Bedouins, in general, are not known for their entrepreneurial savvy.
Want unparalleled hospitality, including mint tea that makes your mouth water? Please, visit some Bedouins. Need to know the healing properties of desert herbs? Google a Bedouin. Bedouins are resourceful, smart, and generous to a fault, but you probably won’t find many speaking at TED.
But there I was, in the Negev Desert in Southern Israel, hanging out with a Bedouin entrepreneur. A female Bedouin entrepreneur, to be precise.
Her name is Miriam, and her dream is to be the biggest creator and distributor of natural cosmetics in the Middle East.
What are you working on these days?
Fluent in English and unmarried, she sat on a stool and told us her story. She grew up in the Negev, in the small village of Tel Ber Sheeva, in her grandmother’s tent, which she shared with 20 brothers and sisters.
You know, like you do.
Her grandmother made natural beauty products and medicines from the resources that were growing in the desert, and people came to her for healing. But Miriam wanted nothing to do with that.
Instead, she wanted to go to college. In London.
Her family laughed at her. They wanted her to get married and have babies. But she persisted, and when she received a scholarship, her father let her go. When she was there, she lived with a woman who, like her grandmother, was also a healer. And over the course of time, she fell in love with her roots, got her degree, and moved back to the Negev, and began to make soaps out of camel’s milk and other desert herbs. She also started making aromatic oils, selling them to local women and to tourists.
Her persistence in the face of overwhelming odds delighted us, challenged us, and made us fall in love with her. She didn’t have the money to start her business, so she convinced several friends and relatives to sell their jewelry, promising that she would pay them back.
She borrowed 30,000 shekels, which is about 9,000 dollars. Then she wrote that number in red on the top of a sheet of paper and put it up in her bedroom, vowing to pay it back within twelve months. Every time she sold something, she put that money away, and in four months, she had earned back the money and paid everyone off. Like a boss.
This was despite the fact that she could not put her phone number on her products, since it was considered uncouth for a single Bedouin woman to do that. Oh, and she didn’t have a website, she couldn’t put her address or phone number on her products, and she still found a way to sell her product and pay off that loan.
You know, like you do.
For seven years, her family pressured her to give up her dream, to focus on finding a husband, and to be realistic. No one thought she would succeed.
Her business is now ten years old, and she has hired five women to work with her, because part of her dream is to give women dignified employment in a system that is sometimes unbelievably cruel to women. Her goal is to add one woman per year to her growing business.
So what did I learn from Miriam about what it takes to succeed?
1. Though it’s always wise to receive counsel from trusted friends and family, after listening to them, sometimes you have to trust your gut and go against their advice. Especially when you’re trying to do something that no one thinks you can do. You’re not always going to be right, and you might not succeed, but sometimes, you’re the only one on your side.
2. Set small goals and be ruthless about meeting them. I love Miriam’s vow to pay off that loan in twelve months, and I love that she put it on a sheet of paper in her bedroom. IN RED. For big dreamers to succeed, they must know how to pay off their debts and work a plan, otherwise they’re just big dreamers.
3. Audaciously and unapologetically invite others to participate in your dream. Imagine the vision that it took to get her friends and relatives to sell their jewelry in order to take part in her dream. You don’t get people to part with what’s precious to them if you tell them what you’re doing is no big deal. Do you believe in what you’re doing that much?
4. Make it bigger than you. At some point, it wasn’t just about selling cosmetics. It became about employing other Bedouin women. This is the part of the story that inspires me the most. When your product stops being widgets and starts being people, everyone wins.
So, what is your dream, and what can you learn from Miriam? What is your next step?