Ashoka Fellow Rabee Zureikat Pioneers Exchange Tourism

During the 2010 Arab World Social Innovation Forum, held May 14-15, Ashoka Arab World inducted ten new Fellows, bringing the total count of Arab World Fellows to 51.  The inducted Fellows are true social entrepreneurs, who  are pioneering  innovative social change in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

In an effort to highlight the Fellows’ impressive achievements, we will feature blog posts about the work of each newly inducted Fellow.  We hope their stories inspire you, as they have inspired us!

Our first featured Fellow is Rabee Zureikat of Jordan, who works in the Income Generation & Employment sector, pioneering new ways to empower the rural communities in the tourism industry in Jordan.

Rabee founded Zikra in 2007, an organization which works in exchange tourism.  He used his background in marketing and social networking skills to market his exchange tourism activities among modern youth in Amman and to encourage companies to adopt corporate social responsibility activities.  As enthusiasm for his program spread in Amman and in the rural areas, more people left their urban bubble to learn about their country and more rural people participated in the exchange by talking and teaching about their traditions, cooking, and way of life.

Rabee’s exchange tourism leads to equity by helping marginalized rural communities rediscover their strength and by taking economically powerful urban communities out of their protective bubble.  Both parties engage in a two-way  exchange in which each side learns and contributes. The tourism revenue is invested in the marginalized communities’ economic development, thus further narrowing the economic and social gap.

The trips have also succeeded in connecting locals of Al Karak with people from the city, bringing 20 tourists from the city in close interaction with 75 individuals from the local community and establishing broader interaction between 300 people from Al Karak and 1,000 visitors from Amman. The groups have developed bonds with each other and collaborated to find different solutions to existing problems, particularly through networks of professionals from the city. By interacting and working together, the rural and urban communities overcome stereotypes and create the potential for greater social change through cooperation.

Rabee has carried out 20 exchange trips to date, and has placed Al Karak on the international and national tourism map, generating many indirect income opportunities. Due to Rabee’s efforts, Al Karak is now featured in the Lonely Planet travel guidebook. The exchange tourism program, when applied in 5 areas over 3 countries, has the potential to generate US$1M in net revenue to be invested in the local communities.

Rabee stresses that the main elements of exchange tourism are gaining the local community’s trust and then taking a close look at its culture, assets, and needs in order to mould exchange activities accordingly.  Lastly and most importantly, exchange tourism is built on a mindset that believes that both parties contribute to the transaction and should feel they have something to offer in the relationship.

Rabee will spread his model in Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon by franchising Zikra to local COs that work with the community, and training their personnel on exchange tourism activities. In the next year, Rabee will replicate his model in Palestinian refugee camps in addition to other impoverished villages throughout Jordan. In the next 3 years, Rabee will bring his model to Lebanon. In the next five years, Rabee will establish his exchange tourism in Egypt with the help of Egyptian COs working with Bedouins on the Sinai Peninsula and Western Desert oases, improving their livelihood through the revival of traditional crafts.

In May 2009, Rabee was awarded the prestigious King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement and was also honored at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. Rabee has also been named in Arabian Business Magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30” for recognition as an entrepreneurial leader in the Arab region.

Read more about Rabee’s project at:  www.zikrainitiative.org

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