The Near East Foundation (NEF) has worked continuously in Jordan since 1937, focused on vocational training, micro-finance, and rural development. With more than 200 local community group connections, we understand that strong partnerships are key to progress. When we set out to launch a community revolving loan fund in Jordan in 2019, we knew that finding the right partners would be essential. Together with trusted community-based organization, the Azraq Women Productive Cooperative Association, we are extending access to capital for small business owners previously locked out of such opportunities.
Suhair Thani Almaaz lives in Azraq, Jordan with her husband and two teenage children. The small city lies in the middle of the Azraq Oasis, the only permanent source of water in 12,000 square kilometers of desert and it hosts more than 35,000 Syrian refugees.
In 2009, Suhair started a small business, selling clothes, cosmetics, and accessories. With the help of her husband, she built a small shop on land she inherited from her family. While business was steady enough to keep her afloat, Suhair lacked access to the capital that would allow her to buy diverse types of products or to purchase them in quantities that would allow her to fulfill large orders. Although she tried to get loans from other international non-governmental organizations working in Azraq, the applications were complicated and often written in English. She sought help completing the applications, but never received the support she needed to overcome these challenges.
In spring 2020, Suhair heard about NEF’s community revolving loan fund program through an announcement on the Facebook page of the Azraq Women Productive Cooperative Association. Suhair had a good relationship with the association and she trusted them. She was relieved that the advertisement was in Arabic and that the application process was straightforward and clear. She first considered taking a 1,000 JD (~1,400 USD) loan, but after working with a Siraj Center loan counselor, she decided 500 JD (~750 USD) would be a more feasible amount for her to repay. For Suhair, the most important factor in her decision to take a loan with NEF was that there was no interest rate, just an administration fee.
In addition to the loan, Suhair also benefitted from five days of business development training. She is already employing the skills she gained, including assessing local demand, calculating net profit, and marketing her products.
Suhair used a portion of her loan to invest in cosmetics and perfumes. She is saving the rest to invest in the coming months, as the market evolves in response to the pandemic. Mindful of product quality and expiration dates, Suhair is focused on adapting her business to fluctuating demands, buying only what she needs. With guidance from NEF, she is also building her customer base among essential workers, because they still need cosmetics, perfumes, clothes, sanitizers and accessories during the pandemic and because they receive a fixed monthly salary.
“The loan amount really affected me positively because it enabled me to buy the needed materials to meet the demands of the customers,” said Suhair.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, business is going well and Suhair is able to pay half of her household’s expenses. She continues to meet with her business mentor, Futoon, by phone each month to discuss challenges and opportunities. Together, they also take time to calculate her monthly net profit.
Suhair is on track to repay her loan and is considering a move to downtown Azraq to increase foot traffic for her storefront. She hopes to grow her family business to provide jobs for her husband, who will eventually retire from his job as a bricklayer, and for her two children who have shown interest in the business she built.
NEF’s community revolving loan fund is supported by the Elsa and Peter Soderberg Foundation, with co-funding for the design phase by the Asfari Foundation. As Suhair repays her loan, alongside the fund’s initial cohort of more than 60 borrowers, additional capital will become available for future loans to promising entrepreneurs. The revolving loan fund is designed to be a sustainable, community-led alternative to help meet the demand for business financing among marginalized small entrepreneurs who are often deterred or excluded by traditional microfinance channels.
NEF’s unique approach strengthens trusted local organizations’ ability to provide this critical access to finance and is complemented by non-financial services that build entrepreneurs’ skills, confidence, and networks through training, coaching, mentoring, and advanced tailored support. This pilot is part of a broader program, with co-funding from the Open Society Foundations, to empower civil society to reduce vulnerability to social protection risks among highly vulnerable households in Jordan.