Our work is based on a conviction that, to play an active role in the development of their communities and countries, people need opportunities and tools: the knowledge to participate in civic and economic life, a voice in public decisions that affect their wellbeing, and a means of making a meaningful living. We call this approach “Knowledge, Voice, and Enterprise”- a philosophy reflected in all of NEF’s work.
For nearly 100 years, the Near East Foundation has pioneered innovative solutions to social and economic development challenges impacting communities throughout the Middle East and Africa.
Headquartered on the campus of our strategic partner Syracuse University, NEF is an operational non-governmental organization (NGO) with current programs in nine countries: Armenia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Morocco, Palestine, Senegal, and Sudan.
In these countries and throughout the region, we work with local partners to directly improve the lives of tens of thousands of vulnerable people each year through initiatives in sustainable agriculture, microenterprise development, women’s empowerment, civic education, and peacebuilding.
- Our Approach
- What Makes Us Unique
Basic knowledge is essential to full participation in civic and economic life. Without it, urban and rural poor alike have little prospect of taking advantage of new opportunities for employment and self-improvement. Their poverty and vulnerability to exploitation persists—often while society around them prospers. NEF education, literacy, and job training programs offer access to the basic knowledge needed to pursue civic and economic opportunities. In addition, NEF training on communication, negotiation, and conflict management and resolution support peacebuilding efforts in communities affected by conflict.
Many of NEF’s local partners have been excluded from public decision-making due to poverty, lack of education, established gender or cultural norms, and/or geographic isolation. They have no seat at the table, and their lack of political power is both the cause and effect of their vulnerability. Through community organizing and institutional building initiatives, NEF helps establish and strengthen local organizations, empowering them to take collective action and effectively represent their members.
Our approach to creating economic opportunity varies according to the social and economic realities of our local partners, and may focus on agriculture and natural resource management, value-added processing, small-scale commerce, and/or local service delivery. In each case, NEF provides technical assistance to improve productivity, job and business development training, and micro-credit to help vulnerable people gain the knowledge and skills needed to earn a meaningful living and lift themselves out of poverty.
DECENTRALIZATION: All Local Staff
NEF’s decentralized structure empowers local development professionals. Most of our technical capacity and programming capacity resides with the teams in the field. This allows NEF to design initiatives that are especially responsive to local needs and tailored to local conditions. Our field programs evolve organically with the changing nature of local development challenges, as reflected in the growing importance of urban poverty reduction initiatives in Morocco (Casablanca), Egypt (Cairo) and Jordan (Zarqa).
RELATIONSHIPS: Long-Standing Partnerships
NEF has sustained its presence in partner countries and communities over many years. These long-term relationships give us intimate knowledge of local circumstances and challenges. Just as important, the relationships and NEF’s local reputation are a foundation for trust with groups that are often difficult to reach—such as residents of remote villages in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, refugees in urban Jordan and Palestinian farmers in the West Bank.
INNOVATION: Developing Replicable Models
NEF’s local capacity and long-standing relationships enable NEF to pilot and refine innovative solutions to local development challenges. While our activities are rooted in grassroots action, the approaches and tools we develop gain traction far beyond the communities in which we work. For example, local natural resource management bylaws, developed by NEF and its partners in northern Mali, are now common elements of development practice throughout West Africa. NEF’s locally adapted models for micro-credit and small enterprise development are now widely used by NGOs throughout Jordan. And NEF’s model of engaging communities to increase girls’ education, piloted in a handful of villages in the High Atlas Mountains, is now used across southern Morocco and is on the cusp of expansion to the national level.
NEF addresses the pressing needs of the most vulnerable groups in the Middle East and North Africa through four core programs:
- Peacebuilding through Economic Cooperation and Development
- Women’s Microenterprise Development
- Agriculture and Natural Resource Management
- Youth Civic Engagement
Conflict is a backdrop to daily life in many of the communities where NEF works. While conflict expresses itself in many ways—warfare, competition over natural resources, occupation—poverty is often a significant underlying cause and almost always a consequence. We create new pathways for peace and show policymakers how it is possible to move forward in areas of entrenched conflict.
NEF continues to implement highly effective initiatives to reduce poverty and promote sustainable economic development in conflict and post-conflict areas. Our approach focuses on core livelihood issues in a given area and helps populations find mutual interests and benefit through economic cooperation. By focusing on livelihood issues, NEF frames conflict mitigation and reconciliation into practical and immediate concerns for average citizens. This takes different forms depending on the causes and consequences of conflict - including economic sector development, economic reintegration and inclusion, and collaborative Natural Resource Management.Project Spotlight Olive Oil without Borders: Building Economic Cooperation in Palestine & Israel
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, women are assuming increasing economic responsibility for their families. In spite of the necessity, they must overcome social barriers, lack of job skills or business management experience, and little access to credit. At NEF, we have found that microenterprise development is among the most effective and accessible ways to create jobs and income for disadvantaged women in the region.
Working in partnership with local community associations, NEF provides vulnerable women—rural and urban poor, heads of households, widows, refugees, victims of domestic violence—with business management training, helps them access credit, and facilitates networks to provide both business and social support. NEF also helps organize networks to offer ongoing mentoring to entrepreneurs to ensure the sustainability of their new businesses.Project Spotlight Women's Economic Empowerment and Advocacy
One of the most vulnerable groups in the Middle East and North Africa is smallholder farmers, who are on the frontlines of climate change yet often lack access to the information, tools, and infrastructure to adapt. NEF supports smallholder farmers and other natural resource-dependent populations (herders, fishers) through a variety of initiatives to improve food security and increase incomes.
Among NEF’s primary areas of focus in agriculture has been to enable communities to use water resources more efficiently—harnessing nonconventional water resources, such as rainwater harvesting, spring catchment, and wastewater reuse; introducing water-efficient crops and farming practices; and adopting improved irrigation technologies. Beyond achieving short-term gains, our goal is to help develop the local capacity and infrastructure to manage agriculture and natural resources sustainably in the long-term.Project Spotlight Advancing More Profitable,
Sustainable Natural Resource
Management: Water and Agriculture
Approximately one in five citizens in the Middle East and North Africa is between the ages of 15 and 24. That’s 90 million people and growing. Youth have a vested interest in building a region that’s more inclusive and opportunity-rich. Yet their exclusion from the civic and economic life of their countries is one of the key factors driving reform movements across the region.
NEF invests in underserved youth to help them overcome economic and social barriers. We work with youth and the community organizations that support them to find practical ways to constructively address real problems in their community, including unemployment, environmental degradation, and safety. Our efforts help youth amplify their voice in society. We offer them the tools they need to change the course of their lives and to take a leadership role in their communities.Project Spotlight Giving Youth a Voice in Government