NBC in Gaza forging ahead
For anyone concerned about Palestine's future, Gaza's economic statistics can make for depressing reading. Whilst a much-depleted number of businesses, both Palestinian and from further afield, continue to invest in Gaza, current statistics speak for themselves1. An absence of basic infrastructure (electricity, clean water, sewage treatment, and waste management) has blighted the daily lives of Gaza’s 1.9 million citizens.
In this article, we hear how Palestine's National Beverage Company (NBC), Coca-Cola and Cappy franchisee and a long-term investor in Gaza, is finally seeing how its unwavering support of Gaza's population is bringing results. Further expansion of NBC's factory in Gaza's Industrial Zone and plans to build a much needed desalination water treatment plant are giving Gazans hope for a brighter future. NBC has also worked closely with the Economic Media Forum to fund much needed training for journalists and media professionals.
The National Beverage Company (NBC) is the third largest employer in Palestine. With 700 direct employees in the West Bank and Gaza, 200 of whom are based in Gaza, NBC also support around 7,000 indirect jobs across the country. This is all the more important at a time when unemployment rates across the West Bank (21%) and Gaza (44%) are on the increase1. Tackling unemployment has been one of NBC's many goals throughout the years. By going one step further and building a new bottling and canning line in Gaza, rather than simply distributing imported beverages from the West Bank, NBC has shown that it is there to stay. By becoming one of the first businesses to invest heavily in Gaza's Industrial Zone, NBC has led the way from the very start.
Factory's growth tackles unemployment
According to UNCTAD's 2015 report, Gaza’s per capita GDP 4 has shrunk by 23% since 1994. The report noted the dire socioeconomic conditions in Gaza over the years, and the need for significant reconstruction in sectors such as health, education, energy, water and sanitation. Since then reconstruction activities have been slow to non-existent due to regular periods of conflict and the restrictions placed upon building materials such as cement: of the $5.4 billion pledged at 2014's Cairo Conference on Palestine – Reconstructing Gaza, over half was committed to reconstruction projects — but according to the World Bank, only 51% had been disbursed as of 2016. In September 2017, a World Bank report on Gaza5 promoted a new vision for the Palestinian economy that could produce between 6% and 8% annual growth. Investment in the private sector could create upwards of 60,000 jobs in Gaza, create new areas of economic activity, and significantly improve living standards. NBC's Coca-Cola Gaza factory was announced in 2014 and began construction in the Industrial Zone in 2016 with an initial investment of $20 million. Phase one produced soft drinks in glass bottles (Returnable Bottle), creating 120 direct jobs and about 1,200 indirect jobs. With the successful opening of its second phase, the factory now produces soft drinks in metal cans and glass bottles, employing 150 people, expected to rise to 200, with 1,500 indirect jobs in the local area, expected to rise to 2,000. Upon the completion of phase three, over 300 direct jobs (and the associated indirect jobs) will cement NBCs long-term commitment to the local community. Staff are delighted that NBC is sticking with Gaza as they realise just how important it is for the community at large to have such constant support even when the going gets tough. NBC's General Manager, Mr. Imad al-Hindi, believes that overcoming the complexities involved with building in Gaza makes it even more satisfying when projects are completed successfully. Helping those most in need is intrinsic to NBC's long-standing commitment to assist all sectors of Palestine's diverse communities. Since announcing the project in 2014, through to the first phase's inauguration in 2016, regular updates have appeared in this magazine; with the second phase now operational, the future of the site is guaranteed. People at all levels of NBC, from the board of directors and executive management to NBC's staff and suppliers worked constantly to overcome the challenges involved with establishing Gaza's Coca-Cola factory.
Water - unsafe to drink - until now
As our previous articles have testified, NBC has an extensive range of CSR activities to assist those elements of Palestinian civil society that need support and succour. In Gaza, nothing could be more urgent than the need for potable water. Due to incredibly high rates of unemployment and displacement of its citizens, it comes as no surprise, but shocking at the same time, to hear that 80% of Gazans receive food assistance or other forms of help. But when NBC's directors heard that only 10% residents have access to a clean, safe water supply, they knew that something more concrete than donations of water were required. Working jointly with Coca-Cola Foundation, Coca-Cola Middle East and Mercy Corps, the international development organisation, NBC is directly involved with one their most important community projects so far: a water desalination unit constructed near Al-Maghazi refugee camp. It will provide over 30,000 Gazans with clean water6, implement a youth empowerment program aims at developing employment opportunities for youngsters in Gaza, and conducting a public awareness campaign to educate inhabitants about hygienic way of handling and storing their water. The plant will distribute 90,000 litres per day from 20 outlet points throughout the refugee camp, daily access to fresh water will make such a difference to the lives of young and old alike. Gaza’s ongoing electricity crisis has also meant that power has been unavailable for up to 20 hours per day at the height of the current shortage. This has crippled economic activity and the delivery of vital services, especially health services, water supplies, and sewage treatment. With the completion of this desalination project, at least one of these longstanding issues will be solved for one neighbourhood in Gaza.
Training media professionals
Talking about how businesses are coping within such a restricted economy has often been difficult in recent times. As Gaza tries to develop a more robust business environment, it is important to try to engender a more positive and encouraging - but at the same time realistic - style of reporting about the local situation. NBC saw that there was a gap in local media to provide Gazans with high quality professional reporting about the economy. More in-depth analysis of the areas of interest to entrepreneurs, for example, would hopefully encourage rather than discourage start-ups and investors alike. With a project led and delivered by Gaza's Economic Media Forum, NBC has provided funding for two specialist courses to provide local journalists and economic reporters with the skills to communicate with Palestinian society about their economic environment in an objective, accurate and well researched manner. The training would improve the capabilities of those providing services to the local media, and offer new skills, perspectives and insights that would enable them to better engage with their audiences. The Forum's Chairman, Mohammed Khaled Abu Jayyab, underlined the importance of this training to Gaza. He stated that this program aims to educate media professionals about economic concepts and terminology, giving them the skills to write about complex ideas in a way that will help to form public opinion and economic awareness. The media can also raise awareness of laws, human rights and civic duties in an easy to digest manner. The two-month long training course involved media professionals from 30 different media outlets operating in the Gaza Strip. The course consisted of visits to local businesses, direct media training, conferences, field visits and specialist writing courses, giving
journalists the ability to research and produce professional reports on Gaza's economic environment for public consumption. Mr Imad al-Hindi, General Manager of NBC, said that the company is supporting this initiative as it realises the importance of developing the creative and media industries in Gaza. As part of its corporate social responsibility planning (CSR), NBC aims to empower Gazans - and all other Palestinians - by funding similarly successful capacity building projects.
The Economic Media Forum, initiated by Gaza's Al-Eqtesadia newspaper, anticipates that this training will have enabled those working in the media sector to develop closer links with a range of sectors, both local businesses and the third sector (e.g. charities). By doing so, this should provide Gaza's media with the skills to report in a more professional, objective and accurate way that is on a par with international journalistic standards. This in turn will provide the Palestinian people with a greater understanding of their economy. Mr al-Hindi sums up their ongoing activities; "We at NBC believe the economic situation in Gaza will get better in the future regardless of the current economic situation and its high unemployment rate. All of our activities in Gaza align with our vision of providing a better life for our people across the wider community, by enhancing the economic situation and creating employment opportunities for our youth."
1 Private sector investment has reduced from 25% in 2007 to 5% in 2017 due to siege and conflict. Source: Euromonitor's paper on deterioration of humanitarian situation in Gaza.
2 United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “The Gaza Strip: The Humanitarian Impact of the Blockade,” November 14, 2016, https://www.ochaopt.org/content/gazastrip-humanitarian-impact-blockadenovember-2016.
3 Q1 2017 data from Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reported by The Portland Trust http://portlandtrust.org/sites/ default/files/peb/bulletin_132_a4_d3.pdf
4 http://unctad.org/en/pages/PressRelease. aspx?OriginalVersionID=423
6 unrwa.org/newsroom/emergency-reports/ gaza-situation-report-200