Unique International Public-Private Partnership To Assist Palestinian Businesses
Ramallah, West Bank, July 18, 2007— In a formal signing ceremony today, the Aspen Institute, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) officially launched the Middle East Investment Initiative (MEII). MEII, an international collaboration of leaders from the Palestinian, American, and European private and public sectors, is a $160 million loan guarantee program dedicated to helping improve the livelihoods of the Palestinian people. This program is part of a broader effort to help the Palestinians create a more prosperous economic, political and secure future.
MEII’s innovative loan guarantee program targets small and medium size businesses which represent almost 90% of all registered Palestinian businesses. The program offers Palestinian banks the incentive they need to increase lending to these critical enterprises, providing the financial support to expand and upgrade their operations. MEII will focus on light manufacturing businesses such as textiles, garments, furniture, processed food, stone, marble and pharmaceuticals. The initiative will help create thousands of new jobs and give individuals a stronger stake in the future of the region.
MEII was created in response to the rapidly deteriorating economy in the West Bank and Gaza and the recognition that peace in the region will depend in part on stable local economies. The current environment has demonstrated the importance of economic investment programs such as MEII.
The initiative, which has been in development for more than two years, would not have been possible without the active leadership and support of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Senator Dianne Feinstein, both of whom are engaged in Aspen Institute programs.
Since late 2000, subsequent to the second “Intifada” turmoil and the issues involving movement and access, the Palestinian economy has virtually stalled, and gains made in the preceding decade have been nearly erased. According to the World Bank, unemployment is estimated to be near 25%, the poverty rate is around 66%, and the healthcare, education and social service systems are under increasing pressure.
“We resolved to make a difference,” said Berl Bernhard, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of MEII, and Chairman emeritus of the Aspen Institute. “There is nothing theoretical about what we are trying to accomplish. While the policy makers work at the diplomatic level, MEII will be at work in local communities where improving the quality of people’s everyday lives can help create an environment for peace”.
To ensure the program’s successful implementation MEII has retained the services of CHF International as its coordinating agent, a non-profit with a long and respected history of running international lending programs.
The potential for MEII’s success is clear. A 2004 study by the Portland Trust looking at the possibility of such a Palestinian loan guarantee initiative found that if investment capital was made available to them, small firms anticipated a 400% increase in employment; medium and larger businesses predicted a 240%; and firms across the sample predicted a 90% increase in average output.
“MEII is a commitment to being one program in the international community’s robust toolbox for assisting the Palestinians in building a sustainable economic development plan to improve the quality of life for Palestinians during this critical time,” said Toni Verstandig, MEII Executive Director.
“I firmly believe the day will come when we can point to individuals, families and communities in Palestine and say we made a concrete, tangible difference—not only in individual lives but to the future of the region,” said Bernhard.
A 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, the MEII Board of Directors are:
Madeleine K. Albright
Ann McLaughlin Korologos
William E. Mayer
Thomas R. Pickering
Mara E. Rudman
The Middle East Initiative (MEII), an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, was created by the Aspen Institute. Founded in 1950, the Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded, non-partisan dialogue. The Institute is headquartered in Washington, DC.