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Friday, May 4, 2007

On The Today Show, Queen Rania: “As long as people are aren't able to fulfill their own aspirations, then that affects world peace”

Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan is back in the United States for the first time in eight months to bring attention to an issue of vital importance: helping the world's poorest gain an opportunity to improve their lives through a concept catching international attention. It is called village banking.
Queen Rania, thank you very much for joining us.

Queen Rania: Good morning.

Good morning. Your Majesty, I had never heard of village banking, and I think I'm probably like a lot of other people out there. So help us understand what it does and why you care so deeply about it.

Queen Rania: Well, microfinance is a stunningly simple idea of giving poor people who have no access to financial services very small loans, sometimes as small as $100, in which they can start their own business. So a person can buy a few chickens in order to start an egg business or buy a sewing machine to start a tailoring business or some seeds to produce some agricultural products. And so it gives people the opportunity to turn a good idea into a job, an income-generating job. And with village banking, it's basically 10 to 30 people coming together, mostly women, and they start to guarantee each other's loans. So in essence they become their own bank. They sort of record the transactions, disburse the loans, remind each other of when they need to pay the loans. So it's kind of harnesses social momentum to make sure that this succeeds.

When you first started promoting this internationally, did a lot of people their eyes glaze over, because you hear the word "microfinancing" and, it just sounds dull.

Queen Rania: Sometimes it sounds--yeah, it used to--people used to find it technical...

Yes.

Queen Rania: ...you know, complicated, but it's really trying to make people understand, actually a very, very simple concept and it's all about people. It's all about creating opportunity and empowering people. And with, for example, I've seen, for example, from women, not only does it generate income for them, but with that income comes more decision-making power, more a feeling of dignity, a feeling of empowerment and self-confidence and self-esteem. So it really has this impact on people. And I think we need to realize it's not just a technical thing. It's not a business terminology. It is about people. As long as people are suffering and aren't able to provide for their children and to fulfill their own aspirations, then that affects world peace as well.

They'll never really have peace, which...

Queen Rania: Absolutely.

...brings me to another topic. We have an expression in this--in this country, "Why can't we all just get along."
Queen Rania: Right.

And I know that's a question that you've thought a lot about when dealing with this basically a bridge of misunderstanding between Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

Queen Rania: Mm-hmm.

Do you get any sense that we're making progress there in terms of understanding each other?

Queen Rania: Well, you know, this issue I've found has been quite frustrating, particularly since 9/11. I found that our world has been polarized in a sense, East on one side and the West on another. And although extremists present a threat to the world in the form of terrorism, terrorism is a direct and visible threat, but just equally as important are the underlying currents of fear and suspicion that exist between East and West.

Well, right now, would you say the typical Jordanian looks at an American with mistrust?

Queen Rania: I think the typical Jordanian looks at the American policies with mistrust, not at the American people. There is a mistrust of American policies sometimes in our region where people feel that American policy is not necessarily having the best interests of the Middle Eastern countries in mind.

Well, right now your country is feeling the effect of our policy in Iraq...

Queen Rania: Mm-hmm.

...obviously, the war in Iraq. Something like two million Iraqis have fled that country and they're seeking refuge, many of them, in Jordan and in Syria.

Queen Rania: We have about 700--700,000 in Jordan.
What has that influx done to your country? What impact has it had?

Queen Rania: Well, it has put a lot of strain on our infrastructure, on our resources, on our environment, and obviously, on our health and education services. But we're doing our very best to integrate those communities into Jordan. And I think many of them will look forward to returning back to their country once the situation is stabilized.

But do you worry about stability in your own country? We hear about warring factions of Shia and Sunni and Kurd and that they are actually damaging the social structure in countries like Jordan.

Queen Rania: That--we haven't experienced that. I think any instability in Iraq will have a detrimental effect on the region as a whole and on the world as a whole. I think one thing to realize today is any problem anywhere affects us no matter where we live. Our world is so interdependent at the moment that we cannot isolate ourselves from problems no matter how far they are. But Jordan has proved over the years to be quite resilient in dealing with issues.

Do you believe, Your Highness, that the Mideast should play stronger role in terms of what's happening in Iraq?

Queen Rania: The Middle Eastern countries?
Yes.
Queen Rania: Well, it's--I think the whole international community has a role to play. Unfortunately, we've spent too many years apportioning blame, trying to figure out whose mistake it was and who is right and who is wrong, but at the end of the day, the international community needs to be involved in the reconstruction and reconciliation of Iraq.

Your Majesty, thank you so much for spending some time with us.

Queen Rania: It's an absolute pleasure. Thank you.
Thank you. Queen Rania.