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السيدة الأولى«

Asma al-Assad is Syria’s young, dynamic and determined First Lady.  Operating within a national context for social change, she has played a pivotal role in her country’s economic and social development for nearly a decade.  Promoting active citizenship among Syria’s population is central to the First Lady’s work.  She encourages economic and social enterprises that develop skills, self-reliance and community involvement.  Her priority has been in two core areas: ensuring that the recent economic growth in Syria is inclusive to all, especially rural communities; and actively involving Syria’s youth in the country’s development process.   Underscoring both challenges is the philosophy that development can only succeed if the direct beneficiaries are actively involved as core players in the process.


Rural Development   

The first area of interest for Mrs Assad as First Lady was rural development.  With over half of the population living in rural areas, she was keen to see for herself what was being done to ensure rural communities were also benefiting from the economic growth and social development underway. 

Visiting over 100 villages in 2001, she was able to see and hear for herself some of the successes and the challenges.  The people she met were hardworking, willing and creative, yet were not fully benefiting from the economic reforms and new legislation that was underway.  Using her Investment Banking experience, it was clear that whilst they had good ideas and plenty of energy, they did not have access to credit or markets.

The First Lady’s response was to set up the country’s first NGO (FIRDOS) for rural development and start to offer an array of programs to support local communities in their own development process.  FIRDOS operates in 6 governorates throughout Syria, offering programs in ICT literacy, scholarships to talented students, capacity building and needs assessment training.  FIRDOS was the first national agency to offer micro-credit to rural communities, dispersing USD 2million annually in rural villages throughout Syria. 


This paved the way for new legislation passed in 2007 regulating the micro-credit sector.  Syria is the first country in the region with such legislation, realizing that micro-credit can be as important as private banks and insurance firms in the country’s economic development.  More recently, the model has been developed from micro-credit financing to village business incubators offering training in marketing, financial accounting and business planning.  The first village business incubator has already successfully supported 121 businesses in rural villages on the coast of Syria.  The second business incubator will open in the spring of 2009, with the third scheduled for winter 2009.

In October 2008, the First Lady was awarded the Gold Medal of the Presidency of the ItalianRepublicin recognition of her work and steadfast commitment towards inclusive economic growth and sustainable development in the Arab World.


Youth Empowerment

In recognition of her steadfast commitment towards inclusive economic growth and sustainable development in the Arab World, the Pio Manzù Centre is honoured to award Syria’s First Lady, Asma al-Assad, the gold medal of the President of the Italian Republic.


Achieving sustainable development in Syriawith 60% of its population under twenty-five depends on investing in these generations today. Within The Syria Trust for Development, ‘Massar’, which focuses on learning, is working in line with the government’s long term human development strategy. Massar innovates new ways to enhance and complement the ongoing nationwide change in education curricula through the use of non-formal learning techniques. Massar is also creating a major national learning and development programme for young people in Syriafrom the ages of five to fifteen years in order to inform, involve and inspire young people across the country. It is providing new, interactive and challenging activities and environments which stimulate children’s creativity and gives them a richer understanding of their world and a strong sense of individual responsibility and citizenship. In keeping with the technological age we live in, Massar has developed two innovative ways to interact with Syria’s youth, Massar-e, an online portal which hosts interactive resources and activities and Massar television programmes which will, in the future, be produced by young people.

Whereas Massar works with Syrians aged between five and fifteen, the Strategy Highlighting And Building Abilities for Business, ‘SHABAB’ deals with those aged fifteen to twenty-four years of age. Initiated by His Excellency President Bashar al-Assad, SHABAB is a national movement based on local community action and also works under the organisational umbrella of the Syria Trust for Development. SHABAB aims to boost entrepreneurship amongst young Syrians, encourage them to enter the business world and equip them with the key skills needed in order to succeed as productive individuals in society. SHABAB runs four programmes aimed at this age range: Business Awareness Programme, Know About Business, Business Experience and Business Clinic.



Culture & Heritage 

The First Lady’s forward looking approach to development and prosperity also encompasses the promotion of Syria’s vibrant culture and the protection of its rich heritage.  Her significant efforts to promote cross cultural exchanges have been internationally recognised, not least by Rome’s La Spienza University and were instrumental in securing Damascusthe award for Arab Capital of Culture 2008.


Syria possesses a uniquely vast heritage owing to its history as part of the “cradle of civilisation”. Mrs. Assad has worked to safeguard this rich heritage whilst rejuvenating Syria’s modern-day culture. The histories of the greatest empires live on in Syriathrough the thousands of ancient archaeological sites that the country boasts. The First Lady has taken a particular interest in visiting various archaeological digs to learn more about the history of this ancient land and of how Syrians can have greater access to their rich heritage. In recognition of Her efforts to preserve ancient Syrian history and Her support of archaeology, in 2004 La Sapienza University in Romeawarded Mrs. Assad an Honorary Doctorate in Archaeology in Ebla, marking the first time in the University’s history that a degree was awarded outside Italy. 

Through the Culture and Heritage division of the Syria Trust for Development, The First Lady actively supports the development of talented Syrian artists and initiatives through programmes and scholarships; she also supports events that add to the country’s flourishing cultural scene. The First Lady was instrumental in the planning phase of Damascusas Arab Capital of Culture in 2008, working to expand the average Syrians access to cultural events and products. Artists from over 30 countries have taken part in celebrating culture in Damascus.


2004 – Honorary Doctorate in Archaeology from La SapienzaUniversity, Rome

2008 – Arab First Lady Award awarded by the Centre for Women’s Study, Arab League

2008 – Gold Medal of the Presidency of The Italian Republic, presented by the Pio Manzù Centre



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