A point of light for underprivileged communities in the Middle-East

18 Aug

An exclusive interview with Cayce Pack, Women’s empowerment coordinator at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO)

TYO is a non-governmental organization that aspires to break ground in non-formal early childhood education and women’s empowerment. Founded in the year 2007, TYO is currently working in Palestine & Lebanon.

What was the motivation behind setting up TYO in Palestine and Lebanon?

Tomorrow’s Youth Organization first opened its doors in Nablus, Palestine in March 2008, when the city was heavily affected by longstanding conflict, and isolated by surrounding checkpoints. Within this context, a small team of American and Palestinian staff pursued TYO’s mission to make life better for women and children marginalized by poverty and violence. Their success was marked by the community’s overwhelming response, and in the time since, TYO continued to grow remarkably, reaching nearly 15,000 community members through holistic, multigenerational programming. In 2011, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization Lebanon was established to bring the success of TYO Palestine’s women’s entrepreneurship programs there.

Low female labor force participation rate (15.5% in Palestine and 21.7% in Lebanon) but higher levels of education- why the disparity?

Throughout the Middle East, women have made great progress at gaining more equal access to education, but that has not yet translated into more access for employment outside the home. Main obstacles stem from gender-biased beliefs about women’s rights- which can range from early marriage, inability to work outside the home, family limitations on a woman’s travel, and restrictions on property rights.

Women entrepreneurs in Palestine at a TYO training program

Women entrepreneurs in Palestine at a TYO training program

Can you tell us about some of the successful start-ups that have come up through this FWEME program?

Since our female entrepreneurship programs began in 2010, over 15 women-owned businesses have been launched in Palestine, and Lebanon has seen similar success. They represent a host of innovative ideas, such as graphic design, compost production, catering services, and more. Female entrepreneurs from TYO’s programs have been afforded opportunities to travel to countries like the United States or the United Arab Emirates for conferences and business trainings.

How easy/difficult it is for you to make the women in Palestine understand about their potential and their ability to make that difference in the professional world?

As we saw in recent recruitment for our latest female entrepreneurship program, Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East, there is an outpouring of women very interested in starting or growing their own business- but obstacles still remain. Primarily, we work with women as they take risks for the first time, explore options like loans or investments, negotiate resistance they might receive from their families, and split from traditional societal norms that would want them to work only within their homes.

How do you raise awareness about your work among the people of Palestine and mobilize them for these programs?

In the five years since our founding in Palestine, we have become increasingly known in the community, given our American and Palestinian roots. Our center in Nablus serves the four refugee camps in the area, as well as other disadvantaged areas. We work with both local and international organizations to expand our work. Our center also serves as a hub for programs throughout the northern West Bank area, reaching communities often underserved. With this strong network of partners and contacts, TYO continues to successfully outreach in the community and country at large.

What are the main issues that Palestine is currently grappling with and do you think organizations like yours are bridging these gaps?

Palestine faces a unique set of challenges, which include conflict, poverty, and marginalization of women and children. The lack of women’s economic empowerment does limit Palestine’s growth and poverty reduction, and also leads to less favorable education and health outcomes for children. Until women are equal decision makers in their homes and communities, full economic and social progress isn’t possible.

TYO adopts a holistic approach to make life better for women & children

TYO adopts a holistic approach to make life better for women & children

Is there good support for your work from national and international organizations/donor agencies/governmental support (including from Palestine).

Yes, TYO’s work is powered by strong partnerships with both local civil society partners, as well as international institutions. TYO’s unique multigenerational, holistic approach- as well as the proven programmatic success- has led us to work alongside leading regional and global organizations. These partnerships allow us to continue our groundbreaking work, and expand our point of light throughout the Middle East.

With fragile geo-political situation in that region, how do you manage to continue moving forward while taking all the stakeholders into confidence?

TYO’s apolitical, areligious approach allows us to meet the needs of Nablus as well as engage a wide variety of stakeholders- our work is based around both needs assessments and monitoring & evaluation, so we are certain to provide relevant, effective services.

Increasingly, CSR initiatives are becoming an important part of companies and even B-schools are incorporating social-business courses in their curriculum- how do you view this development? And is it helping social organizations (like yours) in achieving its objectives?

TYO knows that investing in women’s empowerment is nothing less than smart economics- and the increase in CSR and social responsibility programs only benefits this belief, and provides more opportunities for our work. These programs also helps develop innovative revenue streams and increase organizational sustainability.

Cayce Pack- TYO coordinator Cayce holds a Master of Social Work degree from New York University  and has worked for UNICEF USA in the past. She has also been  significantly involved with programs for refugee and immigrant women  in the United States. She originally hails from Tennessee (US) and is  currently based in Nablus (Palestine).

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