A version of this story originally appeared on SPARK's website

Cherifa Soltani is a female entrepreneur who lives in the province of El Kef in Tunisia, a beautiful area with abundant natural resources but a high rate of unemployment and a lack of investment in infrastructure.

Cherifa left school early to learn to weave so she could support her family financially. In 2005, despite economic hardships, she was able to buy a basic weaving machine and installed it in a small outdoor area near her home, to be used whenever the weather allowed it.

Always looking to overcome her difficult daily life, Cherifa has been deeply committed to learning. She has strived to improve her technical skills and become more creative in her designs. Later on, with the support of some NGOs, she participated in training programs and local and regional exhibitions.  

In 2016, after 11 years of building on her dreams, Cherifa was introduced to the LEAD program. The LEAD coaching team assessed her skills and recognized her potential, and thought that she could gain a lot from proper business training. The team helped her seek financial support from a microfinance institute. This enabled her to expand her business: she opened two new workshops and increased her production to meet the market’s demand. Today, Cherifa employs 22 women in three workshops and her total investment has multiplied by 10 since 2005. Creating decent work for these 22 women contributes directly to sustained economic growth in Cherifa’s region. Many of these women are heads of their household, and having a job means another step towards financial empowerment and self-sufficiency.

Cherifa Soltani is one of more than 100 trainees who participated in two 4-day workshops held in October 2016. More than half of these women already have an established business like Cherifa’s or are looking to start their own business. Under the LEAD program, implemented by SPARK and TAMSS in Tunisia, these strong women learned about business planning, administration, human resources, legislation and financing.