The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of the 8 December 1949 as a separate entity within the United Nations System to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees. The Agency began operations on 1 May 1950. It operates in Jordan under special agreement with the Government of Jordan. UNRWA Microfinance was established in Gaza in 1991 and introduced into the West Bank in 1996. It was extended into Jordan and Syria in 2003. It is headquartered in Jerusalem and is uniquely the only multinational MFI in the Middle East. The microfinance program currently operates as a special financially and institutionally autonomous department within UNRWA, operating on a sustainable and operationally self-sufficient basis, following microfinance best practice disclosure, audit and social performance guidelines. Plans are currently underway to move the operation from UNRWA and to transform UNRWA Microfinance into an independent regional microfinance operation.
UNRWA Microfinance finances loans to both Palestine refugees and Jordanians citizens, providing loans to microenterprises, women’s household income-generating activities, home improvement, and household asset-building, as well as education and healthcare. It is one of the pioneers of social performance management in the MENA region, winning the gold category for MIX indicator reporting in 2009 and 2010 and the Platinum prize in 2011. Its microfinance outreach focuses on the poor and low-income clients, informal enterprises, women and youth.