Oct 15, 2015

Commitment to Action Update: Building Resilience of Refugees & Host Communities in Jordan & Lebanon


In the past four years over four million men, women and children have fled across Syria's borders, desperate to escape the violence of their war-torn country. Those who have escaped to Lebanon and Jordan are now struggling to survive. Today, Lebanon hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees – constituting 25 percent of the country’s population. Jordan hosts over 600,000 registered Syrian refugees. Affected host communities and refugees are living side-by-side in impoverished neighborhoods where economic opportunities are extremely limited. Increased competition over jobs, housing, and food has made life harder for everyone.

As the crisis enters its fifth year, refugees have depleted their savings and humanitarian aid is declining. Nearly 90 percent of urban Syrian refugees in Jordan and 77 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in debt. To survive, vulnerable families resort to harmful strategies such as begging, survival sex or child labor.


Earlier this year, the Near East Foundation (NEF) made a two-year commitment to establish three “Siraj Centers” in Lebanon (Bourj Hammoud, Beirut) and Jordan (Zarqa and Russaifeh) to help at least 2,250 Syrian, Lebanese, and Jordanian families restore their livelihoods, achieve economic resilience, and meet their own needs with dignity.

NEF is creating the Centers to serve as physical safe spaces where Syrians, other refugees, and vulnerable Lebanese and Jordanians, particularly women and adolescent girls, can access training, resources, and information to start small businesses, home-based income-generating activities, and savings accounts to build financial assets. The Siraj Center services are tailored to host communities and refugees alike, based on opportunities available to each group.

At the Centers, which are housed within community-based organizations, people have access to:

1. Training and coaching to support microenterprise and small business start-ups;

2. Financial resources, such as start-up grants and savings products;

3. Vocational training opportunities;

4. Financial literacy training and savings accounts;

5. Real-time information on markets, employment opportunities, and related policies;

6. Referrals to other business service providers (micro-finance; business registration).

NEF’s goal is to support long-term solutions for refugees and vulnerable populations. This investment in education and workforce development creates opportunities for these families not only to support themselves but also to become contributing members of their communities. NEF has worked in the region for 100 years, and its on-the-ground teams have a deep understanding of what works. Once established in the three communities, the Siraj Centers can be replicated in other areas with high concentrations of refugees, as they offer a suite of services that fit with local needs and opportunities.


1. Follow-up with 800 participants from an earlier phase showed an enterprise survival rate of 100 percent after one year and an average increase in household income of more than 48 percent.

2. Secured $2 million in funding from Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation, U.S. Department of State and the governments of Taiwan and Switzerland to provide training, coaching, small business start-up funds, and seed money for savings and loan associations; these funds will enable the initiative to reach 2,100 direct beneficiaries (affecting more than 10,000 family members).

3. Completed financial literacy and savings pilot program with 30 Syrian women in Jordan; initiated expansion of financial literacy and savings programs in Zarqa, Jordan, with 52 Syrian and 23 Jordanian women; 100 percent of participants have used savings to start home-based businesses; this is a new approach to building refugee economic security and engaging Syrian and Jordanian women in savings associations to start productive activities.


NEF has secured basic funding for training, coaching, and business start-ups with 2,100 participants.

It is now looking for partners to contribute:

1. Volunteers with business/financial background to provide training, business mentoring, and coaching for new entrepreneurs; opportunities exist to organize service days and celebrations.

2. Basic equipment, furniture, and IT infrastructure for the three Siraj Centers, which will be housed at community-based associations and will continue to serve refugees and host community members after the end of NEF’s involvement; opportunities exist to sponsor and co-brand the centers;

3. Additional financial support to increase the number of beneficiaries/small business start-ups; additional funds are needed for incremental training costs and direct investment in businesses (approx. $600 per person/business); NEF seeks to mobilize an additional $1,750,000 to increase to increase the number of direct participants from 2,250 to 5,000 (benefitting 25,000 people).


Jul 15, 2015

In Business and In-Charge: Why these domestic violence survivors love being their own bosses

For many Armenian women, domestic violence is a fact of life.  The Armenian adage, “A woman is like wool.  The more you beat her, the softer she will become”, is indicative of the kind of abuse-enabling environment young men and women grow up in.  Strict gender norms conspire to constrain women’s choices, and legitimize violence against the vulnerable. Just as men learn to use violence as a tool from an early age, women are taught to tolerate abuse as part of the price for relying on men for their basic needs.  But with the help of NEF, women across Armenia are increasingly taking a stand against violence at home, and forging new paths for their fellow countrywomen in the process. 

Take Mane, for example, who left her husband and abuser of 9 years in fear for her life and the life of her young daughter.  Both sought protection at a local women’s shelter in Yerevan following a particularly brutal attack that put Mane in the hospital.  A shelter staff member spoke to Mane about NEF’s ongoing initiative, which helps women survivors of domestic and sexual violence start their own small business and achieve financial independence. Soon after leaving the shelter, she attended NEF’s business development trainings, and drafted a proposal to acquire a small grant to put her plan into action.  With a roadmap in hand, she launched her very own bakery business, quickly making a name for herself. Now her own boss, Mane says she "struggles to keep up with demand" for her signature cakes and pastries. "It can be exhausting", she says, but "I know that my daughter and I will reap the rewards".  Hers is a full-time job that brings monetary as well as intangible rewards: restored confidence, a sense of purpose, and the friendships she has made with other survivors along the way.  

Survivors like thirty-five year old Anahit, who made her way to a shelter in Yerevan after her then-partner and his family made threats against her life. Though pregnant, scared, and initially hesitant to assume the breadwinner’s mantle, Anahit was determined to provide for her newborn daughter no matter the stigmas accompanying her decision.  After leaving the shelter, she joined NEF’s business development trainings, and, like Mane, drafted a proposal to acquire a small grant to give life to her ideas.  Now the proud owner of a laser hair removal business, Anahit holds no shame in raising her child independently: “I’m back on my feet again, and I’m not dependent on anyone.  I can take care of my baby and myself.” 

Survivors of domestic and sexual violence frequently report feelings of powerless and worthlessness following an assault.  NEF has found that the most effective way to support survivors is to empower each to exercise what has been taken away in the moment of crisis: agency. We provide survivors with the set of technical skills and competencies needed to design and realize their own business model, and then nest these tools in strong support networks that women can fall back upon for guidance and encouragement.  Our results have been promising.

We tracked our most recent batch of graduates over a 4-6 month period. Four months post-graduation, 95% of respondents reported increased self-esteem, and 89% claimed their psychological wellbeing had improved by virtue of their participation. 

Given the importance of social values in shaping acceptable behavior, we also tracked attitudes and perceptions frequently used to justify domestic violence. The results demonstrate significant shifts in participant attitudes, with 89% of respondents agreeing that domestic violence is not their fault, and 69% indicating that controlling behavior is unhealthy. 84% of graduates now earn monthly incomes ranging from US$300-400 – on par with the average Armenian salary of US$340/month. Better still, most expect to see their income increase as their businesses expand.

NEF is gearing up to empower an additional 200 women to rebuild their lives over the next 2 years using this same approach. We also plan to partner with 4 local organizations to train them how to apply our model in their own communities, dramatically expanding the number of women who can be reached. 


Apr 3, 2015

The Dream of Having One's Own Business Comes True

After working for more than 15 years in an Armenian bakery, Tamara dreamed of starting her own business. She saw self-employment as the best way to improve her family’s life and provide her sons a chance at higher education. But she had no idea where to find the money to capitalize such a venture and was leery of taking many risks.

In summer 2014, Tamara became involved in NEF’s Women’s Economic Empowerment and Advocacy project. Balancing her job at the bakery and participation in the project was a challenge that proved rewarding. In the project’s training sessions, she learned how to start and run a business and how to develop confidence in risk-taking. During business planning, she focused on how to organize the production process so that her potential bakery would be viable in the marketplace and profitable.

After conducting market research, Tamara understood what kind of baked goods she was going to produce. She also learned how to make financial calculations. In addition to gaining business skills and knowledge from the project, Tamara received a grant of more than $1,200 to start her business. She quickly registered the business, becoming a sole entrepreneur producing semi-prepared food. She hired one of her relatives to work for her, thus becoming an employer. Her success in her own business paid off when her employer offered Tamara a higher-level job: Now she is the head of production unit in the bakery.

Tamara is happy with WEEA’s impact. Her family’s lifestyle has improved. She is successfully operating her business, which sells 16 to 20 kilograms per week and generates $500 to $600 of income a month. She plans to expand production.

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