|Experts advocate youth microfinance projects to alleviate poverty
|The recent extraordinary annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Dead Sea emphasized the importance of youth in achieving sustainable economic and social growth. It urged nations in the region to share the future planning of the Middle East with their young generations, who will become heirs to todayís political and economic policies.
In a session titled "Social Entrepreneurship" at the forum, world economists and sociologists tried to explore ways to influence the power of youth in developing economies. They stressed the need to increase awareness among them on the abundant opportunities at their disposal.
"Arab youth need to be creative and discover their position in the development process," said Lawrie Robertson, vice-chairman of the World Vision for Eastern Europe and the Middle East. "I believe youth in the Arab world must realize well the concept to start small and begin to creating opportunities to work out what they really like to be in future," he told The Star.
Social entrepreneurship was defined as "striving to combine the heart of business with the heart of the community through the creativity of the individual." According to Niveen Abboushi-Sharaf, managing director of the Micro Serve in Jordan, enhancing the role of microfinancing is the only chance left for youth to show their potency in the development process.
The rising rates of poverty and unemployment in almost all the Arab nations encouraged many financial institutions and corporations specialized in the development of human resources to enhance the idea of microfinancing programs.
Microfinance activities usually involve small loans, informal appraisal of borrowers and secure savings products. Clients are typically self-employed, low-income entrepreneurs in both rural and urban areas. In Jordan, there are more than 25,000 annual active borrowers who receive funding at streamlined loan disbursement and monitoring.
"What is emerging in the region is the role that microfinance plays in providing training in very simple vocational skills to people who are motivated to start their businesses out right track," Robertson pointed out. He sees in the Arab youth "the tool to excel development for the communities."
Economists agree that social entrepreneurs have successfully challenged the existing monopolies on social definition and have established their right to redefine themselves. Many, however, believe there is a missing link between conventional businesses and social privately owned enterprises.
Marcello Palazzi, founder and president of Progression Foundation in the Netherlands, proposed the introduction of a new legal status that paves the way for establishing a corporation or a non-profit NGO to fill this gap.
"Reform of legal and regulatory barriers regarding financial foundations is a must to promote sustainable microfinance," Abboushi-Sharaf said. She noted that her organization combines financial and social developments that "help those who have been excluded from taking part in the development process to join the mainstream economy."
"We have to give people the confidence to manage money and start with small amounts that can help in building their own capabilities. It should all be started with the young people who need to take the initiative and get their entrepreneurship going," Robertson stated.
The World Vision is an international organization working for over 50 years now for the well being of all people, especially children. Through emergency relief, education, health care, economic development and promotion of justice, World Vision helps communities support themselves.
The heart of World Visionís activities is in assisting communities to build stronger and healthier relationships within themselves. The absence of such relationships, said Robertson, impoverishes communities. As for the Middle East, World Vision allocates $25 million for its programs that are divided into three areas; Iraq, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
"World Vision has worked, often amidst controversy, to reach out those with the greatest needs within this frequently war-torn area for more than 25 years," a recent statement by the organization read.
Robertson indicated that his organization is working in Iraq to rehabilitate schools and health care facilities damaged by the recent US-led war and 12 years of the UN sanctions before it.
The same can be said about World Visionís activities in Lebanon with an annual budget of $1.5 million to fund 20 sponsorship projects serving 8000 children in refugee camps and rural areas.
Regarding the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Occupied Jerusalem, nearly 10,000 Palestinian children benefit from international donations that sponsor World Visionís activities there. About 400,000 people take advantage of these projects in the Occupied Territories.
World Vision has also been active in Jordan for over 15 years, where it concentrates on the development of rural areas around the Kingdom. "I think Jordanians need now to focus on the development of rural credit that can stimulate rural economy to match the urban one," he explained. "Jordan is a very vibrant place with active civil societies that have the chance to do extremely well with microfinance in the long run."