What challenge was the inspiration for your project?
Lebanon is situated in the Middle East between Syria and Israel and has six million inhabitants.
Political instability and an influx of refugees from the region, especially from Syria, influences the economic climate. It is estimated that around 28% of the population live in poverty on an income of less than USD 4 per day. These numbers indicate unbalanced distribution of economic growth and development.
Lebanon has traditionally been a refuge for marginalised groups in the region. It has taken in more than one million Syrians that have fled to Lebanon since the civil war in their country. Refugees now make up about 20% of the total population. The impact of this on Lebanese society is considerable: including growing unemployment and poverty, along with a greater pressure on public services and infrastructure.
What was your innovation that addresses this problem?
Al Majmoua, one of the leading microfinance institutions in Lebanon, has pioneered a loan product for refugees. In close cooperation with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the UN Refugee Organisation, Al Majmoua has developed a loan specifically for Syrian refugees. About 3% of their loan portfolio is aimed at this group. Al Majmoua now provides loans to more than 8,500 Syrian refugees, more than 80% of whom are women. The successful introduction of this loan means it can be rolled out further over the next few years.
What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?
Triodos Microfinance Fund and Triodos Fair Share Fund have provided a loan of USD 5 million, allowing Al Majmoua to further expand their services and increase their outreach.
What impact has your business had on the sector you work in?
Al Majmoua shared its knowledge and experience in the field of refugee loans with other financial institutions in the region during a two-day workshop in Amman, Jordan in July 2018.
Triodos Investment Management organised this event together with The Netherlands Platform for Inclusive Finance (NpM) to stimulate an exchange of knowledge, identify obstacles and draw up an action plan to provide such loans on a larger scale.
What impact has your business had on the community?
Many people and small businesses in Lebanon still have no, or limited, access to basic financial services. Al Majmoua is committed to change this by contributing to a financial sector that is accessible to all.
Al Majmoua makes no distinction based on gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion and political views. Inclusiveness is a fundamental pillar of their mission as this work shows. Many institutions are still reluctant to provide finance for refugees. They see lots of obstacles; will refugees pay back their loans, will they return to their homeland, and do they have the right identity documents? Supporting this group is a key part of the impact Al Majmoua wants to make.
How does Triodos Bank share your vision?
Microfinance provides a unique opportunity to change the narrative of the people in the Middle East, and the refugee crisis. Despite often negative headlines and the challenging economic environment, the resilience and positivity of the population prevails. We have to be realistic—the refugee problem will not disappear. More than 60 million people worldwide have fled their country. Many will not return and want to build a new life for themselves. Microfinance gives them this chance.