INTERVIEW / LOLA NASHASHIBI GRACE
“I am driven
Based in Switzerland, financial expert LOLA NASHASHIBI GRACE supports the education of women and children in conflict areas in the Middle East
Lola Nashashibi Grace
regards herself as a “venture philanthropist” and as an
“entrepreneur for the good of
all humankind.” Carla Fuentes painted her portrait for WERTE
TEXT: Eva Karcher
ILLUSTRATIONS: Carla Fuentes
Mrs Nashashibi Grace, in 2005 you established your founda- tion, the Middle East Children’s Institute or MECI, in the US. Before that you worked as an investment banker, followed
by 15 years in asset management and financial consulting
at Sterling Grace Capital Management, now Sterling Grace
Corporation, the investment group of your husband John Grace. What caused you to turn to philanthropic work?
It is deeply rooted in my biography. I come from an old Palestinian family: One of my great-great uncles was the mayor of Jerusalem, an uncle was finance minister of Palestine. My father was born and grew up in Jerusalem before he fled to Saudi Arabia and then moved to South America. He was an engineer and met my mother, who is from Lebanon, in Latin America. I grew up in Brazil, Ve- nezuela and Costa Rica before resettling in the US. The greatest good in my family was education, the guiding principle was: one can take all your belongings but never your values or education. That shaped who I am. What I do now, I could never have done without this background.
But initially you pursued a career on Wall Street?
Yes. After I had completed my economics degree at Stanford Uni- versity in California, I started working in finance and met my hus- band John at Sterling Grace Capital Management in New York. Af- ter we married, I worked in the family office and, over the years, our five children were born, four girls and one boy: Lorraine, Vic- toria, John, Alice and Isabel. 9/11 happened shortly after the birth of my youngest child. This changed my life dramatically.
I had family in the States and in the Middle East. I was shocked by the violence and the humanitarian catastrophes that confronted us globally. And everywhere the most heart-wrenching victims of this were and will always be the children. The extent of this became clear to me once again when I was researching the situation at that time in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank for Save the Children. MECI, The Middle East Children’s Institute, was my answer to this.
How did you proceed?
I took a holistic approach. While most similar projects were dedi- cated to a specific problem, I wanted to find a holistic solution
and develop a programme based on three pillars: the upbringing and education of the children and their health, support for moth- ers and women in general and development of village communi- ties. What makes our project a prototype is the fact that we base our work on the needs of the local people. For a year, we carried out research in Beit Rima, a village in the West Bank, to get a prop- er understanding of what the children and adults actually need. You have to realise that back then, in 2005–2006, hardly anyone was bothered about the fate of the people who lived there.
What was the situation?
In many cases, the children were undernourished and didn’t attend school because they had to help their unemployed parents at home. So, the first thing we did was find a way to help resolve these exis- tence-threatening problems. We gave the women and mothers mi- croloans and, together with them, we developed a catering service so that the children received meals with all important nutrients. We also organised buses and drivers to take the children to school. And also behaviour therapists, as many of the children were traumatised.
Daughter Lorraine joins the Zoom meeting:
I was 16 years old when I first went to the Middle East with my mother. This experience has shaped my life. A few years later
I founded the My World Project Charity to provide photography courses and give children in many different regions a means to ex- press themselves creatively and thus help them cope with conflict. Later, I studied art and photography. Art is therapeutic, just like music and sport.
Lorraine, do you also carry out philanthropic work?
Everyone in our family does! At the Close Brothers Banking Group, I’m responsible for developing socially responsible investment methods. Just like for my mother, philanthropy for me is much more than just a cash donation. I contribute my time, my network, my knowledge and my passion.
Philanthropy as a family cause, that’s wonderful. What have you achieved with MECI?
We started out with three schools and now there are 34 in Jordan and Palestine. UNICEF and the Canton of Geneva are our partners. MECI also opened a branch in Geneva in 2011 since our family moved from New York to Montreux in 2008. The success of MECI
is based on the fact that we work directly with the local population and that the people organise themselves. Because of COVID-19,
we had to put everything online, which was an enormous challenge since there are far too few computers, the Internet is slow and there are frequent power outages. We have begun to provide
a remedy for this with our Technovate to Educate program.
Following years in the field of investment banking, the Palestinian-American finance expert established the foundation Middle East Children’s Institute (MECI) for women and children in conflict areas in the Middle East in 2005. Together with partners, she currently finances 54 schools in Jordan and Palestine. Her husband and five children are also committed to promoting more humanity.
What the world needs most
are passion, empathy, compassion, commitment and perseverance