Jordanian products made by local women and farmers. Instead, tourists go to restaurants where nothing is properly Jordanian. Menus mainly offer Lebanese food, which is very good and I also love it very much, but when someone comes to Jordan they should be immersed in Jordanian culture.
The choice of where to stay falls usually on 5, 4 ore 3 stars hotels, that are mainly situated in Amman. After the trip the tourists tell people – I saw the history of the Roman empire, of ancient Greece, Byzantine and the modern way of living in the country – but where is the Jordanian society in that? Where is the Jordanian food? What about Jordanian heritage? Even if I tried every time to talk about local culture, the visitors weren’t able to really assimilate this information because they didn’t actually see with their eyes how is the lifestyle in a Jordanian household. They maintained their prejudices of Jordan as a place where people are fanatic, where there are only camels and the houses don’t have fridges or electricity. They even didn’t believe I was Jordanian!”
Then, in 2014, Rudaina came up with the idea of Bookagri: Developing many unique agritourism experiences and brand them with Bookagri as different destinations in Jordan and display them on Bookagri.com; a platform for showcasing agri-rural tourism businesses and farm activities and connecting the visitor with a range of agritourism experiences. She decided to create a project that would allow the inclusion of local society, by making it part of this process and by giving tourists the possibility to buy directly from farmers both souvenirs and food. The idea was presented in a call for proposals by the European Union and managed to win along with 11 others over 400 applications. The project was then registered in the Ministry of Industry and Trade and, since then, is has been constantly growing. Moreover, besides international tourists, Bookagri manages to attract also locals, as it helps them to connect to their roots. They bring their children to teach them even basic things as for example that milk comes from goats, or the difference a goat and a cow.
The challenges of being a social entrepreneur and MedUp!’s support
Even during the lockdown due to the COVID19 pandemic, the project continued thanks to the diversification of products allowing for a stream of income. In fact, food kept on being produced in the farms and sent to Amman’s market branded as Bookagri. Rudaina is well aware that the Social Enterprise is a new concept for Arab societies and realizes the greater responsibilities that come with it compared than a traditional enterprise: she now works with 30 households, families and farms, including more than 200 people that live with the revenue of the project and she considers them all as partners of Bookagri.
Nevertheless, satisfaction deriving from social entrepreneurship does not come without difficulties. One of the greater challenges for Rudaina was to find the families she could work with, the second was to train them and the third to find financial support to maintain high standards of hygiene. Rudaina does not think of it as an easy job:
“You deal with people from different regions in the country and each one has their way of doing things. Luckily the farmers I am working with didn’t take me as a challenge, as a city person that came to impose her rules, but they understood that I went to them with the idea of shedding the light on the rural life without changing anyone or anything”.
Her biggest support came from her husband and children. Indeed, Rudaina and her husband started off with financing the project with their own money. Rudaina believes that there are no real differences between men and women entrepreneurs:
“I believe that the only difference between women and men are physical. Leading a business is made with the mind, and on this side, we have the same potential. If you have a passion and strongly believe in your idea, you can do whatever you want, no one can say no to you”.
Thanks to the MedUp! funds Rudaina could realize her idea and scale up her business, expanding it to the marginalized southern part of Jordan, the Karak Governorate. Now six unique agritourism experiences are developed in Karak at six different farms and households and are branded with Bookagri. With the rest of the MedUp! funds Rudaina focused on enhancing the development of other six Bookagri experiences in the northern Jordan Govenorates of Ajloun, Jerash and Salt. In the next two years she sees Bookagri bigger and more successful, focusing on advertising their new projects in the Karak area.
Radaina’s tips to a young, aspiring entrepreneur:
The secret to success is to make the project your priority, to persevere and to maintain the continuity. She advises to have patience because a social entrepreneur needs twice as much patience compared to a traditional business owner. Moreover, a social enterprise should be transparent and respectful with the social and environmental context where the enterprise is inserted. A social entrepreneur should not impose a model or a system with superiority, but rather to into account the interests of all the parties, to be intelligent, gentle and to respect boundaries.
“If I have to say a slogan it would be: If you have a dream, go for it and never stop, and that nothing comes easily. No one finishes the ladder from the first step! You have to start from the first step and when you arrive, you arrive, and this is the important part”
This piece was elaborated with Rudaina Haddad from Bookagri and based on the materials collected as part of the MedUp! Mid-Term Evaluation process.