By Fakhri al-Arashi
Youth are the cornerstone of development for Yemen’s future. Fawzi altewai is a talented professional and model example of a young executive manager who works to improve Yemen’s working atmosphere, assisting local and international partners in the targeted areas of the Economic Opportunities Fund.
National Yemen newspaper met with altewai and spoke to him about the work he’s doing. The EOF portfolio is around USD 150 million.
Altewai obtained a masters degree in Development from the US through a Fulbright Scholarship. His studies set him on the path towards helping the poorest of the poor.
In Hodeidah, he established the first microfinance project in the region and has since worked for various public and private organizations in Yemen, such as the Social Fund, GIZ, the Old City Heritage Project and as a lecturer at Sana’a University. Most recently, he was appointed the Executive Directorr of the Economic Opportunities Fund.
National Yemen: Would you please brief National Yemen readers on the nature of the activities of the Economic Opportunities Fund (EOF)?
Fawzi altewai: Actually, this is a very unique and interesting project for Yemen, if I may say so myself. As indicated by its name, the Economic Opportunities Fund (EOF) enables us to deal with the economy, and we look for opportunities too – it’s different from the other common funds. The EOF is specialized in economic development, which is headed by the Prime Minister, with a vision to have a sustainable public and private relationship to enable the rural poor (both women and men) to be involved in the project equally. The whole idea of the fund is to be operated in the private sector way, it’s a unique combination between the public sector and the private sector where we can have the ability to invest and ensure the sustainability of the investment for the future. The Board of Directors have representatives in the government and counterparts from the private sector. Our vision is a sustainable private- public partnership for the benefit of villagers, women and men and our mission is to raise the economic income of women and men in the rural areas.
NY: There are different types of funds in the country, do you think there was a need to establish the EOF? Why did the government establish it?
Altewai: Well, the Fund cames as a mutual cooperation between the government and the donors. There was need for a government entity run by a private sector mindset. We are confident that this project will work smoothly and according to plan, because the government is trying to establish a new strategy. This will ensure the self-sustainability of the fund which has three programs and funded by International Food and Agricultural Development (IFAD) . IFAD has different type of interventions in Yemen, the EOF project represents one of the excellent interventions in which they contributed more than USD 100 million. Contributions also came from the European Union and the Islamic Development Bank (ISDB). Recently, we reached an agreement to receive an additional funding from the Saudi Fund for USD 5 million.
NY: With all these local and international funds in Yemen, where will your project operate in the country?
Altawei: We mainly have three programs, the fund recently started operating within the first phase of the first program, called Economic Opportunities Program, which runs in eight governorates, namely: Sana’a, Hajah, Abyen , Amran, Hodeidah, Taiz, Dhamar and Ibb. The second program is called Fishery Investment Program, and we will work in the coastal governorates plus Socotra and Shabwa and will operate alongside the coastline in Yemen. The third program is called the Rural Employment Program and it will focus on seven governorates of Yemen. We aim to work all over Yemen and this is the first phase of the project. The operational sustainability of the fund is expected to be reached within two years. Meanwhile, the fund is set to entering into a joint venture investments with the private sector. Revenues and profits will enable us to cover our operation expenses.
For example, the EOP invested with Al-Amal Bank, where we will acquire 10 percent equity against USD 1 million. We will have a 7 million investment deposit. Our operation expenses will be covered after the first two years of the program. The second investment will come from the Fisheries Investment Program, where we will invest in infrastructure for fisheries and eventually export fishermen’s products abroad. We will enhance every chain to give it a value. We will enter into joint venture investments with the private sector in the landing zones in cooperation with the fisheries’ local NGOs. We will purchase 28 mother ships, which have excellent facilities. This will be very helpful for small fishermen.
NY: There are multiple projects waiting for sponsorship, why did you choose these three projects to begin with?
Altewai: Well, we talk about economic opportunities so the most valuable interventions are mostly in these sectors. Of course, the EOF will not be the solution to everything. The government and donors studied and confirmed that these three interventions will have a very good impact on the economy of Yemen, particularly the poor living on the coasts and rural areas. This is a small intervention, but it will have a positive impact for Yemen’s economy.
NY: Could you please tell us about the working strategies of the EOF programs?
Altewai: In the first program we have a team called mobilizers. Those mobilizers go to the targeted areas in the eight governorates. Let’s take the example of areas with coffee trees, the mobilizers intervene within the community and study their needs, form NGOs and train the target farmers based on studies and statistics. We discuss problems and help them overcome their problems; we do not make any interventions unless we have precise statistics. We have surveys so we can measure the social and the economic impacts, from the start of the farming until the product is consumed outside of Yemen. We are working very systematically.
We have three components that the Economic Opportunities program deals with: infrastructure and the value chain of coffee, honey, and horticulture. The Fisheries Investment Program will deal with fishery management and will intervene in fishermen safety, insurance, laws and will invest in the infrastructure that is establishing 13 land zones; each zone will cost more than USD 1 million. We will also facilitate micro enterprises of three banks: Al-Kuraimi, Tadhamon and Al-Amal Bank. The third program is called the Rural Employment Program and it targets those who are neither fishermen nor farmers but live in the same communities. It will give them opportunities for handicrafts and natural stones.We will encourage youth to get involved in the business. Enthusiastic, active individuals will be selected and trained on the business.
NY: I know that you are a regular traveler to the remote villages of governorates, what is the nature of your travel?
Altewai: We intervene most directly in the coffee sector, where we assist with tanks and build dams and set up irrigation networks. My travels are mainly field visits for monitoring purposes. I monitor projects to ensure that they are being carried out correctly, efficiently and effectively. It is also important to get to know the communities that we work with. We believe that solutions for the community come from them, bottom-up, not top-down. It’s important to hear their perspectives and to help and provide solutions to their problems. The community has certain knowledge that we do not have.
NY: Dealing with the farmers, fishermen and villagers, has your experience been positive?
Altewai: We are initiating planned projects., we are still working on the first phase of the project. The initial impression is that our interventions are very promising. We work together very hard to achieve the intended objectives.
For example, most farmers believe that the qat tree gives them good income and a decent living, but when you examine the costs, you realize it’s not so profitable. We want to bring back the quality of Yemeni coffee, dating back centuries. We are exporting Yemeni coffee. While the cost of 1kg of coffee from other countries is USD 2, Yemeni coffee values at USD 15. We’re exporting the coffee mostly to Gulf countries. Other crops are more profitable than qat. We’re starting to change minds, which will yield positive impact on the economy.
We are also investing heavily in accreditation for Yemeni coffee. By 2014, we will have quality stamps for Yemeni coffee and will be accredited by the GCC, the U.S. and the European Union. The same with honey.
NY: Here in Yemen, we’re proud of Yemeni honey, coffee. Unfortunately, we do not have commercial quantities necessary for exporting. What would you export if you do not have commercial quantities?
Altewai: Very good question. As I told you earlier, we are not the solution to everything. We determine the foundation for quality coffee and honey. We help people raise awareness in eight governorates about quality. If you have one hectare and you double your profits, then you work to expand your farm. If you’re a farmer, you should start expanding right away.
NY: Most farmers practice traditional methods for irrigating their farms. This is costly, and this is why they prefer to grow qat. How can you help them achieve better results with regard to irrigation?
Altewai: Thank you for the question. Farmers here use conventional irrigation for irrigating coffee trees. This is not the appropriate way, our role is to advise them about drip irrigation which is more efficient and productive. We provide them with water networks and encourage them to use them the modern way. We are closely cooperating with related ministries to work together.
NY: Some projects of the projects are not sustainable. What makes your projects different? How will you make a change?
Altewai: That’s a valid question. As I said, this fund is a very unique project. We will invest and the project will run through, the partnership that we are creating with private business. This is totally different. We are talking about sustainable programs and projects that will be around for a long time.
NY: Where would you like to see the EOF in five years?
Altewai: There will be sustainable programs in place; I can see EOF working all over Yemen – with more donors relying on us to implement economic development projects. I am very optimistic that this is the right way to go. I hope there will be more donor projects for our lovely Yemen.
NY: What do villagers need? What are their expectations when you meet them during your field visits?
Altewai: Needs vary from one place to another and from one community to another, of course. We have experts who speak to the people in their own language and know more about their needs. Our staff is very motivated. They believe in our role and our duty to help. We work as a team and I hope we can continue to do so. I do not deny that some people were pessimistic. Some organizations often visit them and never fulfill their promises. They make surveys and never come back. We have deadlines for each project and we promise to work and meet those deadlines.
NY: Some donors do not pay much attention to their expenses. What mechanisms are in place to assure that your efforts do not repeat that mistake?
Altewai: The fund is a public project. The Chairman of the Board of Directors is the Prime Minister. We have different donors with different allocations of funds. We have a system which is audited; we use funds according to the contract between donors and the government of Yemen, represented by Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. We have designed projects, we have timelines, we are reporting to the Prime Minister, as well as international partners (donors).
NY: What is your message to the beneficiaries of EOF?
Altewai: I would like to tell them that we, at EOF, are here for them. We work for them and want them to have the best advantages and approaches.
NY: How do you like to conclude this interview?
Altewai: I would like to tell all my brothers and sisters in Yemen that we are on the right track. It may appear that we are moving slowly, but we have a lot of challenges ahead of us. We are on the right path. I hope we can remain so and see tremendous progress. We will move forward, as long as we believe and encourage each other. I believe in the prosperity of Yemen.