So you’re participating in our Courage of One Challenge with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I and you want to learn more about poverty alleviation in the Middle East and North Africa?
TOPIC: Working with Historically Marginalized Communities in the Middle East and North Africa: Beyond just expanding access to basic financial services globally to the poor, the Whole Planet Foundation pushes its partnerships to make an impact by seeking out marginalized populations that are particularly excluded from the ability to create meaningful incomes through entrepreneurship due to political, geographic or social forces in place.
PROBLEM: Reaching Pockets of Need in Higher Income Countries: When the Foundation was looking to increase its support in North Africa and the Middle East as an extension of its Africa portfolio, at first glance, it seemed like much of the region was fairly well developed and, economically, progressing well vis a vis countries in neighboring Sub-Saharan Africa.
However, we realized that in a region with a very long and complicated history there were a lot of communities which were being actively discriminated against in terms of their access to business capital to grow healthy local economies and create incomes to support their families.
SOLUTION: Our first partnership in the region was in Morroco where we met our current partner INMAA working closely with the rural Berber population in southeastern Morocco. This community faced challenges both as a minority group and being geographically isolated on the far side of the Atlas mountains. While other microfinance institutions in the country had grown much more up-market than the Foundation would typically support, INMAA had created a suite of financial services that could tap the Berber villages far outside the centers of power in Casablanca and Rabat. INMAA was not only reaching these villages but showing success in creating very successful businesses that had started with a loan of one a few hundred dollars.
With this first experience the Foundation looked closer at the region and where our funds could have an impact- could the Foundation make a difference in relatively middle income countries like Israel and Turkey? Could the Foundation somehow support the marginalized masses uprising during the Arab Spring protesting unfair economic policies that prevented people from creating jobs for themselves and their communities?
Expanding Local Institution’s Reach in Other Countries with Similarly Marginalized Populations:
In Israel and the West Bank/Gaza the Foundation launched a two-prong programmatic approach that targeted Arab populations living in both Israel and northern West Bank- the same community but divided by a border- that were each facing challenges in leveraging capital to build their businesses or even create businesses and income for themselves. Working with two innovative and bold institutions, KIEDF in Israel and ASALA in West Bank/Gaza the Foundation helped the first launch basic microcredit loans in and around Nazareth for Arab-Israelis and in West Bank in and around Jenin assisted ASALA to scale their basic micro-credit program in those communities as capital otherwise trickled into the region due to conflict and barriers faced by the West Bank.
In Tunisia, the Foundation approached the only best practice microfinance institution in the country not managed by the recently deposed government to see if there was a way to lend support to scaling microcredit in the country as people sought ways to tackle unemployment by employing themselves! In the outermost suburbs of the capital the Foundation worked with ENDA Inter-Arabe to increase the portfolio of their basic entry-level loan product for those who had never had business credit before.
TIE BACK TO WHOLE PLANET FOUNDATION STRATEGY: How does a finance institution combat generations of historical bias and marginalization? Each project in the Middle East and North Africa has shed new light on the challenges and dynamics faced by the poor in the region. How have our partners managed to reach these difficult to reach populations that are historically marginalized politically, economically and socially?
First, you will notice that none of our partners in the region are international organizations but rather homegrown, locally developed programs. That is because in trying to develop a new financial service that subverts historical bias and marginalization, and goes against very developed formal financial institutions in often middle-income economies, requires direction from those with intimate knowledge of the target client.
Secondly, all of the services which are offered by our partners in this region start from a place of intense personal engagement and education about credit and how a family can create a meaningful income through debt from a microfinance institution. This requires foremost trust because minority populations may often be suspicious of services that have not benefited them in the past, especially when it means taking debt (the client will inevitably wonder if taking debt will indebt them in some way to the majority power base that has marginalized them in the past). The Foundation also seeks out institutions which limit the risk to a new client in taking debt and most of our partners work on the principle of start with small business loans, gain trust on both sides and watch clients succeed step by step!
Many of these dynamics within our Middle East and North Africa portfolio exist in other regions as well, and in fact it has helped us think about ways that we can have an impact in wider array of contexts despite the overall GDP of a particular country as pockets of marginalization exist worldwide in every country in the world.
Since 2010, Whole Planet Foundation’s Middle East and North Africa portfolio has included projects in Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Israel and West Bank. In total, Whole Planet Foundation has disbursed more than $2.4 million to support 4,415 new clients in this region. Current projects in Morocco and Israel are projected to reach 1630 new clients by 2017. Whole Planet Foundation is also supporting a pilot social business fund with Israel partner KIEDF that just launched this September. Foundation funding will provide the on-lending capital for 30 social businesses who focus on providing services to marginalized populations.