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Bilingual and multicultural experience helps work back home.

In January 2003, I became the chief of party for the Jordan Poverty Alleviation Project (JPAP) after having served as the welfare director in Alaska and Utah. The two years I spent in Jordan have been the most fascinating experience in my career in human services.

The Jordanian government initiated JPAP to help implement its social and economic reform strategy. Funded by the U.S. Agency on International Development and implemented under contract by Nathan Associates Inc., the project tried to reach out to groups that had not benefited from the government's reform process--the poor, those unable to work, the elderly, and residents of isolated areas of the country--to help the government sustain reform and economic restructuring.

The project developed the National Poverty Alleviation Strategy and a comprehensive implementation plan, incorporating the roles and responsibilities of various government agencies. The national strategy developed a social safety-net system to move itself from lower-middle income status to integrate into the global economy.


Within the national strategy, JPAP identified a need to restructure the National Aid Fund (NAF), Jordan's cash assistance program, including streamlining its policies and procedures, automating processes, developing a better-trained and more customer service-oriented workforce, and implementing quality assurance procedures. JPAP recommended and helped replace the Recurrent Cash Assistance program with the Family Income Supplement to raise families' incomes to the poverty line and provide financial incentives to the working poor, ultimately decreasing per-family expenditures and allowing the agency to reach more people in need. JPAP helped drive the reform processes in the NAF for information technology, policy reform, human resource development, quality assurance and streamlining, and customer service.

I found the issues of welfare dependency, a safety net for the disadvantaged and unemployed, and supporting a work ethic closely resembled issues that human service agencies face in the United States. The initiatives for the reform of the NAF replicated the policies and processes of U.S. welfare-to-work reforms and the accountability mechanisms of the food stamp and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs.

We developed a National Employment Center to provide labor exchange services between job seekers and employers within Jordan and the greater Gulf area along the model of a U.S. employment center. With the cooperation of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, an exceptional team of experienced professionals from that state provided short-term consultation for operations, management, employer and customer service, IT, and communications. This grounded the center in international best practices.

It was wonderful to find that the experience and expertise of a career in human services qualified me for work in another country. We sometimes feel that our experience only qualifies us for a different position within the same organization, or the same state, and usually only within our country. I found a direct applicability of my U.S. experience and expertise to the Jordanian social welfare system. Organizational change, IT development, management development, and staff training were all aspects of reforming the NAF. Strategies for change were the same as those for developing effective and efficient welfare operations in the agencies I had worked with in Alaska, California, Utah, and Colorado. The processes of visioning, communication, and local involvement were equally relevant.

At the same time, I benefited professionally from this broadening of perspective and experience. The situations were different enough that I needed to reevaluate solutions to assess if they were truly applicable. They reinforced some of my convictions: the critical role of leadership; the importance of developing the front-line; the impact of how people think; and the importance of being open to new ideas, creativity, and thinking outside of the box. Dealing with the issues of poverty and unemployment, access to health care and education, and domestic violence and the empowerment of women in a different culture broadened my perception of the issues and stimulated a search for solutions to their particular web of issues.

Meanwhile, I learned about international development and the opportunities available and how to gain access to them. I found out that international consulting firms engage in a broad range of development endeavors, many of which pertain to social issues, or touch on the social aspects of economic development.

My Jordanian experience helped me develop a profound appreciation for the highly developed programs and comprehensive social service systems in the United States. When we work to reform systems, we often focus so strongly on what needs to change that we lose sight of how impressive our social service system is. The contrast with a country with far fewer resources and services brought awareness and appreciation.

I was also pleased to find that the expertise and experience of foreign consultants was valued and appreciated. Jordan has a high percentage of college graduates, and values higher education. When I described the U.S. welfare reforms with which I had worked, the relevance to Jordan was immediately evident, and I gained credibility and acceptance. The project helped develop careers and foster the skills of many young and enthusiastic Jordanian professionals. It was structured to include professional development opportunities for the local professional staff, including participation at training courses at some of finest universities in the United States. The development of this cadre of future leaders may be one of the major long-term impacts of the project.

The Jordanian project helped me gain experience working in a bilingual environment. I developed knowledge, understanding and appreciation for customs of the Middle East region, of the Arabic culture, and of Islam. Such bilingual and multicultural experience will prove invaluable in our increasingly bilingual and multicultural society in the United States.

The cultural benefits will help me to deal with my colleagues and people from a different cultural background much better. I learn that no matter where you are, hospitality and courtesies are primary. Every meeting begins with social courtesies, greetings, and inquiries into health and well-being. Business protocols were familiar, but with some variation. I think this appreciation of other peoples and cultures will shape me for years to come.

Janet Hansen is former director of welfare for Alaska; Utah; and Adams County, Colo. Upon completion of the Jordan Poverty Alleviation Project, she is traveling in Africa, Europe and the United States.
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Author:Hansen, Janet
Publication:Policy & Practice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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