The microfinance industry in Jordan is well developed, highly competitive and profitable and, with four per cent of the market, UNRWA is one of the smaller operators. Nonetheless, we play an important lending role to support education, housing and small and micro-businesses. The UNRWA microfinance programme began lending in Jordan in 2003 and we believe that market outreach can grow much larger than it is now, particularly in these areas.
Our microfinance programme saw the most dramatic growth over the past five years by an average annual growth of five percent. In 2017, the total UNRWA total outreach grew by 1.4 percent, and the Agency disbursed 12,986 loans worth US$ 14.15 million in Jordan. The country is home to the largest population of Palestine refugees – 41 per cent – and they made up 55 per cent of our clients in 2017. We have also increased our outreach to the youngest clients, between 18 and 30 years old, who received 29 per cent of our loans.
As we do in other areas, UNRWA offers a variety of loans to clients in Jordan, enabling them to choose from various options based on their needs. Our lending to the smallest businesses improved marginally in 2017, as did the outreach of other loans increased. One product, a small loan intended to help women develop home-based enterprises, was introduced in Jordan in 2010. By 2017 it financed 5,033 loans valued at US$ 3,19million. Overall, 47 per cent of our clients in Jordan are women.
In the future, it will be important for us to increase the level of our financing in Jordan, but this is constrained by very limited capital as UNRWA has never received any donor support for the programme in Jordan. UNRWA is in a unique position to contribute to substantial growth by helping clients in Jordan develop new businesses and opportunities.