When Mohammad Al-Hajji first founded Zawayed, he was inspired by an opportunity to use the leftovers he saw at regional logistics company Aramex. “I used to audit the warehouses and see all of the waste that we have. I thought, ‘What if we collect the damaged shipping pallets and do something with them?” he recalls.
From this simple idea, he developed Zawayed, which means “leftovers,” to create high quality products from used materials. He uses packaging materials, broken glasses, used banners, damaged cups, and shipping palettes to create products like picture frames, trays, table lamps, screens, and even a bench made to store old soda cans, so that less fortunate members of society can collect them for recycling.
“Our main focus is working with companies by taking their daily waste and turning it back as products they can give to their customers as giveaways,” he explains. “We sell the final products back to the company or at exhibitions, art galleries, or cafes.”
For now, Zawayed collects the materials from companies themselves whenever it becomes available, but in the future, Al-Hajji plans to install a collection spot where companies can drop off their waste.
Working with the community
Thus far, the startup has gained traction with its colorful designs. After winning an Art and Design prize at the Ideas Festival in Amman in October 2010 and presenting at TEDx Dead Sea a couple of months later, Al-Hajji and Zawayed caught the eye of a number of prominent companies like Arab Bank and a big restaurant group in Amman.
The following summer, he decided that it was time to take the business to the next level. With support from Aramex’s social entrepreneurship program Ruwwad, he decided to transition out of his job as an auditor to go full time with Zawayed. His ultimate goal was to employ those in less fortunate areas and help them achieve financial independence, while transforming the way society views used items.
Ruwwad helped him set up an official workshop in Jabal Al-Natheef, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Amman, where he had been working. The workshop now employs 15 women, many of whom have been housewives and stay-at-home moms. As for the potential issues of having a man manage women in a conservative society, Al-Hajjii says, “I’m trying to be part of their society, and live by their conduct, not mine.”
The Zawayed team train these women to create high quality design products with the help of local youth, who help while Al-Hajji brainstorm design concepts and product opportunities.
“These women have an artistic eye for handicrafts, but I wanted to encourage a new way of thinking for Zawayed,” explains Al-Hajji. Zawayed’s products, while often simple and decorated, are not traditional handicrafts.
Registering as an NGO in Jordan proved difficult, so the company has registered as a company. Al-Hajji hasn’t fully fleshed out the business plan, but “I’m consulting friends right now to help me create one,” he says.
Thus far, the startup has depended mainly on word-of-mouth marketing and their Facebook page to sell their products, but they are currently working on a website.
When asked whether Zawayed is looking for funds to sustain the business, Al-Hajji answered: “We’re looking for investors, but until then, I don’t mind paying from my pocket.”
His advice to social entrepreneurs is to work hard to create something solid before asking for financial support. He strongly advises having measurable goals for your business, that you can present to investors; after all, “they don’t have time to listen to you endlessly.”
Yet with any luck, the concept will take off; any business that increases the pool of available resources is especially crucial in Amman, Al-Hajji points out. “We always say that Jordan is a poor country, and that we don’t have enough resources. Waste is a good raw material if we look at it from a different perspective.”