ROYAL TREATMENT

Jordan 2019 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HM Queen Noor, Chairperson of King Hussein Foundation, on socio-economic development, microfinance, and supporting women.

How has the King Hussein Foundation's innovative and evolving approach to socio-economic development translated into successes for the country?

The King Hussein Foundation was created to give an enduring life to King Hussein's humanitarian vision and legacy. We do that by focusing on equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity including health, education, microfinance, and cross-cultural programming, with an emphasis on women, youth, and marginalized groups in particular. The King Hussein Foundation was built, in part, on the sustainable development initiatives of the Noor Al Hussein Foundation going back nearly 40 years, and today includes eight institutions: the Jordan Micro Credit Company (Tamweelcom), Ethmar for Islamic Microfinance, the Institute for Family Health, the Community Development Program, the Jubilee Institute, the Information and Research Center, the National Center for Culture and Performing Arts, and the National Music Conservatory. All of these entities are characterized by a multidisciplinary approach to address challenges in their respective fields with what was initially a pioneering inclusive development methodology. This has been enabled by an emphasis on transparency, collaboration and national and regional capacity building—what I call our “open-source" approach. This means we have been sharing our expertise to the broadest extent possible, not only in Jordan, but in our programs in the wider west Asian region since the early 1980s. We rely on invaluable partnerships with the public and private sectors, as well as civil society and international organizations. These are vital, not only to our work and our ability to develop expertise, but to make use of it where most needed to address critical needs. In the early years, after my marriage, when trying to fill gaps in public and private sector development efforts, it become clear that in order to achieve real sustainable development, a more holistic or multidisciplinary approach might best maximize the use of our country's limited resources. This is exemplified in our comprehensive, integrated community development model, which achieved more effective improvements in healthcare, education, economic productivity through training, gender-balanced participatory decision making, and the provision of revolving loan funds managed by the communities themselves. This approach animates much of our programming today: blending education, healthcare, income-generating opportunities, entrepreneurship development and the protection of environmental resources.

Is there a specific example that embodies this approach?

Our Institute for Family Health, is a good example of our efforts to mainstream our development approach. It has evolved from being a local community family health center in 1986 into a national and regional comprehensive healthcare model with outreach around the country, working with local Jordanian communities, the public sector, displaced people and regional capacity building. Its strength derives from continuously adapting to emerging needs and requirements for expertise, not only in basic family health needs, but also in psycho-social services and trauma care for gender-based violence, child abuse and victims of war. This is a need that has increased with the influx of so many refugees entering our country. We have become specialized in a range of areas that we had not focused on initially. Recently, the Institute for Family Health has been contributing to the government's first anti-torture program by training judges and prosecutors dealing with trauma cases and equipping them with knowledge to best handle them. Ethmar for Islamic Microfinance is another example of how our initiatives evolve. Through Ethmar, we are filling the supply-demand gap for sharia-compliant microloans which we identified through the work of our first microfinance company Tamweelcom.

Can you elaborate more on the King Hussein Foundation's two microfinance companies, Tamweelcom and Ethmar?

The Noor Al Hussein Foundation and the King Hussein Foundation later did not start off with the financial endowments that most foundations launch with, or that most people assume foundations have. Our capital was our expertise and our early best practice programs, which drew in partners, both national and international. I call this our “best practices philanthropy". The seeds of the microfinance companies began with the revolving funds in the community projects we started in the early 1980s. The revolving loan funds were managed by men and women sitting together in isolated, sometimes impoverished pockets of the country, making decisions about their priorities and how the financial returns of any income-generating program would be distributed among the community. Most of those original funds are still active and providing support to their communities. We now have a total of 150 revolving loan funds around the country. Tamweelcom, established in 1999, is one of the foundation's significant success stories. It is a leading not-for-profit microfinance company in Jordan and the region, serving more than 90,000 clients with the purpose of integrating low income and productive communities into the mainstream economy, and to contribute to promoting entrepreneurship and closing the unemployment gap. Tamweelcom's mission has also evolved with the growing needs of local communities ranging from responsible finance to broad-based projects including green energy, home improvement, technology innovation and others. Our sensitivity to the evolving needs of the market has also prompted Tamweelcom to look into utilizing digital financial services to entrepreneurs in order to provide responsive and responsible credit at all times, wherever they may be located. Ethmar, which is over two years old, addressed the gap for services for people hesitant to take advantage of any kind of loan structure that is not sharia compliant. Ethmar has built an efficient micro finance model through diverse network of vendors and the utilization of technology and was awarded the 2018, Global Islamic Micro Forum Award for developing a financial tracking system for Islamic compliant loans. Again both companies also have pioneered holistic approaches to the field with an array of non-financial services and support to clients including educational support for our clients' children, mobile banking services, and health insurance. Our multidisciplinary development model is more effective than the conventional public and private sector partition of development fields throughout much of the world, and is one of the reasons we have been able to help develop capacity in human resources and specific programming over 22 countries in MENA and West Asia. We are trying to ensure that we have a ripple effect through our best practice programs, touching the lives of as many people as possible.

What initiatives are you putting into place today to ensure that people are ready for the way the economy is developing?

The King Hussein Foundation's programs are focused on levelling the playing field for our youth socially, educationally and economically. 50% of Tamweelcom's clients are under the age of 35. Our Community Development Program, for example, is integrating efforts with our two microfinance companies, to provide business training and incubation, reaching into different regions. This will enable maximum economic productivity among those who have not had such opportunities before. In expanding our work in the south, we have a program focused on women in micro- and small enterprises. This program is designed to address women and girls' social, educational, and financial needs, including business incubation. In addition to our specialized economic development programs, the mission of the Jubilee Institute, our primary education thrust, which includes the Jubilee School, is to maximize opportunities for public and private school teachers and scholarship students from diverse backgrounds to enable them to thrive in our rapidly changing world. Just as throughout all of the foundation's programs, our mission is to foster King Hussein's exemplary personal values throughout the educational process- curiosity and critical thinking, integrity and ethical values, humility and mutual respect, and a sense of social, national and global responsibility. The Jubilee School is focused not only on providing Jordanian scholarship students with an enhanced and enriched education experience, but also an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, without dismissing the importance of the arts. Incorporated into their schooling are entrepreneurship programs and community service. We are also trying to mainstream gender in every aspect including in national advocacy efforts through our Information and Research Center, which was founded to assist practitioners and decision makers to develop evidence based and effective socio-economic policies. King Hussein's approach to leadership and his public service stemmed from his most deeply held personal values. He sought to translate his humility, faith in his fellow man, and deep and abiding humanism into systems of governance that promoted human dignity, equitable opportunity, and justice. Our mission will continue to be to give enduring life to those commitments.