At UNRWA, we are committed to providing inclusive financial services for Palestine refugees and other marginalized groups. Our microfinance programme began with a focus on small and medium-sized businesses, but soon expanded its outreach to microenterprises employing fewer than five workers. Many of these businesses are informal in nature, but play an important role especially in the Palestinian economy. In the West Bank and Gaza, such businesses compose some 90 per cent of all enterprises.
Empowering women has always been a priority for UNRWA. In 1994, we began extending small loans to groups of women entrepreneurs in Gaza, where women are extensively represented in small-scale enterprises. Because women in our other fields are more commonly engaged in home-based income-generating activity, we developed a new product for these women, which was first launched in 2007, in Syria, and quickly expanded to the West Bank and Jordan. As the variety of products available to them grew, women gained representation in our microfinance portfolio. By the end of 2015, they represented 39 per cent of our clients.
Young people in the region called resoundingly to be included in financial services, and UNRWA has been quick to respond with increased outreach to people between 18 and 30. Not only have we increased their access to our traditional loans, but we have also developed an entirely new start-up loan to help young men and women establish new enterprises and create new opportunities. By 2015, clients between these ages were nearly three-fifths of our portfolio, making up 29 per cent of our clients.
Our clients are women and men, young and old, refugees and non-refugees, and we recognize that each client has different needs. Accordingly, UNRWA provides a wide range of products to enable each person or business to select that which meets his or her needs. We support small and mid-sized businesses, along with the smallest, frequently informal microenterprises. In addition, we provide financial help at a household level, enabling families to cover the costs of their basic consumption, education and healthcare. We believe that by working with the needs and desires of each client, we can help them move forward one step at a time.