A comparative study of entrepreneurship of displaced Syrian women in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Arab and Islamic Studies


This research seeks to understand the Syrian refugee crisis from female economic perspective. It moves to assess how refugee-women in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan influence and contribute to host-economies. While the socio-economic impact of refugees on host-communities is tackled repeatedly in the literature (Chambers,1986; Alix-Garcia & Saah,2010; Borjas & Monras,2017; Clemens & Hunt,2017; Peri & Yasenov,2018), there persist huge gaps in knowledge of refugees' positive socio-economic contribution.

Refugee-women are often portrayed as passive victims stripped of agency. Alhayek(2014) refutes the self-orientalist representation of Syrian women, illustrating their heterogeneity. Syrian women are broadly under-represented in the media and political scenery (Brownlee,2017). Their everyday expedients to exercise agency and negotiate roles in displaced contexts is rarely investigated. Equally importantly, the role of development actors in supporting female refugees is poorly understood. As a displaced Syrian woman, and a humanitarian volunteer working with refugees, I believe such experience should be examined to identify vulnerabilities and opportunities. As an economist who analysed entrepreneurships, I find entrepreneurship evolving in such circumstances a phenomenon worth studying.

Numerous examples of female entrepreneurship are emerging in Syria's neighbouring countries challenging negative stereotypes: "Drop earrings, not bombs" is a business started by displaced Syrian women in Istanbul for handmade jewellery. Focusing on refugee-women entrepreneurs in host countries, I intend to develop a bottom-up approach to explore their economic experience and contribution to host economies.

Research Questions:
Q1: What are the economic characteristics of the entrepreneurial experience of refugee Syrian women?
Sub-questions: Which sectors are they active in? How do businesses vary in size, model and competitive advantage? Their access to finance? How do they develop the knowhow?
Q2: What are the environmental factors affecting their entrepreneurial experience?
Sub-questions: What are the entry barriers and risks they are exposed to? How do to they employ ICT? How are their economic interactions affected by: Policies, Identity politics, Media discourse, Gender norms? How do inter(national) organisations support their entrepreneurship?
Q3. How can we make refugee-women entrepreneurship sustainable?
Sub-questions: Which models enhance female entrepreneurship in displacement contexts? How to enhance social-networks role in supporting it? What are the vehicles to grow their businesses and how to sustain their accessibility and utilization?

The research is multi-sited and multi-sighted, based on extensive ethnographic participant-observation and in-depth interviews in Istanbul, Beirut and Amman (around 20 interviews in each site and multiple informal interviews based on key-informant and established networks). Fieldwork will focus on female refugees venturing into business, and all actors regulating, halting, responding to the displacement, namely, local authorities and inter(national) organisations. Additionally, focused discussion groups will be held to address research questions 2 and 3. This will be carried-out in collaboration with 3 research centres closely linked to the University of Exeter: Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, the Centre for Migration Research at Bilgi University and the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development.

Entrepreneurship will be identified by a combination of classical and management schools' definitions (Cunningham and Lischeron;1991), combining elements of opportunities-seeking, and risk-assuming, acknowledging small-businesses as vehicles for entrepreneurship (Thurik & Wennekers,2004).


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2249138 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2019 16/04/2024 Fida Adra