Home to eight branch offices, the West Bank has the most extensive network of the four areas served by the UNRWA microfinance department. Although a difficult environment in which to work, both politically and economically, the West Bank is our most profitable area. Since the programme’s initiation, in 1996, residents of the West Bank have received 28 per cent of our cumulative lending – 113,178 loans worth a total of US $158.79 million.
The economy of the West Bank remains fragile, and donors have an important role in the microfinance industry. UNRWA is one of the largest lenders in the market. There was an improvement in 2015, when the number of loans grew by nine per cent, from 10,924 to 11,880, and total financing increased six per cent, from US $14.77 million to US $15.58 million.
We are particularly proud of the remarkable increase in our outreach to women. The number of loans given to women more than doubled from 2010 to 2015, and they now constitute 38 per cent of our clients, receiving 4,454 loans worth US $5.69 million. We also saw growth in the number and amount of small loans that help consumers build assets or pay for expenses, and in loans for the smallest businesses.
UNRWA is eager to work with young people in the West Bank, based on our belief that giving access to credit and loans is a powerful tool to help youth create new opportunities for entrepreneurship and self-employment. In 2015, customers between 18 and 30 were 40 per cent of our clients, receiving 4,725 loans worth US $5.69 million. By providing young people with access to different forms and amounts of credit based on their needs, desires and plans, we can help them find opportunities to improve their future.