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The Development Continuum in Jordan

For the past week I’ve been traveling in Amman, Jordan and the surrounding area. I’ve learned a lot about how this progressive Arab country is tackling its refugee and poverty problems, as well as other features of the country. The combination of approaches the Jordanian government has adopted may serve as a model for other countries faced with similar challenges (e.g, water shortages, large refugee populations, significant wage differentials between men and women and also between those living in the city vs. those living in the rural areas, etc…).

There is a fascinating development continuum on many different levels in Jordan. There are various cultural, demographic, sociological, and physical factors that affect where each individual resides on the continuum (in terms of their own personal, psychological development). There is also a separate, but equally important continuum for large-scale infrastructure development.

At the personal level, people are generally tolerant of other’s ideas, concepts and lifestyles. They are extremely warm and hospitable; and with that, there is a certain grace about accepting others at different levels of emotional/psychological development. At the same time, the society, itself, is filled with internal paradoxes. Family relations are strong and richly textured; however the incidence of divorce is going up as more and more couples are faced with the stresses and strains of life in modern society. It is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society that is primarily Muslim; at the same time, the influences of the modern media and modern fashion are evident everywhere you look.

Infrastructure development is proceeding apace, especially in Amman. Roads, sanitary systems, communications and other utilities-based infrastructure seem to be keeping up with the population growth and dynamics (in some areas); however, some institutional reforms in banking and monetary policy are still under development. Furthermore, the problem of a long-term, viable water supply for the growing population is a growing concern among both government officials and policy analysts. The agricultural sector currently consumes about 70% of the water supplies; however, continued use at this level is not viable, given the impact this is having on the regional aquifers. Furthermore simple technical tools like eCommerce are yet to be adopted by vendors or consumers, given the lack of infrastructure for small package delivery services and the scarcity of cost-effective merchant services for online transactions.

Jordanian seamstress

Seamstress from Jordan River Foundation

I traveled to Jordan as part of a small delegation from the Thunderbird School of Global Business. We were traveling to meet with mentees that we had been working with through a joint-program between Thunderbird and the Jordanian Business Development Center (BDC). This program was funded by U.S. AID as part of their program to empower women entrepreneurs. We participated in a well-publicized and well-received seminar on women in business in Jordan, and held a series of meetings with U.S. government officials, NGOs, public/private partnerships, and private companies.

With respect to relations between the U.S. and Jordan, there is a bi-lateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) [http://www.jordanusfta.com/] that was signed in 2000 which entered into force in 2001. Tijara, a Public/Private partnership aimed at facilitating trade between the two countries, is comprised of 24 member organizations [http://www.jordanusfta.com/tijara.asp]. The U.S. government is active through the U.S. AID program, with multiple capacity-building programs that seem to be working in harmony with the goals and objectives of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for social development [http://jordan.usaid.gov/].

The Jordanian government has multiple programs in place for training and technology transfer to those living in conditions of poverty and those in the refugee camps. Importantly, the work of IRADA is aimed at technical training, the Ministry of Social Development runs several programs for institutional capacity building, and the Department of Agriculture runs gender-specific programs on food processing training in the rural areas, among other things.

Bani Hamida Weaving Project

Wall hanging by Bani Hamida weaver

There are multiple non-profit, non-governmental organizations doing phenomenal work, as well. The Jordan River Foundation [http://www.jordanriver.jo/], under the sponsorship of Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, provides training for groups of women from specific regions for the production of high-quality home furnishings and handicrafts. The Bani Hamida rugs and the Wadi Rayan baskets and furniture items are popular product lines among interior designers from around the world.

Another important non-profit engaged in social development is the Jordan National Alliance Against Hunger (JAAH). This organization is headed by Her Royal Highness Princess Basma Bint Talal and hosted by the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development. It was founded in 2004 and serves as the Jordanian member of the International Alliance Against Hunger. Among their many programs are important food banks for the Palestinian and Iraqi refugee populations. [Note: As of 2010, there are 1.7 million registered Palestinian refugees and other displaced persons residing in Jordan.]

Artisian working on mosiac

Owner of Virgin Mary Mosaics shop in Madaba

In addition to these programs there is a robust tourism business for viewing the historical sites of the holy land, the ecological preserves, and the beautiful coral reefs off the coast of Aqaba. The products of the handicraft workers and artisans are key to the success of the rural communities, such as the beautiful town of Madaba, the city of Mosaics.

One of the key objectives of the BDC is to increase female participation in the workforce. The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index of 2010 (based on 2007 data) placed Jordan as number 104 out of 128 countries included in the index. What’s most disturbing is that its rank dropped from position 93 to 104 over a 3 year period since the last index. And, according the the Jordan Social and Economic Council (JSEC), only 14.9% of the labor force is comprised of women, even though education rates are high for the region. Clearly entrepreneurship and the empowerment of women will be key to the future for this society. Furthermore, the long-term and close relationship between the U.S. and Jordan can position women business people and entrepreneurs from the U.S. well in collaborative programs for technology transfer and capacity building.

Although these are just a few of the many important organizations doing good work in Jordan, they give you a sense of the richness of the social development projects taking place here. It may also give you a sense of the work that still needs to be done…and the opportunities that await social enterprise entrepreneurs that want to join in on the development continuum in Jordan.