Saudi charity empowers disadvantaged women to gain financial independence

Bunyan Charity founded by 64 Saudi women provides home micro-loans and skills training to help marginalised women develop their own businesses

The battle to create meaningful jobs and provide affordable homes is a challenge faced by many countries around the world with young, fast growing populations.

In a country like Saudi Arabia where 65 percent of the population is under 29 years old and a reliance on state subsidies is prevalent, the issue is particularly acute. According to the National Transformation Program 2020 published June 2016 unemployment among Saudis stood at 11.6 percent.

While the country is taking bold strides to implement reforms ushered in by its Vision 2030 to shift the economy away from oil dependency and state support to a knowledge based economy based on education and training, there remains a pressing need to support the more disadvantaged in society.

As a result, there has been a rise in the number of charitable institutions in the Kingdom which act as bridges to those less privileged by helping to set them on a path to financial independence.

Bunyan is one charity which has helped over 1,800 families in the country transform their standards of living by providing skills training in a cooperative culture to create jobs and income, while also disbursing micro-finance loans to provide homes for disadvantaged families.

Founder Nada Al Bawardi is a 15 year veteran of championing charitable giving, but six years ago her philosophy changed from one of philanthropic donations to individuals to one of providing skills training and business support to deliver a sustainable path to financial independence, rather than perpetual dependence on hand-outs..

In partnership with 63 other Saudi women, Nada founded Bunyan Charity. Since its inception, the charity has worked to provide interest-free loans to purchase or renovate housing while, at the same time, each family member is expected to participate in technical training to equip them with the skills necessary to build their own businesses.

The charity holds a broad range of regular training courses including IT and English language skills, food processing, catering, garment production and knitting, in order to provide employment opportunities. Job opportunities are then identified by the charity, in coordination with various government or civil sector departments.

Bunyan has also partnered with the Ministry of Education, and a number of universities across the Kingdom, to provide less-privileged students with access to public school and tertiary education.

One of the charity’s profitable businesses is Bunyan Chefs which provides contract catering services to several well-established Saudi food brands. The profits from sales are then used to pay employee wages and help to sustain the charity.

Khairiah Al Hindi is one of the women that has benefitted from Bunyan’s activities. A talented cook, she secured a full-time position on the charity’s cooking program and she has been instrumental in developing Bunyan Chef’s successful outside catering business which is marketed through Instagram.

Another cook Ayesha Al Shehri commented: “Bunyan has provided my family and me with housing, training and education. Through its support I’ve gained the confidence to follow my ambitions, and I hope to use recent legislation that allows women to set up their own food truck to found my own business.”

While the 1,800 families which Bunyan has assisted to date to become financially independent is testament to the charity’s success, there is still much to be done.

Bunyan board member Amal Al Sawary said: “I hope that traditional arbitrary donations which are given away without any concern for specific cases, and which more often than not do not benefit those most in need or provide a sustainable future for individuals, are a thing of the past.

“Instead, charities like Bunyan have proved that we not only help those who need support most, but also provide them with a home and a skill to develop their own businesses and become truly financially independent.”

Indeed, that concept is reflected in the name “Bunyan” itself which has a special meaning in Arabic. Bunyan means the step-by-step development of a solid building, and the word was used by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to describe the support between people which is as strong as the bricks in a building.