Middle East and North Africa

What inequality looks like

Behind the headlines lies a region where people have made a clear demand for dignity and equal opportunity. Grappling with devastating conflicts, mass displacements of people, and widespread social and economic inequality, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa region are navigating a period of profound challenge and transformation.

To release the region’s rich tradition, spirit, and innovation, there cannot be business as usual. Newly forged partnerships need to address the future of work, systems of social protection, fair investments in human capital and urban development, open public space, and equitable expenditure of public resources.

In particular, attention must be focused on youth, women, and migrants and refugees. Indeed, in a region where the majority of people are under the age of 35, its inequalities hit young people hard, and especially affect young women, who face multiple barriers to realizing their potential. Further, despite having only 5 percent of the world's population, the region accounts for nearly half the world’s refugees and displaced persons—intensifying inequality in countries that are now host to millions of displaced people.

Support for meaningful, sustainable social justice

Fortunately, there are promising signs in the region. With new constitutions that uphold universal rights; a civil society that offers ideas for achieving more inclusive economies; healthy debate on basic services, education, and civic participation; and the growth of social entrepreneurship and Arab philanthropy, there is much to build upon.

We believe that, despite the profound challenges the region faces, inequality can be tackled by investing in the vibrancy and resilience of the region’s people—specifically by expanding opportunities for learning, opening access to economic opportunity and dignified urban living, and promoting a diversity of creative expression. And we believe that these investments can be attained only by fostering understanding and partnership between a resilient civil society, accountable governments, and responsible businesses.


Thematic areas in this region
  • Our work encourages innovative state-society partnerships for planning and budgeting in urban areas, promotes research and capacity building to advance accountability for service provision, and helps foster learning networks on constitutional rights. We also seek to document urban policies and practices that are inclusive of refugees.

  • In one of the world’s oldest and most culturally diverse regions, we support contemporary creative expression and inclusive narratives through regional service organizations that enable the production and dissemination of transformative content in arts, film, and the media and that advance knowledge production. We support artistic expression by and for refugees that captures the opportunities that they present in host communities.

  • We support creative solutions for improving labor and urban living standards in the informal economy, where most job and housing opportunities reside; for identifying innovative social protection and taxation models that can work in this region; and for spotlighting the practices of responsible businesses and mechanisms for corporate accountability. This work places a premium on improving workplace opportunities and standards for women and refugees.

  • Despite the tremendous possibilities of today’s world and real progress in access to education and in women’s rights, women and youth continue to face significant hurdles to full participation in education and civic life. We support policies and practices that enhance equal opportunity in higher education, university programs that build support for civic engagement, and legal and reproductive health services that redress harmful practices affecting young people, especially women and girls.

Grantmakers in Middle East and North Africa

Program Officer
Cairo, Egypt
Program Officer
Cairo, Egypt
Program Officer
Cairo, Egypt
Cairo, Egypt
Program Officer
Cairo, Egypt

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Laila, Hourani, New York 2014-2015. Photo Credit: Simon Luethi ©Ford Foundation.

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Eryn, Loeb, New York 2014-2015. Photo Credit: Simon Luethi ©Ford Foundation.

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