The UNRWA microfinance programme seeks to support the Agency’s goal of enabling “A Decent Standard of Living” for the nearly five million Palestine refugees we are mandated to serve. In one of the world’s most challenging environments for microfinance, we provide access to credit and related services to Palestine refugees and other poor and marginalized groups, many of whom have no access to commercial credit. With support from UNRWA, these people – including entrepreneurs, businesspeople, households and individuals – can create and sustain jobs and find new opportunities to generate income and assets.
UNRWA began its microfinance programme in 1991, in Gaza Strip, with an initial capital fund of less than US$ 500,000. The programme expanded to the West Bank in 1996, and is now the largest microfinance institution in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). In 2003, we began working in Jordan and Syria as well. Both markets saw quick and dramatic growth, becoming larger than our operations in the oPt within five years. Over the past decades, our microfinance department has become not just one of the largest such institutions in the area, but also the only truly regional programme.
We are proud of our track record in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Syria, and hope to continue working in these areas to empower and support our clients. In the twenty-two years between 1991 and 2012, the department extended 298,455 loans across these four fields, giving clients access to a total of US$ 337.64 million. The department is run on a self-sustaining basis, but continues to benefit from donor grants from important stakeholders, including the governments of Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United States, along with organizations such as the Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment and Development and the PalFund, financed by the OPEC Fund for International Development.
Human development is an important goal for our microfinance programme, but we understand that this service must be sustainable. We work in accordance with the standards and practices of the global microfinance industry and aim to recoup our operating expenses, while charging rates of interest that are affordable to our clients and competitive with other microfinance providers.