On Wednesday, 8 February 2017, the main headquarters of Bank of Palestine in Ramallah hosted the signing ceremony of an agreement between the bank and the Palestinian Ministry of Labor to fund small and micro size projects for persons with disabilities. The agreements was signed in the presence of Mr. Hashim Al Shawa, the Chairman and Director General of Bank of Palestine, Mr. Mamoun Abu Shahla, Minister of Labor, Mr. Maher Farah, Member of the Board of Directors at Bank of Palestine, Ms. Shatha Abu Srour, Representative of the General Union for Persons with Disabilities, members from civil society organizations, representatives from the Ministry of Labor, representatives and assistants of the director general at Bank of Palestine, heads of administrations and departments and a group of journalists and media persons.

Based on the aforementioned agreement, the bank will allocate a portfolio of credit facilitations in the amount of 500 thousand United States Dollars, to fund small and micro size projects interest and commission free for persons with disabilities. This initiative comes as part of the bank’s commitment to social responsibility towards this sector in Palestinian society, and based on a program and plan of action that will be implemented in coordination between both parties and in cooperation with the General Union of Persons with Disabilities. The program will also entail the formation of work committees to conduct the necessary arrangements to achieve this purpose. Bank of Palestine, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor, will also launch an awareness media campaign to encourage persons with disabilities to benefit from this program.

 

The signing of this memorandum of understanding comes as part of the bank’s belief, as well as the belief of the Ministry of Labor in the importance of decreasing the level of unemployment among persons with disabilities, whose rate exceeded 87.3% in Palestine: 85.9% in the West Bank and 90.9% in the Gaza Strip. The main idea behind the program is to open the opportunity for unemployed persons with disabilities who have leadership skills and ideas for small and micro size projects and connect them with Bank of Palestine.

Mr. Hashim Al Shawa expressed his excitement about Bank of Palestine’s standing at the forefront of Palestinian companies that play a role in supporting persons with disabilities. He pointed out that the bank exerts tremendous efforts to support economic development by encouraging the presence and contribution of these members of society in developing small projects that assist them in discovering a good source of income for themselves, confirming that the  allocation of 500 thousand United states Dollars, interest free and commission free, for funding small projects for persons with disabilities is considered part of the bank’s social responsibility towards persons with disabilities.   

Al Shawa also revealed that the portfolio for credit facilitations for small projects reached 400 million dollars by the end of the previous year, forming part of the bank’s responsibility in directing facilitations to stimulate the Palestinian national economy. Al Shawa assured that persons with disabilities are in constant need of support from all private sector and civil society organizations, as well as the government, stressing that they have the capacities and capabilities to work, produce, and effectively contribute to society and make a change, through their integration and participation in the work force. As part of its commitment to the Palestinian Labor Law, in 2015, the bank decided to increase the number of its employees who are persons with disabilities to reach 6%, which demonstrates tremendous progress when compared with local and regional organizations, where the law urges the employment of only 5%.    

The Minister of Labour, Mr. Mamoun Abu Shahla, praised the efforts conducted by Bank of Palestine to achieve economic development and support small national projects. Referring to the bank’s agreement with the Ministry of Labor to fund small projects for persons with disabilities, Abu Shahla assured that the bank will continue to be the pioneering entity that managed to focus on national development alongside economic development.

In terms of the government’s efforts to find solutions for the problem of unemployment, Abu Shahla states that the Palestinian government is deeply concerned about two issues: apart from the occupation, there are around 400 thousand youth who are unemployed in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, and most of them have university degrees, in addition to more than 320 thousand families that live below the poverty line.

Abu Shahla also stated that the most effective solution for the issue of unemployment rests in experiences from all around the world, which proved that launching and funding small projects and decreasing imports, which overburden Palestinians, are the best solutions for us. He also talked about activating the work of the Palestinian Employment Fund, which requires at least one billion dollars to fund 70 thousand projects and employ a minimum of 250 thousand men and women. Achieving this is not easy, according to Abu Shahla, but the government commenced its journey to find the necessary funding from local and international organizations.   

From her end, Ms. Shatha Abu Srour praised the initiative that was launched by Bank of Palestine with the Ministry of Labor, which came during difficult and complicated circumstances, whereby the majority of persons with disabilities do not have appropriate jobs. Abu Srour stressed the importance of providing support for these members in society, and expressed her appreciation towards the efforts conducted by the bank in supporting persons with disabilities through these small projects that empower them at all levels be they professional, training or intellectual.