We exchange to change

We exchange to change

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Exchange Tourism changes existing social systems and progresses towards more egalitarian, inclusive societies. Marginalized rural communities rediscover their strength and protect their natural resources while economically powerful urban dwellers get acquainted with the culture and traditions and enjoy the contact with nature. Both parties engage in two-way equal exchange.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Inhabitants of rural areas of the Arab world have low incomes because they live on arid lands. Many Arab countries promote tourism as an income generating activity; however, it does not trickle down to the local community. While a few sustainable tourism activities exist, they do not promote interaction with the indigenous community, neither have they guaranteed fair wages, respect of their traditions, or that tourism will provide a lasting solution to their impoverishment while solving ecological problems. The fundamental problem of discrimination and consequent economic marginalization remains. Discrimination flourishes because urban and rural communities do not have the opportunity to work together and find common ground. Young people living in the capital cities have an affluent, westernized lifestyle and are generally out of touch with their roots. On the other hand, rural and desert communities have been pressured by the government to abandon their indigenous identities and become part of mainstream society. In some cases, an imposed process of settlement and urbanization forced the Arab Bedouin to change their traditional way of life and means of livelihood.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

In exchange tourism, urban dwellers visit rural areas to get acquainted with their culture and traditions and to enjoy the contact with nature. The tourism revenue is channelled towards the economic development of the local community according to its needs and preferences. Thus exchange tourism creates a niche for marginalized rural communities in national economies and helps lift them out of poverty without relying on unsustainable financial aid. Exchange tourism also bridges the divide between marginalized rural communities and the rich but insulated urban population. The frequent trips are an opportunity for each party to know the “other” and get firsthand impressions of the other community without the taint of stereotypes; the two groups engage in an equal relationship, and friendships are formed. Moreover, the two-way equal exchange of exchange tourism allows rural communities to develop pride in their culture, to preserve their unique identity and traditions from extinction, to protect their environment, preserve their water sources and to help urban communities learn about their cultural heritage and connect with their roots, connect with nature. The model also relies on awakening local changemakers using social marketing tools and offering hip and cool activities to attract youth from the city to the rural areas. The model has spread to Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon using a franchising model. This is a simple, solid, and easily replicable model.
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Section 2: About Your Organization
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(+962) 795283733

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Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?

Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

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 equal exchange in which each side learns and contributes. The tourism revenue is invested in the marginalized communities' economic development, thus narrowing the gap further.
Since Zikra was established in 2007 it has carried out about 120 trips consisting of activities including tomato-picking, cooking traditional dishes, learning traditional skills such as, yoghurt making, bread making, basket weaving, Arabian eyeliner, produce handicrafts made of recyclable materials, and organizing environmental campaigns.
The trips have also succeeded in connecting inhabitants of Al Karak with people from the city, whom they had previously perceived as arrogant. City inhabitants have found reliable partners in Karakis whom they had often labeled as lazy. The groups have developed bonds with each other and collaborated to find different solutions to existing environmental problems, particularly through networks of professionals from the city. City inhabitants have helped the locals take legal action against a company which was polluting the water in their land. By interacting and working together, the rural and urban communities overcome stereotypes and create the potential for greater social change through cooperation.
The local community is more proud about its culture, as it showcases its art and traditions to visitors. Youth from Al Karak express their art and culture through crafts and film-making. By rediscovering Jordan through the trips and feeling that they can make a difference in their country, some young Ammanis, who were previously alienated, were encouraged to start initiatives of their own in Jordan at a time when they were considering leaving the country.


Zikra is implementing a comprehensive training program for local guides on the principles of exchange tourism, business planning, marketing, and environmental campaigns. Zikra has also added educational activities and art programs which both visitors and local children enjoy.

Zikra has established a number of partnerships with multinational corporations to direct their corporate social responsibility activities towards poor areas in Jordan, and to engage their employees in exchange tourism activities. Zikra has involved five citizen sector organizations working in five different areas to spread exchange tourism.

Zikra has created a program dedicated to the environment and the benefits of recycling and re-using, transforming plastic into handmade products such as handbags, water holders and much more. The Plast-eco enterprise aims to engage the community to care and participate in saving our Jordanian environment through entrepreneurship and innovation. The revenues will be directed back to the people of South Ghor in the form of micro-loans and university scholarships, hence creating job opportunities and much more.


In a few short years, Zikra will be generating US$1M per year, all of which will be invested by the local communities in the local communities, with a rigorous governance structure, and the support expenses of US$250,000 will be financed through corporate support.
Zikra’s model is being followed by others in Jordan. The Abraham Path Initiative has started shifting its traditional volunteer tourism activities towards equal interaction with the local community. Also, the Ministry of Tourism has approached Zikra to consider the applicability of his model to some of their programs.
Zikra is spreading the model in Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon by franchising it to local COs that work with the community, and training their personnel on exchange tourism activities.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

In the next year, Zikra will replicate its model in another poverty pocket in addition to other impoverished villages throughout Jordan. In the next 3 years, Zikra will establish its program 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 as well as in Yemen through active young leaders.
To achieve this Zikra needs to highlight the importance of the exchange tourism in solving social problems, shattering stereotypes, generating money, creating an equal relationship where each party contributes. We will use different tools to achieve our objectives such as:
1) design a training manual and a franchise system to help our partners to replicate the model.
2) Produce different materials such as: books, documentary, features, print materials, etc. that stresses and highlights the richness of the “financially poor” people rather than their poverty level. Learn how to find the hidden treasures in each community and build on it.
3) Create partnerships with local social activists and entrepreneurs to replicate the model.
To achieve this Zikra needs to highlight the importance of the exchange tourism model and create a manual and a franchise system.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

We live in a region where the chances of war and instability is increasing everyday which is a tremendous threat to the region and the financial situation which in turn will affect and slow down the development of the project and will increase the financial gap.

New laws for non governmental organizations in Jordan and the region that restricts and limits the source of funding and gives the government power to control and interfere in the plans and strategies of NGOs.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Zikra Initiative

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

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. Another important strategy is building a network in the cities and tailoring tourism campaigns to the preferences of the urban population. 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.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

In order to grow the initiative further, we have to establish a number of partnerships with a number of multi-national corporations to direct their corporate social responsibility activities towards poor areas in Jordan, and to engage their employees in exchange tourism activities.
Create school programs to engage young children in this great experience. Moreover, we need to
collaborate with the ministry of tourism to help us expand the idea across the country.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Rabee has always felt connected to both urban and rural Jordan. Born in the capital city, Amman, he always had a yearning to break out of the urban bubble from an early age. As soon as he got his driver’s license he ventured to rural areas to meet the people there. Upon reading a book about discrimination against the people from the rural area near where his parents had been born and where he still had family ties, Rabee decided to spend time there. He found that the people were discriminated against because of their darker skin color and were labeled as lazy and useless, and as a result they could not find work to keep a decent livelihood.

As a young professional, Rabee tried to reach out to the rural areas during his free time. He approached a major Islamic charity and social services group which distributed food and clothing to poor, rural areas, and began working with them. Rabee drove a van loaded with food, clothes, and medicine on his first trip, though he felt very uneasy and awkward and thought that it would hurt the rural people’s pride to receive charity and eventually create a dependency. He decided to stick around until he found a better way of helping the rural Ghawarna people out of poverty. Rabee learned a lot about their life and culture and realized that he was not a rich man; he was poor in regard to knowledge and culture and had a lot to learn from the inhabitants of rural Al Karak. That is when he decided to start exchange tourism.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

At his university, Rabee started groups and activities that would create a better understanding of Jordan’s diverse cultural heritage by forming a cultures and traditions club to promote cultural appreciation among the youth.
Rabee pursued studies and a career in marketing and advertising in Jordan and Lebanon. After his studies in Lebanon, he went back to Jordan to start up a Lebanese advertising agency. He worked with Toyota, and started their corporate social responsibility program in Jordan.
Upon starting Zikra, Rabee used his 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. Natural leaders began to emerge from both sides of the exchange, and Rabee decided to leave his successful career with Toyota so that he could devote more time to Zikra. Before he started working fulltime with Zikra, he also worked for the Children’s Museum in Amman, which gave him more time for Zikra and taught him about fundraising with corporations and presenting a win-win proposition.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Personal contact at Changemakers

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer