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$ 300,000. The programme expanded to the West Bank in 1996, and remains the second 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-five years between 1991 and 2015, the department extended 398,154 loans across these four fields, giving clients access to a total of US $440.41 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.
The UNRWA microfinance programme launches, in Gaza, with an initial capital fund of less than US $300,000, providing credit to small and medium-scale businesses
UNRWA introduces a loan product targeted at small groups of women entrepreneurs in Gaza
UNRWA launches a small business training programme in Gaza that provides training in subjects such as book-keeping, taxation, computing and e-commerce
The West Bank becomes the second area of operations for the UNRWA microfinance department
UNRWA microfinance department begins to operate on a self-sustaining basis, capitalized by donor grants from a number of important stakeholders
UNRWA pilots small lending in Gaza to help distressed and low-income families cover basic consumption, education and health costs
UNRWA begins providing microfinance services in Jordan and Syria, beginning with non-gender-specific loans providing microenterprise credit
An agreement between UNRWA and the OPEC Fund for International Development creates the PalFund Trust Fund, a unique fund to support Palestinian enterprises in the oPt valued at us US$ 10 million.
In Gaza, UNRWA launches a housing microfinance programme to help refugee families with no access to mortgage facilities
UNRWA begins, in Syria, targeted lending for home-based women’s income-generating projects
In the West Bank, UNRWA launches a new loan product to help successful clients continue to grow and develop their businesses.
UNRWA microfinance operations receive five diamonds, the highest certification, from the Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX) Certificate of Transparency
In recognition of its work on social performance management, the UNRWA microfinance programme was awarded a Platinum Award by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Ford Foundation. One of only two microfinance programme’s in the MENA region to receive this recognition; With the support of Swiss Development Cooperation, UNRWA begins working with FIDES to develop savings and deposit products to serve the many people who remain excluded from the formal banking system
UNRWA launches a new start-up loan product, Mubadarati, to help young male and female entrepreneurs establish new enterprises to create business opportunities and self-employment
UNRWA opened its sixth branch office in Madaba to further extend its geographical outreach in Jordan. In Syria three new branch offices were established in the safer regions of Latakia, Tartous and Swayda to replace the four offices that were destroyed and looted in Damascus and Aleppo.
UNRWA opens a seventh branch office in Jarash to increase its outreach in Jordan.
In its four fields, UNRWA maintains 23 operating branch offices for its microfinance operations