Fellow Since 2008
This profile was prepared when Raghda Butros was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
Raghda Butros is working in Jordan to engage citizens of all economic classes in local development policies and programs, aimed at fostering a spirit of mutual social responsibility. Through funding from private donors, she is organizing community-driven projects to revitalize the Levant region and decrease Jordan’s dependency on foreign development aid.
The New Idea
Raghda believes donor-driven development strategies have resulted in a culture of apathy and dependence. By providing all citizens, rich and poor alike, with the appropriate skills, information, and opportunities they need to maximize their own personal potential, she is empowering her community to achieve their common aspirations and transform their apathy into reciprocal responsibility. Raghda is bringing people of all walks of life together, from the most disadvantaged to the highly privileged, to challenge the existing social structure which keeps citizens unengaged in the issues that affect their lives. In promoting and supporting active community engagement and participation, she aims to combat feelings of victimization and defeat among the poor, as well as feelings of apathy, fear and resentment among the privileged. Raghda’s model works at multiple levels and with different partners. The private sector provides funding and expertise to her initiative, while local community members play a key role in designing and implementing development initiatives. By mobilizing a diverse range of community members and volunteers, Raghda has been able to revitalize a low-income community from within, proving that there is less of a need to rely on international donors than many in her country believe.
In 2005, the population of Jordan was nearly 5.1 million, over nine times that in 1952 when the United States first began providing economic assistance. This figure is expected to double by 2027, and high rates of population growth are expected to place heavy demands on Jordan’s limited resources and development strategies.Since 1952, USAID has devoted more than US$4.7B to its work in Jordan. In 2001, Jordan received over US$400M in grant and loan assistance from thirty-five foreign governments and multilateral agencies. Despite these enormous investments, there is a serious lack of holistic and comprehensive approaches to development, often resulting in failure to reach out to all members of society and encourage a project-driven mentality throughout the citizen sector. Development projects in the country have traditionally been donor-driven and are often top-down in their approach, both in terms of the decision-making process at the higher levels, and the projects implemented on the ground. As a result, they are supported by large sums of money often going towards exorbitant fees, travel, and accommodation expenses for foreign experts and consultants, as well as high overhead costs.The discontinuity of these development projects, which are cut off when funding cycles end, combined with a complex dichotomy of cultural poverty in which the poor and the rich distrust one another, jeopardizes communities’ chance to thrive. In fact, a number of communities face exacerbated marginalization because of their geographic, political, or economic status. Such areas are perceived as targets for groups operating under religious pretences for political gain. While a number of programs directed towards promoting community self-sufficiency function in different areas throughout Jordan, these initiatives fail to bring about systemic change. Raghda is addressing the lack of a solid platform of home-grown programs that justly and fairly address real issues on the ground by creating a space for grassroots community members to present and advocate for their own issues, not as victims or beneficiaries, but as active players and decision-makers.
Raghda’s strategy promotes a culture in which everyone is a catalyst for change, regardless of income, social standing, gender, or religion. Local inhabitants actively participate in the planning, design, implementation, and monitoring stages of a comprehensive set of mutually identified and agreed-upon economic and social programs to improve societal integration, while the private sector provides funding to help reduce dependence on foreign aid. In 2003, Raghda started her work by conducting a field study and survey for her initial target area, Jabal Nathif. After staying in this community for one year exchanging ideas, building trust, identifying priorities, and putting ideas to action, she established a multitude of programs and services that the community had specifically requested. As the programs matured, they did more than just meet immediate needs, they became living organisms that could grow, transform, respond and produce outcomes, opening new windows to new ideas and future opportunities that were necessary but previously masked by more pressing priorities. Two years later, Raghda established Ruwwad, the first organization in Jordan funded solely by individuals and companies from the private sector. Ruwwad acts as a catalyst for members of marginalized communities to work together to meet their own self-identified needs. The various programs Raghda created and managed through this organization were aimed at sustainable self-reliance, social entrepreneurship, and, ultimately, policy change, and they grew organically through community engagement and joint goal-setting.Among these programs is the Mousab Khorma Youth Empowerment Fund, which provides university scholarships, training and internship opportunities for young people in the communities where Ruwwad operates. These opportunities allow youth to pursue their interests and develop employable skills. Raghda believes that the Ruwwad scholarship graduates will distinguish themselves among their peers by being more socially aware and far more likely to face their challenges with an attitude of activism and responsibility. Ruwwad has reached 250 young people through this scholarship program and plans to reach hundreds more when the Mousab Khorma Youth Empowerment Fund becomes a regional program, making scholarships and other opportunities available to young people in Jordan and beyond through a rigorous selection process. In the program’s expansion, as well as in the expansion of other aspects of her initiative, Raghda will maintain the same conditions of volunteerism and the same types of funding sources. In doing so, Raghda will promote and replicate key elements of her program: the ensured active citizenship of program beneficiaries and private sector involvement. Raghda also works to gear private sector funding in development programs toward projects that utilize the core competencies of businesses, including sustainability, strategic thinking and planning to address communities’ pressing needs. To date, she has gained funding from within the Jordanian business sector as well as from other local and regional companies and individuals. In the next five years, she plans to reach out to several additional communities both within Jordan and elsewhere in the Levant and Arab world. In the long-term, Raghda plans to further mainstream her idea so that it can be integrated into a wide range of development projects on the regional level. She has already established contacts with several organizations working in similar fields in Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine, and has shared expertise and discussed possibilities of cooperation and idea exchange. These connections have led to Ruwwad’s recent expansion into other countries.
Raghda is the fourth daughter of parents who came to Amman in 1948 after the Palestinian Nakba. Her father, a university English professor who was instrumental in founding the University of Jordan, encouraged her to explore opportunities, values, and principles that model the engaged, diverse life she wanted for herself.While Raghda spent most of her childhood in Amman, she also spent time in Ottawa, Canada, and in early part of her formative years, in London. She has had the opportunity to travel on family vacations and with her father on business trips and these travels instilled in her a deep appreciation for diversity, as well as the ability to communicate effectively across cultures.For high school, Raghda attended the Lycée Français Charles du Gaulle in London, earning A-levels in English, History, History of Art, and Arabic. She was an active member of the debate club, Amnesty International, the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, Editor-in-Chief of the school yearbook, and an active voice both at school and outside for the Palestinian cause. After returning to Jordan for her university studies, Raghda found herself in a place where people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and from all locations in Jordan came together. It was there where she truly began to understand the “real” Jordan: One which is hugely diverse and which contains many paradoxes.