Magazine article Policy & Practice

Bilingual and Multicultural Experience Helps Work Back Home

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Bilingual and Multicultural Experience Helps Work Back Home

Article excerpt

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.

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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. …

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