Among all the current global crises today, youth unemployment would probably not rank in the top ten of issues attracting attention today. However, youth unemployment devastates the social and economic fabric of society, cheating countries of their greatest potential. For young people, being unable to find a job often means not having the means to get married, have a family or plan a future. Chronic unemployment can lead young people to feel excluded, frustrated, and angry at a society that has failed them. In this respect, finding solutions to the problem of youth unemployment can be a catalyst for further change and improvement in a number of other sectors.
To confront the issue of youth unemployment in the Middle East and Northern Africa, Mr. Ronald Bruder founded the Education for Employment Foundation (EFE), an organization which helps create job opportunities for unemployed youth through world-class professional and technical training. The EFE Foundation believes that giving young people jobs lays the foundation for secure and peaceful societies and breaks the cycle of frustration, despair and anger caused by chronic unemployment.
The EFE Foundation was founded at the end of 2002 when Ron approached the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution to help figure out how to deal with educational issues in the Middle East which were not linking graduates with employment opportunities. From these initial discussions, the EFE model of operating in sectors of the economy that offer solid potential for growth and job creation but lack appropriately-qualified personnel was born. This led to the development of the first program on the ground in Jordan in May 2006 and, subsequently, new programs in Gaza/West Bank, Egypt and Morocco.
This pragmatic style is a testament to Ron’s character. He describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” and he certainly has a history which justifies this title. He has built shopping centers all across the United States and has owned and operated companies in the environmental remediation, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, and travel industries. He has also been a leading board member of several nonprofit organizations.
His entrepreneurial spirit and experience translated well to forming the EFE Foundation. He began by building an International Board of Directors to oversee the process of starting new programs and appointed country directors to oversee the process of program development. The process of starting new programs includes the hiring of a CEO and the formation of a local board of directors in each of the countries where programs exist. EFE and local partners share fundraising responsibilities in the launch phase until local foundations reach a level of sustainability. In this respect, the goal is to create sustainable solutions to the problem of youth unemployment in these areas by promoting ownership and engagement of local leaders.
The goals of EFE, Ron stated, is to “bring technologies and train teachers in these regions to develop soft skills and work skills such as how to write resumes as well as interview and leadership training.” To determine the needs of each particular region, EFE works with a number of partners from all sectors including USAID, the US State Department Office of Middle East Affairs (MEPI), UNDP and a number of universities in the US, the Middle East and Africa, among others. The Drosos Foundation headquartered in Switzerland is also providing funding of USD 1.65 million to expand EFE’s programs in the West Bank
To set up the programs, EFE convenes local business leaders to discuss needs and to organize program financing, leadership and to make agreements towards the opening of employment positions to graduates. Ron explains, “We ask what local employers need and what jobs they can offer. Often times there are a lot of jobs available but there is no expertise – through direct engagement with these employers we are able to help them.” After needs are determined and local leaders come on board, EFE seeks out additional partners, a few examples include the Harvard Business School and Colorado State University, to help develop specialized curricula on a pro-bono basis. “The impact has been giving hope as nobody believed they would get jobs…word of mouth spreads that EFE graduates are getting jobs, so new students are flocking.” EFE has also signed an agreement with Manpower giving EFE alumni access to all of their curricula for free. While Ron and EFE have worked with the United Nations, specifically UNDP, to help with activities in Gaza, Ron stressed, “We would like to do more with the United Nations and we are looking for new relationships…The UN knows all of the local leaders”.
Ron mused that one of things that is happening as a result of these programs is that people are pushing educational systems to teach these skills in the normal curricula. Furthermore, through the fostering of local ownership of the programs through the engagement of local leaders and teachers, as well as the creation of local advisory boards, the programs develop into self-sustaining and powerful foundations.
The success of the EFE Foundation, in addition to providing hope and jobs to many young people throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa, has also led to expansion. A year ago, Ron opened a new office in Madrid called EuropeEFE with the goal to expand and get support throughout the EU; an endeavour which has thus far generated a very positive response.
For more information on the EFE Foundation, please visit http://www.efefoundation.org/