Raghda is working to reframe the policies and strategies of development work in Jordan and the Levant to be more responsive to real needs while providing a more cost effective, reliable and systemic structural change. She is introducing a comprehensive collaborative model whereby the private sector and the poor communities can interact and learn from each other. Raghda is promoting a comprehensive, participatory approach to development.
Raghda’s idea is to redirect the traditional Arab culture of giving from charitable donations to one of self-help, self-reliance and mutual responsibility among the disadvantaged local communities and the more affluent private sector. Raghda’s idea is based on her belief that everyone is a responsible citizen with the potential to improve their society. Raghda’s idea aims at giving citizens the right skills, information and opportunities to maximize their potential.
Raghda established Ruwwad (“entrepreneurs”) in 2005, the first organization in Jordan and the Levant to be funded solely by individuals and companies from the private sector. It was initiated with the purpose of acting as a catalyst for the promotion of mutual learning and responsibility among the different socio-economic groups in Jordan. By founding Ruwwad, Raghda is providing a space for others to create, innovate and grow by making room for social and business entrepreneurs to test their ideas in collaboration with unprivileged community members and enlightened governmental officials. This process makes each person a “responsible citizen” and creates an enabling environment whereby they can improve their society through mutual learning and active collaboration.
Her overall aim is to change attitudes and beliefs away from the notions of victimization, defeat and dependence in poor areas towards notions of self-realization and healthy interdependence, and from apathy, fear and resentment among the rich towards more responsibility and respect for the needs of the poor. Raghda is trying to create a deep systemic change, one of attitude and beliefs which will lead to openness towards accepting and propagating change and diversity.
Raghda’s idea is to promote a culture in which everyone is a catalyst for change, regardless of his income, social standing, gender and/or religion. Raghda is preparing each and every citizen to have a duty to better his/her conditions and self. To achieve the above goal, Raghda has developed a demonstrative model that started in one area in Jordan and is currently being replicated in other communities throughout Jordan, Egypt and Palestine.
Raghda’s model combines a variety of needs: she gathered and succeeded in getting the private sector involved, through funding and expertise, in the “upgrading” of a lower-income community, demonstrating and proving that there is no need to rely on international donor funding. Parallel to this, Raghda’s approach for upgrading the community relies on the active and complete participation of local inhabitants in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring stages of the agreed upon comprehensive economic and social programs that lead to greater societal integration in the communities.
Raghda’s innovative idea is the result of an innovative understanding of development in Jordan. As a result, Raghda’s idea, played out in large part through Ruwwad, seeks not to merely change the structure of development in Jordan but the entire thought processes. Raghda has developed a model that sparks a realization within a community that change is needed. Many entrepreneurs find a niche in the market, enter it and are noticed and appreciated later. Rather than merely filling a gap and waiting to be noticed, Raghda’s idea promotes a communal understanding of development and participation in the process. By involving the private sector in this manner, Raghda’s idea reduces Jordanian developmental dependence on foreign aid and binds the community to the organization, producing pride within the individuals for their community – a truly innovative idea.
Raghda is addressing structural problems not only in Jordan but in the Levant and Arab region that are due to the top-down structure of governments in Arab polities. The first problem is the apathy and reliance of local communities on the state to solve their problems and address all their social and economic needs. The apathy of communities is intertwined with a lack of trust and hostility when needs are not met, and thus directed not only towards the state but also towards the more affluent members of society. The second problem, the reliance of the government and development workers on fickle, top-down, ready-made solutions offered by international donors, leads to a lack of project continuity and sustainability. The third problem is the apathy and ignorance of the private sector and members of the upper class regarding the plight of marginalized communities and how they (the private sector and upper class) can contribute while learning to improve and better their society.
The population of Jordan in 2005 was approximately 5.1 million, over nine times the Jordanian population in 1952 when the United States began providing economic assistance. While the total fertility rate has declined from 7.3 children per family in 1976 to 3.5 in 2001, the current natural rate of increase is 2.3% with a total population growth rate of 2.8% each year. At this rate, the population of Jordan is expected to be double the 2005 population by the year 2027. This high rate of population growth places severe demands on Jordan’s limited resources and development policies and strategies.
Since the U.S. – Jordan economic partnership began in 1952, USAID has devoted more than US$4.7 billion to its work in Jordan. During FY 2001, Jordan received a total of $216,345,335 in grant assistance and $216,028,354 in loan assistance from thirty-five foreign governments and multilateral agencies. USAID provided 77% of the total grant aid, securing its standing as the single largest donor for the fourth year in a row. Japan was the second largest donor, with 10% of the total, followed by Italy (4%), the United Kingdom (3%), and Canada (1.5%). The World Bank, Islamic Development Bank, Arab Fund, European Union, United Nations Development Program, and the Governments of Spain, Germany, and Norway together provided the remaining 4.5% of grant aid. Of total loans, the World Bank was the largest creditor at 55%, followed by Spain (15%), Switzerland (9%), Italy (6%), Abu Dhabi Development Fund (4.6%), Denmark (3.3%), France (1%), and Norway (0.7%).
Despite these enormous amounts of cash and investments from international donors and external development parties, there appears to be serious lack of holistic and comprehensive approach to development in Jordan and the Levant, leading to a failure in reaching out to all members of the society and spreading a project mentality in the citizen sector. These include discontinuity and the cutting off of development projects when funding cycles end as a result of reliance on international funds and donor-driven, top-down projects together with the complex dichotomy of cultural poverty whereby the poor and the rich do not like or trust one another.
Therefore, while a number of programs and projects are operating within different areas throughout Jordan, these programs fail to achieve a recognized solid systemic change. Raghda is addressing the lack of a solid platform of home-grown programs that justly and fairly address real issues on the ground by creating a space for grassroots community members to present and advocate for their own issues, not as victims or beneficiaries but as active players and decision makers.
Typical development projects have traditionally been donor-driven and are therefore often top-down in their approach, both in terms of the decision-making process at the higher levels and the projects implemented on the ground. Additionally, these projects are characterized by the large sums of money that are spent and which often go towards the exorbitant fees, travel and accommodation expenses for foreign experts and consultants and high overhead costs. By showing that a development organization can succeed and flourish using local funds, relying on local expertise and using a fully participatory approach with the community, while also making relatively small amounts of money go a long way, Raghda believes that development projects and organizations in the region will begin to rethink some of their strategies and approaches. Once faced with competition from the private sector and other sources, donor agencies will have to reconsider their bureaucratic and hierarchical approach to funding and project implementation.
In addition, Raghda realized the problem of the marginalization of some communities due to their geographic, political and/ or economic status. These communities are perceived as targets for groups operating under religious pretences for political gain. As a result, Raghda’s work model utilizes the influence of the private sector to reach out to decision-makers and advocate alongside members of these areas on behalf of their communities. Raghda is addressing the problem of “cultural poverty” that is shared by the society as a whole, with one group of people estranged from their own traditional culture (the rich) and the other disconnected from a more progressive outlook (local communities).
Elements of Raghda’s idea are being implemented elsewhere in Jordan; however these efforts have lacked the holistic, comprehensive approach and the ultimate focus of changing top-down strategies and donor-based approaches. None of them tackled the issue of working with the government to bring services into the community. All of the past initiatives rely primarily on donor funding for their income: the Jordan River Foundation (JRF), the Hashemite Fund for Development (Johud) and Save the Children, among others.
In Jabal Nasser, for example, JRF has a family center where children participate in a wide range of activities, learn new skills and where awareness is raised on the issues of child safety and family protection. The project, however, is far from the holistic community adoption concept that reaches all members of the community while addressing a multitude of issues and concerns. In Jabal Nathif, JRF has an income-generating project that employs a number of women to produce the items which the organization sells. While this provides an additional income for a number of women, it does not address other related issues and challenges faced by the community. Save the Childrean ran a project in Jabal Nathif fifteen years ago that focused on health awareness and children’s development. The poor planning by the project’s architects meant, however, that when the donated funds dried up, so did the project. In the 1980s, a certain Dr. Sari Nassar developed a community center in Hai Nazzal. One of the first of its kind in Jordan, the community center was built by members of the community with assistance from university students. The center is still functioning and addressing many of the community’s needs. Its structure, however, does not allow it to tackle the issues of higher education and employment for the young people of the area, a gap that is being filled through scholarships from Ruwwad.
In October 2005 Raghda has established Ruwwad, the first organization in Jordan to be funded solely by individuals and companies from the private sector. Raghda developed Ruwwad with the purpose of acting as a catalyst for members of marginalized communities to work together to meet the needs of their communities as identified and prioritized by themselves.
Raghda started her work in 2003 by conducting a field study and survey for her initial targeted area Jabal Nathif. She stayed in this community for one year and spent her time meeting people, exchanging ideas, building trust, identifying priorities, establishing relationships and putting ideas into action. Raghda was then able to create a multitude of programs and services which the community specifically requested. As the programs matured, they turned into more than just programs for meeting immediate needs and became living organisms that grow, transform, respond and produce outcomes, opening new windows to new ideas and future opportunities that are necessary but sometimes masked by immediate needs.
In the year 2004, Raghda partnered with the chief executive officer of Aramex, Fadi Ghandour, who is now acting as Ruwwad’s chairman. Fadi fully supported the organization’s first project in Jabal Nathif in his personal capacity as well as through Aramex for one year and a half. In 2005, Raghda was able to acquire her spin off and get headway in the community when she registered Ruwwad officially. Raghda rallied partners, volunteers, staff members, community members, children and students around the notion of working together to achieve the best results for the community, ones which could be both practical and rewarding. In her second year, Raghda’s organization Ruwwad grew and she was able to recruit a team consisting of 25 staff members and countless volunteers.
The various programs created and managed by Raghda through Ruwwad all grew organically from the process of community engagement and joint goal-setting and they all aim at sustainable self-reliance, the development of the notion of good citizenship and social entrepreneurship and ultimately policy change. Among the programs is the Mousab Khorma Youth Empowerment Fund which provides scholarship, training and internship opportunities for young people in the communities where Ruwwad operates. These opportunities allow young people to pursue their studies and qualify for the job market upon graduation through training in English, IT and other skills as well as through internships. The students are also expected to take four hours a week and devote it to service to the community by volunteering in various activities through Ruwwad and other organizations. These methods combined help these young people to become self-reliant while remembering that they belong to a wider community that will only thrive and flourish through their contributions and support as well as kindling the spirit of social entrepreneurship and social activism. As proactive and involved citizens, these young people will ultimately be in a better position to understand the issues facing their communities and to advocate for change with decision makers.
Raghda believes that the Ruwwad scholarship graduates will distinguish themselves among their peers by being much more socially aware and far less likely to face the challenges they and their communities face from the perspective of victims and far more likely to deal with them with an attitude of activism and responsibility. They will also be more likely to find the kind of jobs they seek rather than joining the multitude of unemployed young people which exist in marginalized communities as a result of enhanced skills, a higher degree of creativity in their pursuit of work and a better level of self-knowledge that is encouraged through weekly discussions. The weekly discussions are hosted by Ruwwad for these young people and explore issues which they decide are important to them. To date, Ruwwad has reached 250 young people through this scholarship program and plans to reach hundreds more when the Mousab Khorma Youth Empowerment Fund becomes a regional program, making scholarships and other opportunities available to young people in Jordan and beyond through a rigorous selection process.
Raghda has also developed a special curriculum for the children and young people who join Ruwwad with the objective of creating and planting a shift towards critical thinking rather than rote learning as children are introduced to new ways of learning, leading them to question and discuss new ideas as opposed to blindly accepting what is presented to them. This helps children to become more reflective on real issues on the ground rather than the intangible, grandiose blanket religious/political statements.
Raghda started securing and attracting funding from within the Jordanian business sector as well as from other local, regional companies and individuals. Through this networking, Raghda was able to secure ten companies that committed to annual funding, in addition to others who provide in kind and per-project support to Ruwwad. Raghda is working to gear private sector funding in development programs, specifically towards projects that utilize the core competencies of businesses, such as an emphasis on sustainability, strategic thinking and planning to face the problem of short term projects which are often pre-packaged and fail to address the most pressing needs faced by the area in which they operate.
Over the course of the next five years, Raghda is planning to reach several communities both within Jordan and elsewhere in the Levant and Arab world. Raghda has started to transform the lives of people in marginalized communities by creating opportunities for them to meet their potential and reach beyond the perceived limits that restrict them as a result of their circumstances. Raghda will continue working on the local and regional levels to pioneer new models for change and development in the communities that need it most and to create opportunities for other social entrepreneurs to test out their ideas in an atmosphere of support and creativity.
For the next ten years, Raghda plans to further mainstream her idea so that it is integrated into a wide range of development projects on a regional level. Raghda also plans to create a platform of young social entrepreneurs who initiate projects and ideas of their own based on their experience with the core concepts of self-help, self-reliance and mutual responsibility to produce a long term more systematic change rather than a short-term, unrecognizable, donor-based one. This will happen through the establishment of a Micro Venture Capital Fund, the first of its kind in Jordan. This Fund will support the establishment of micro businesses and social enterprises by young people from the communities where Ruwwad operates. This socially responsible investment by companies will set an example to the young people who benefit from the fund of how money can be put towards projects which aid development and not just those which seek to make profit. Raghda is also very interested in “Base of the Pyramid Strategies” and hopes that this fund will encourage innovation for the purpose of creating high-quality, low-cost products, services and business which serve less affluent areas in Jordan and the region. Raghda believes that the volunteer work that young people do through Ruwwad and their interaction with people from many different backgrounds and disciplines will provide them with the experience and know-how necessary to develop new ideas and approaches to solving old problems while expanding their horizons in terms of what is possible to do, both in terms of career options and possible development projects and business ideas.
In the long-run, Raghda plans to have her first batch of student graduates, funded by scholarships from Ruwwad, act as a real change-making force in their own unique ways. Some will do so through social entrepreneurship, others through innovations in business and still others through art and music – all with a desire to facilitate change for others and embrace it within them. By becoming aware of the vast possibilities and options that exist and not remaining entrenched in traditional notions of what is possible to do, the young people that Ruwwad works with have already begun to tap into abilities, talents, areas of strength and ideas which they may have otherwise not realized existed or ones that they may have dreamt of but never believed they could achieve. These realizations help these young people to seek out new and unfamiliar territory and reject the limitations of fear of failure and stereotyping that both their parents and the school system encourage. Raghda believes that once the horizons of the young people are expanded, their options will multiply and their chances of success and achievement will grow comparatively. Their newfound sense of confidence and purpose will inspire their siblings, relatives and peers to do likewise but will also provide them with the confidence needed to push the institutions where they study to also embrace change.
In addition, by working with schools and teachers as well as mothers and fathers, Raghda believes that change will start to occur spontaneously and Ruwwad’s work will be used as a model that can be replicated. One example is the school adoption program that Ruwwad established: they fixed one school and conducted teacher training and extracurricular activities with the children. As a result of this example, there is now a nationwide initiative in Jordan to do the same in 450 schools around the country through partnerships between these schools, the Ministry of Education, private sector companies and other organizations working in the field of education in Jordan. One of the reasons that contributed to convincing Raghda that her idea is crucial was the lack of a voice for Arab citizens in the development process, both within their countries and elsewhere, making Ruwwad’s presence all the more important in ensuring that these voices are heard.
In order to rally support for this notion, Raghda has already established contacts with several other organizations working in similar fields in Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine with which she has shared expertise and discussed possibilities of cooperation and idea exchange. These connections have led to Ruwwad’s recent expansion into other countries, successful ventures achieved by working with the Aramex corporate social responsibility departments in the region through which funding can be channeled to projects and programs in those countries which Ruwwad will either establish or assist in implementing. Raghda has already made several contacts in Egypt and Palestine and is exploring different ideas for projects with social entrepreneurs and activists in those countries. The expansion of Raghda’s idea to a regional level began in the winter of 2007/2008 and is currently running parallel to Ruwwad’s expansion to other communities within Jordan.
Raghda is the fourth daughter of her parents who came to Amman in 1948 as a result of the Palestinian Nakba. Her paternal grandfather was a visionary man who was a teacher of history in Ramallah but who always wanted to travel and see the world. As a result, he encouraged his eldest daughter to secure a scholarship to attend university in Britain in 1947, at the time when women in Britain had only just begun to attend university. Raghda’s father also went on to do his undergraduate studies at Exeter University in England and then his PhD at Columbia University. He went on to be a professor of English Literature at the University of Jordan, the country’s first university, which he was responsible for founding in 1964 as part of a small team of visionary academics and scholars. Raghda’s most memorable moments of her early life where the ones which she spent listening to her father talk about his work, his experiences, the principles and values which drove his decisions and actions. His work and life was deeply ethical and value-driven which shaped the way Raghda interacted with the world. Raghda spent most of her childhood in Amman, a small part in Ottawa and an early part of her formative years in London, in addition to traveling for family vacations and with her father on business trips. Exploring the world early on in Raghda’s life contributed to her ability to embrace diversity and communicate effectively across cultures.
Raghda went to high school in Britain at Lycée Français Charles du Gaulle in London where she earned her A-levels in English, History, History of Art and Arabic (independent study). She considers the two years that she spent there two of the most important of her life. The Lycée was a place where most children spent their entire thirteen years of education and Raghda only joined the school for her last two years. Raghda was a very active member of the debate club, Amnesty International, the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals and an active voice at school and outside for the Palestinian cause, which had not been articulated to the majority of the students before. Raghda did this by giving talks, organizing boycotts of Israeli produce and presenting different aspects of the issue as part of the debate club. She was also the editor-in-chief of the school yearbook and a member of the committee that organized social events and activities. Raghda loves writing poetry and had some published in the school yearbook as well as in two editions of the National Library of Poets as part of a national competition.
Raghda attended university in Jordan, a real eye-opening experience for her. It was the only place to which she had ever been that brought together people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and locations in Jordan in one place and it presented Raghda with her first encounter with bureaucracy! This was when Raghda began to understand the “real” Jordan, one which is hugely diverse and which contains many paradoxes. The whole social make-up of the country was and continues to be played out there.
Raghda believes that there is an ultimate need for change and better integration between the different members of society. The lack of integration of the social level concerns Raghda, whereby most people continue to interact with people who are the same as them, who went to the same schools and came from the same background. She also witnessed the disparity in the quality of education at the university level, whereby some professors were outstanding and others were mediocre at best. From this point, Raghda was determined to find ways to be a force for real change and to seek to address the many disparities she became acutely aware of.