The Education For Employment Foundation is creating job opportunities for young people in Muslim countries.
Ron Bruder watched the Twin Towers fall, not knowing whether his daughter Megan had made it out alive. She did, but neither witness nor survivor emerged unruffled. Ron and Megan, a journalist, spoke at length about terrorism and the Middle East. As he became increasingly engrossed in keeping up with current events and researching Middle Eastern history and politics, he stumbled upon some eye-opening statistics about unemployment in the Arab world. The data and prognostications ranged from bad to worse. To cite a 2004 World Bank report:
Unemployment in MENA [Middle East North Africa] is concentrated among youths, whose unemployment rates range from 37 percent of total unemployment in Morocco to 73 percent of total unemployment in Syria, with a simple average of 53 percent for all countries for which data are available.
Last month, the Brookings Institution summed up the situation in a Middle East policy report commemorating the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks:
Unless the international community is able to launch an ambitious program of capacity building and quality improvement in their education and employment systems, a significant proportion of the coming generation will face conditions that political economist Omer Taspinar describes as an al-Qai’da recruiter’s dream.
But neither of these reports existed when Ron Bruder sensed an opportunity and founded the Education For Employment Foundation in 2002. “I have been accused of being a serial entrepreneur,” Ron throws out as part of his motivation for founding EFE. Indeed, Ron has started and grown businesses in at least six different industries. One of his most successful businesses, an environmental remediation company, went from idea to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue in only 90 days. And yet, Bruder admits, “This is the hardest work I’ve ever done.”
The Education For Employment Foundation’s mission statement is “To create job opportunities for young people through career training in vocational, technical and managerial skills, helping Muslim countries address the growing problem of youth unemployment.” But, if you ask Ron Bruder, its mission is nothing less than world peace. EFE’s business model is to partner with local employers to create what it calls partnership schools. Once EFE identifies the skills that employers need and obtains guaranteed employment for its graduates from these employers, all the other pieces-regulatory blessings, university partners, and students-fall into place. As Bruder explains, “Everything we do is as joint ventures with locals who have skin in the game.”
Closing in on its fourth-year anniversary, EFE rolled out a mini-MBA course in Gaza this past summer for unemployed accounting graduates from the Islamic University of Gaza. With professor training provided by faculty from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business; guaranteed employment from Consolidated Contractors Company (a large Middle Eastern construction and engineering firm); and costs defrayed by the United Nations Development Program and the US charity United Palestinian Appeal, EFE proved the viability of its business model when its students started work soon after graduation. Rami Yousef, a program graduate, shared his thoughts about the experience, “Of course, I feel different after having obtained jobs [with] an international company, so now I am looking to the future with optimism.”
EFE’s Workplace Success Program in Jordan, which aims to teach the soft skills for success in the workplace, is “wildly successful” according to Bruder. Now, the International Youth Foundation is partnering with EFE and Morocco’s largest trade association to translate the curriculum into French and launch the program at Hassan II University in Casablanca. In Morocco, EFE is also partnering with the Chaabi Group to create a sales training program, and HBS Professor Emeritus of Marketing Ben Shapiro is helping to build the curriculum pro bono to ensure that the students receive world-class instruction.
But, to see Bruder truly fired up about something, mention EFE’s work in Egypt. There, at Cairo University, EFE is developing a nursing school from the ground up. This program is so ambitious, in fact, that Egypt had to pass legislation to allow the possibility of receiving a BA in nursing as a second degree. With support from the renowned Egyptian physician Hossam Badrawi, EFE is crafting a two-year accelerated program that has obtained guaranteed employment for its graduates at four Cairo hospitals-and thanks to Ron Bruder’s connections from a prior pharmaceutical enterprise-one in New York as well. EFE plans on raising awareness of nursing as a profession and increase its respect through a marketing campaign. This campaign is critical to EFE’s mission, Bruder notes, because “nursing is a female program. Empowering women has a greater social benefit than otherwise.”
Not only is EFE planning on extending and expanding within its current markets, it is also studying several other markets for entry. Indonesia, Israel, and the West Bank currently top its list, and Bruder envisions operating “in a dozen countries with multiple programs; changed legislation; [having] affected other programs, created other programs; and open receptivity to for-profit education.”
Ron Bruder feels that the Education For Employment Foundation owes its present success and momentum to the board of directors and staff who are guided by a common vision, “In the business world you find people who worship the almighty dollar; here we have staff who think the most important part of their lives is to change the world.it’s fascinating to be part of a group with such intellect and idealism, working at a fraction of what they could make and much harder.” Diego Hidalgo, HBS MBA 1968, co-founder of Spain’s highest circulation newspaper El Pais and founder of the Club of Madrid, an association of former heads of state, counts himself lucky to sit on EFE’s board, “I feel honored to be a Board Member of EFE and I am endeavoring to implant it also in Europe. I feel that EFE is one of the most strategic and potentially effective organizations to contribute to improve the prospects for future generations.”