DAVID SPEEDIE: Good evening. Welcome to The Carnegie Council, I am David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement here at the Carnegie Council.
This evening we have an unusual—and I think you will find quite riveting—program to offer you. Very briefly, Education for Employment [EFE], whose principals we welcome here this evening, is the leading youth employment non-profit in the Middle East and North Africa [MENA]. It creates economic opportunity for unemployed youth through globally recognized job training and placement employability and entrepreneurship programs.
EFE, whom we welcome back to the Council, is basically at work in perhaps the most sensitive region of the planet, and engaged in the most challenging task in that region, which is providing job opportunities for at-risk youth.
Ronald Bruder is the founder and chairman of the board of EFE. On the EFE website, the first line of his bio is: "Ron Bruder is a serial entrepreneur." Ron has brought the same spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity. As he said, it is the greatest thing he has ever done. We look forward to hearing elaborations on that.
Jasmine Nahhas di Florio is the vice president for strategy and partnerships and has a wide and varied and, to EFE, incredibly valuable career in business and law and philanthropy and public-private partnerships, and so on. Without further ado, let's get into the heart of this.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Ron, tell us how EFE got started. What were the origins? What brought you to do this, and what has been a capsule summary of the evolution of EFE over the last decade or so?
RON BRUDER: Prior to thinking that the EFE should exist, I had been a serial entrepreneur and I had built mostly shopping centers for many years. Then 9/11 happened. My eldest daughter was by the World Trade Center. She watched the towers go down, and we spent the next several months discussing why it happened, what the motivation was, what would happen next, and what we could do about it.
Among other entities that I started, I created a small pharmaceutical company that was licensing medical technologies and devices. That took me to Ireland in the late 1990s, and I saw how the religious factions were constantly going at each other.
Initially when I went over there, everybody wanted to know if I was dealing with one religious group—like there is no way I could deal with the other. Some places were dangerous and needed to be avoided. There was a lot of fear. All that ended right around the year 2000 over about a four- or five-year period. The cause behind its ending was basically the economy flourished: The Celtic Tiger roared, the GNP quadrupled, people had jobs and opportunity. As they have said it to me—because I went back to find out—instead of killing each other, they were now making a killing together.
So I believe that if the region, the Middle East, had a piece of the global pie, the strife and the difficulties we are seeing would, quite frankly, diminish or vanish. So we were looking for a way of creating stable societies and building the economy.
I brought onboard some people who were a lot smarter than me in this area, an advisory board. We hired the Brookings Institute and brought Martin Indyk into it. What we learned was that basically the education in the region did not meet the needs of the labor market. For instance, if you are a college grad in any one of the countries they operate in, the odds of your being unemployed are virtually doubled. If you get a graduate degree, you clearly have diminished your opportunity. You go to school, you have higher expectations, and at the end of the day you have lower opportunity. So we decided to do two things that I think were different.
One is we built local foundations. All the foundations are local. You don't see us. You see a local chairman who is a leading businesswoman or man. You see a local board, you see local staff. They figure out where the jobs are and what needs to be done.
Also, we only train when we believe there are jobs at the end. What goes on in the region is people kept training and training; they had training fatigue, but they don't get the cheese; they do not get the job. We shoot for 85 percent of our graduates getting gainful employment.
Last and not least, we also believe that training women has much more social impact than training men. So we put a big push on making most of our enrollees and graduates female. We give them preference. Sometimes that works well; sometimes it works less well. I think that statistically 70 percent of our graduates in Morocco, Sfax in Tunisia are women, where it is only 38 percent in Yemen. Quite frankly, that is probably the highest number that anybody has ever achieved in Yemen because there are very few women in the workplace.
Our goal is pretty straightforward. We believe that by training thousands and getting them employed we not only can help the individuals, but we also can, hopefully, create a tipping point whereby the educational institutions that exist that are not functioning well no longer accept their lack of creativity and employability of their graduates.
We are beginning to see in some of the countries where we are being brought in on a much larger scale to help governments and training centers and universities whose placement record is, quite frankly, poor, do a better job. We hope this tipping point will result in a much more robust institution that actually gets its youth into the labor market, which I believe personally will be a major factor towards creating global peace.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Jasmine, would you follow up on a couple of things that Ron said? The first is the idea that education does not necessarily—in fact, it may even be an impediment to employment—so the first thing would be to say something a little bit more about matching skills to employers' needs.
Then, secondly, his point about your focus on women, and especially the importance of first jobs. I know you have had a recent initiative and a report forthcoming on the employment of women specifically, and you might be able to give us a sneak preview, as it were.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: Sure. We see there are basically two major gaps. There is the skills mismatch that you talk about. That is the mismatch between the skills that young people have when they come out of university or any kind of education system and what they need to get their first job.
There is a paradox where the majority of CEOs in the Middle East and North Africa who have been polled have said that they have great trouble finding the right skills at the right time. Entrepreneurs in the region have also said one of the biggest constraints to growth of their companies is the lack of skills. Yet, you've got the highest unemployment rate among young people on the planet. It is a great challenge, but it is also a great opportunity. If we can resolve that market inefficiency, it is a great opportunity for young people to get their first job.
The other gap that is not talked about as much is an opportunity gap. It is especially important for young people who are excluded, who don't have family connections to get them that first job, who haven't gone to elite institutions. What do we do to help excluded young people get their foot in the door and get their first job, which is the hardest step to take? It is an ethical question as well.
I want to just share a statistic and a story. Seventy-nine percent of Millennials in the Middle East who have been polled by Bayt.com have said the single biggest challenge facing our generation is finding the first job.
I can share a story, as well, from a young person who came into our program in Tunisia. He said he went to school, he got a Master's degree and the fact that he could not find a decent job after that made him hate his country. So we can see the tremendous challenge. But, again, if we can solve these inefficiencies and close those gaps, there is great, great opportunity, which is what EFE focuses on.
In terms of young women, the situation is actually much worse. Like in the United States, young women in the region are much more likely to be in university than young men; there are more women graduates. Yet, only 17.5 percent of young women, and women, are in the labor market. Their unemployment rates are three times as high as men.
There is an economic cost to that. There is also the question of economic and social justice and the need to include young women in the labor force.
Based on EFE's own work and research—we've looked a lot into this question since the very beginning thanks to Ron's vision—more than half of the youth in our programs are young women. Fifty-three percent of the job placements are young women.
We also have focused on research with partners like Bayt.com and YouGov in Dubai to look into what the obstacles and barriers are for young women getting into their first job. We found some interesting things. There is a knowledge gap, there is a benefits gap, and there is an expectations gap.
Just to focus on one, employers who want to attract young women are offering what they think is the greatest benefit, but young women actually find it to be the least attractive and the least important, which is having a female supervisor. What they are looking for is flex time. They are looking for the ability to work from home, to work part time, to have support with transportation, and they are not getting that from their employers. It is actually quite similar to what we see with Millennials across the world. They are not listening to each other, and young people are not getting that foot in the door.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Ron, obviously I mentioned in the opening that the Middle East, North Africa, is a volatile region, shall we say? What do you think about, beyond just the immediate work of EFE, the idea of youth as agents of change, as it were, for the extended region where there is a link between the job prospects and to some extent socio-political stability in the region? It seems obvious, but elaborate, if you will, on how this contributes to the potential stability in a largely unstable region.
RON BRUDER: The youth bulge in the region is a two-edged sword. If these youth can find economic opportunity and find jobs, I think that is going to bode very well for the region. If they can't find decent employment opportunities, they are frustrated.
In the region, you cannot marry if you don't have a job, practically speaking. You live with your parents and you live an existence of somewhat shame, having delayed adulthood. So these are not happy kids who are looking for meaning, looking for opportunity, looking for self-esteem. If they have a job and they have a future, they are insulated from temptations to do things that are anti-social.
Not only there, it is anywhere globally. If you look at societies that have been on the cusp of problems, the biggest issues is the youth have opportunity or do they not. We believe that if we can be a force to help the youth find their way economically we can create a much more stable, peaceful society.
DAVID SPEEDIE: A question about beyond the immediate question of getting a job for individual youth, young people. I read somewhere in your material about the record of graduates of the program starting businesses. There is a multiplier effect, isn't there? It is not just creating one job, but they are actually budding entrepreneurs, or business start-ups take place, and that presumably employs other people.
RON BRUDER: We obviously focus on any route that we think is viable to create opportunity and create jobs. One of the key areas is these kids are entrepreneurial. They are traders. They have it in their blood, in their history, their DNA, and they are hungry. They want to be out there and they want to be creating businesses.
But, like any other entrepreneurial adventure, there is a huge failure rate. In our programs we are very careful because we do not want to, once again, raise expectations and not have the youth find the opportunity that they need. We will have programs where we will have contests where hundreds—I think thousands now—of youth have submitted business plans. For those that seem to be more favorable, we help them fine-tune their business plans. Those that then seem to be more viable, we then—the key element for an entrepreneur is money. We not only train them, but those that we think have an economic opportunity we assist and act as a catalyst for getting them their working capital.
It is also worth saying that we have relationships now, large and small, with over 2,000 employers who hire anywhere between one to hundreds of employees per company.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Jasmine, do you encourage networking? You are in eight countries at this point, is that right? Do you bring individuals from the eight countries together to share experiences, achievements, setbacks? Is this something that you do on a routine basis?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIA: We do. Several times a year we bring together the CEOs of each country office, as well as the boards and the staff. It has been one of the great successes of our network because we find that one plus one can be a hundred. We are able to share, as you said, successes, challenges, best practices. We find that a lot of our strategic breakthroughs come from those kinds of face-to-face meetings as well as networking, which has been incredibly helpful for the organization.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Do you bring them to New York?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: We could actually.
DAVID SPEEDIE: To the Carnegie Council, perhaps?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: We will.
RON BRUDER: When it was smaller, it was feasible to do it. Now, we sometimes have over 100 people coming to one of these, and the economics of bringing them to the United States just doesn't work.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Understood.
Let me ask you both. Looking at the film [that was shown at the beginning of the event], there is this extremely impressive young woman from the Bank of Palestine, a totally different face quite literally and figuratively, from what is reported about the Middle East on a daily news diet.
Is there a sense of frustration that this is not getting out enough? Do you feel you are able to get the message out of the positive aspects of what EFE is achieving, as embodied in this young woman and others in your film?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: I think we are an under-told story. There are many other non-profits and high-impact organizations doing important work as well, and young people across the entire region who are doing great things. It is definitely under-reported. The media focuses on the negative for the most part.
We have been fortunate to have some good media coverage, but we definitely need to get a lot more because it does change perceptions when people can see that young people in this region are just like them, just like their children; they want dignity, they want a job, they want stability, and they want to support their families. It is no different than human beings anywhere else in the world. So, it is really important to amplify these stories.
One thing that EFE does is really focus on the alumni. We have nearly 10,000 young people who have gone from unemployed to employed through EFE. We would like to reach 25,000 in the next several years, with support from our partners and new partners. We would like to get every single one of those young people's stories out there in the press, at conferences, in front of governments, so that we can start to really amplify their experience and change policy at the highest levels in those countries to connect young people into jobs.
RON BRUDER: One of the challenges with media now, especially because there is tremendous pressure on print media as the Internet has taken over to show, create revenue and sensationalism. As my daughter, who is a journalist, is fond of saying, "If it bleeds, it leads." We are not about bleeding. We are not about horrible things happening.
We are a slow process that little by little is influencing the region and making the educational system better. We think it is exciting; we work on it 20 hours a day. But, compared to some of the other things that are happening in the region, we are not that important in terms of what the opportunities are for the media to look at things and grab attention and create excitement.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Before we go to the audience, the last thing I have to ask in the interest of fairness is: In addition to all the remarkable achievements in terms of years you've invested in this, the number of graduates, the multiplier effect, there have been some setbacks. What would you say has been the biggest—I don't know if the word is "disappointment"—but what have been the biggest roadblocks you have hit over the years?
RON BRUDER: The biggest roadblock I think we have had is recent. We had built a really robust foundation in Yemen. We have a chairman by the name of Alwan Shaibani. He ran the Yemen Airlines. He owns the DHL franchise, the Hertz franchise. He owns some of the nicest hotels, although I think recently one of them has been flattened.
We built up this group and we were training women and men and getting them into the labor market, showing that it could be done. The sad thing there right now is the market is in disarray. Therefore we are looking at it. We are trying to find a niche.
Our CEO flew to the United States to discuss with us the fact that he wanted to create opportunity for nurses. A lot of the health care workers in Yemen were ex-pats and they have all gone elsewhere because they don't want to be there. That leaves an opportunity. We are evaluating that because we don't want to train unless at the end of the day our graduates can get jobs. We are trying to figure out whether that works.
The situation is so scary that he came to New York and spent some serious time with us, then when he wanted to go home, he couldn't go home. The airports were shut; he could not find his way back. Ultimately he is now back there, but it took several months and a lot of pulling and working to make things happens to give him the opportunity to go home. He has five kids and clearly didn't want to be stuck in the United States.
I think that is our biggest challenge that we have ever had.
On the other hand, we see buy-in from countries that previously were indifferent to us. Jasmine and our team have created amazing opportunities in countries like the Emirates. We are going to be going over there in a couple of weeks. There is tremendous buy-in. The Saudis are now clearly getting involved with us and training us and funding us with millions of dollars of donations to move us forward.
We are about to go into Algeria. Because of the bad news, I think, there is a realization that the work we are doing is key to stable societies and we are seeing much more buy-in, much more opportunity, for us, on a higher level. I think that is going to move us forward a lot quicker than otherwise.
DAVID SPEEDIE: A quick follow-up, Ron, on that, something I ought to have drawn out a little earlier. When you go into a specific country, you deal with, obviously, individuals that form the leadership from within the country itself. You consult with them as to what is the most useful type of employment opportunity that they would like you to try to train for to offer. So it is custom-made for every country, is that true?
RON BRUDER: The way it operates is we go into a country and with the help of many individuals—I can give you a for instance; we went into Yemen four-and-a-half years ago. I am getting off the plane and a gentleman comes running up to me by the name of Alwan Shaibani and he goes, "Mr. Bruder, Mr. Bruder," and I go, "Yes. Yes, that's me. Calm down and let's discuss whatever you want to talk about."
He had been running the office of the Consolidated Contractors [CCC]. CCC is the largest construction company in the Middle East. They are, I think an $8.5 billion company and they are out there doing more than anybody else by far. The head of CCC is a guy by the name of Samer Khoury. Samer is on our Palestinian board and our American board. He called his country head, who I don't think he had ever actually spoken to, and told him that his job would only be stable if he figured out how to get us the right people and make it work. So we were introduced to the people who were the leaders in the country and very rapidly moved forward.
The beauty of what we do is, as you pointed out, David, we don't come there and say, you should be studying this; you should be studying that. Every local foundation tells us what they need and we build curricula in response to that. Then when they talk to each other, curricula get shared. It is their responsibility to figure out and try to meet that 85 percent success rate that we shoot for.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Remarkable. I am sure there are many questions for this quite remarkable story.
QUESTION: I am Bob Stebbings. I am a lawyer and teach at Columbia from time to time.
This is almost rhetorical because I think that everything that has been said is almost answered and the question will answer itself. But it seems to me that your mission is so fabulous and so over-the-top that it transcends the sectarian divides that are rife in the region. You are not worried about Sunnis and other groups because they are probably happy to have you doing what you are doing, regardless of the sectarian elements of the Islamic community. Am I correct?
RON BRUDER: What has amazed me in terms of the foundation is early on we have Sunnis, we have Shiites, we have Christians. When you go to a meeting, you don't know who is what. In Egypt you don't know who is what. In Egypt, Anis Aclimandos, our chairman, is a Coptic Christian, but the rest of the board are not, and there is never any discussion of any of that. We have had some pretty hard times in Egypt, and one of the things I was concerned about was that board meetings would get down to what is going on and all the problems. Everybody in all of our affiliates, surprisingly and amazingly, is focused on the mission and what they can do to move it forward and not focused on the negative. I happen to be Jewish and I go to many, many board meetings, and quite frankly it doesn't matter at all.
QUESTIONER: It should not. Very good.
QUESTION: Peter Russell is my name.
As you are working—I particularly admire what you are doing—is it part of your ambition to have a catalytic effect with the local public training schools or universities or public education bodies? If so, how do you see that working?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: That's a great question. Our ultimate vision is definitely to impact the system, systemic change, because even if we can reach 100,000 youth in jobs it is still a drop in the bucket compared to the 100 million needed in the region, according to the World Bank, by 2020.
We are already planting the seeds for that. We are working closely with ministries, with educational institutions, with universities in many of the countries where we operate, like Morocco and Tunisia and Jordan. In fact, we hire the trainers from those institutions to train in our classrooms. We embed some of our curricula into those institutions, and we work with them to bridge this gap of their graduates into jobs.
We are already working with them. The question is how can we influence or inspire governments to fund this on a large scale in their own institutions. That is something that we are under discussion in in a number of the countries. In other countries, it is pretty difficult to work with the institutions. They are either not functioning at all, or it is hard to be in conversation with the government. But where we can, we are certainly doing that.
RON BRUDER: I tend to be an optimist and I believe that we will, within the next few years, hit a tipping point in most of the countries where we're operating where it becomes unacceptable, where it becomes common knowledge that if you go to an EFE program you have an 85 percent chance—or better or worse, but roughly in that neighborhood—of getting a job. Therefore, we will make it unacceptable to go anywhere else where you spend all your time, money, and effort and you don't get a job. I think we will, and are on the road to changing that and having broad changes in these countries as we become better known, as we become larger. We've been growing very rapidly.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: If I can add as well, we humbly think we have changed the conversation from youth employment on the input side. Typically it has been about training, it has been about coaching, it has been about mentoring, so the inputs to the young person, but not the outcomes in terms of the job outcome.
The conversation now at many of the international, foreign, and regional fora that we are a part of is much more about how is your program going to provide tangible economic outcomes for the young people you serve and not lead to more despair by having them in training programs and mentoring programs that are isolated and don't actually help them start a business or get that job.
We have changed the conversation, we think. Now it is a question of can we get massive funding into these countries to scale this model, both at EFE but also with other organizations on the ground.
QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Youssef Bahammi [phonetic]. I am a business development officer with the Halsten Enterprise and I am also seeking a position at a senior level here in New York City in terms of positions that are in program development with other countries.
Is there really a provisional policy for the management of the employment and skills in terms of human resources management education? The real social and societal problems that immigrants originally from Arab countries maybe could encounter in the United States, and people coming from other parts of the world, is the general opinion of the American society why isn't he the serial number he is supposed to be, which is a real societal problem. Is it exported through these countries and therefore not targeting the specific skills of these people that are growing there?
RON BRUDER: Please restate the question. Sorry, we are both kind of in a quandary.
QUESTIONER: Is there a message, when Educaiton for Employment is present in the Arab country, in order to teach people that are not maybe fit for pure capitalist jobs? Maybe they are fit for pure administrative jobs that will require a lot of skills that are mostly used in jobs in the United States related to sales, for instance.
RON BRUDER: Because we have local foundations, it is the board and the chair and the staff of the local foundation to go into the community to talk to businesses and to work with businesses. We have over 2,000 relationships with businesses, and those businesses tell us what they need.
We then build programs in response to that. For instance, in Jordan I met with the minister of education many years ago and I said, "What does this country need as an overall program?" He said, "You need a soft skills course." This was 10 years ago. So, we went to McGraw Hill and we built a course teaching soft skills, which has been phenomenally powerful.
Soft skills are work skills. We have a program that teaches kids how to write a resumé, interview, critical thinking, team-building, leadership, time management, work ethic, how to dress. It is a three-month course on average, and it changes these kids. Not only does it give them the skills, but probably more important, it gives them self-confidence. They walk into a room and suddenly you think they graduated from West Point.
But it is all being done on a local level. Our chairman in Morocco, Omar Chaabi (son of Miloud Chaabi), runs the largest company in Morocco, period, other than the government. He came to us a little sheepishly a few years ago and said, "We may be the biggest company, but we don't know how to sell. We just don't. We don't have the skills to sell on an international level. Will you build a course so I can hire salespeople in my company, and other people in Morocco can do the same?"
We went to a friend of ours at Harvard and he built us a phenomenal course for which we paid him dinner and dessert. I remember the negotiations.
QUESTIONER: So, it is based on the needs of the chambers of commerce and the federal, regional, and local governments and their development in those countries?
RON BRUDER: It is based on the needs that are perceived through our boards, because these are all local, powerful business women and men, and then our staff, which are also in the country. We don't go into any of these countries and tell them what courses to build or how to build them. We go in and they tell us what they need and we help facilitate it. These are all locally done, locally created, and they function only to meet the demand that they know exists, not us.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: To add to that, we do look at the national development plans of the country. For example, in Morocco, the government is estimating that 50,000 jobs will be available in call centers over the next several years. We look at that kind of data. But in order for us to actually secure the job commitments, we have to go to the companies themselves and we have to get job commitments from them before we start training.
We use government reports and research and we look at where they are putting their money in terms of developing sectors to get market intelligence. But the job commitments have to come from the employers.
We also work on the mentality of the young people. One of the findings of the research report that we did on women's first jobs in MENA is we found that many women in the region want to work for the government or for multinationals. The government is not hiring anymore in these countries. The social contract is broken. You can no longer expect a job in the government after graduating, which has led to the crisis of unemployment in part. We talk to them about that, we work on their mentality.
Also, they don't want to necessarily work for small- and medium-size enterprises, for SMEs, whereas in most of these countries, like in the United States, SMEs account for between 50 and 95 percent of economic activity and of jobs. We talk to the young people about that. We say you can have a great career with a small enterprise, with a medium-size enterprise.
A good example of that is Souq.com which is sort of the Amazon.com of the Middle East. It is an e-retail entity in Egypt and across the region. Initially when they were starting up, half of their staff came from EFE Egypt; they were EFE Egypt graduates. So we are taking advantage of the technological change in the region, of the massive job creation in the ICT(information and communications technology) and the tech sector. SMEs are the ones that are moving into that space, and there are great opportunities for young people. It also matches their aspirations and what they are good at. Millennials are great at tech and they can add a lot of value to the companies and grow companies.
We really focus more on the private sector side and we steer young people away from government where there are no jobs and where it is very difficult to get a job.
QUESTIONER: The only points maybe that I wanted to add is: Do you prepare them in case they want to, for example, come to the United States? They aren't prepared to go to the United States; it is not going from the Arab countries to Europe and coming here. I am speaking from my experience. Is there a way to prepare them to be fit and ready for the capitalist jobs in the United States?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIA: So far we are focusing on keeping them in their countries, where they want to be. They want to have a job and be close to their homes, especially young women. There is a lot of interest in going to the Gulf, in particular the Emirates, and we are building relations with companies there for young people who want to go there for a few years to get experience. But typically they want to be home and they need jobs in their home countries.
DAVID SPEEDIE: You made one interesting point about the fact that governments aren't hiring. You are also going to Saudi Arabia, I think soon, you said. You are doing programs there.
I know that one of the issues there has been the government was essentially the security blanket for a large percentage for unemployed youth. That is disappearing, or at least dissipating. Presumably that is a void that you seek to move into.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: Our experience so far has been in the non-Gulf countries where that blanket is definitely disappearing. In fact, when we were in Morocco and other countries we saw riots of young people in front of government ministries saying "We demand a job; you owe us a job." I talked to young people who said to me, "I hate my country because they promised me that if I went to university and I sacrificed for all of those years that I would get a job. I never got the job." It creates tremendous frustration and anger and a sense of injustice.
Our experience has more been in the non-Gulf countries. I think in the Gulf countries the government is still by far the largest employer and there are lots of opportunities still for young people to go into the government sector in the Emirates.
DAVID SPEEDIE: As oil is going down to $20 a barrel, that could change.
VOICE: Oil is $50 a barrel. [Editor's note: As of November 16, oil was $40.22 per barrel, acccording to the New York Mercantile Exchange.]
RON BRUDER: It's changed again?
You have tremendous population growth in these Gulf countries and you can't continue to sustain, train, give these people jobs—even meaningless jobs and subsidies—when oil is $50 a barrel and the population is double what it was 20 years ago.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: What we have seen as well is there is a real move by the government to also get young people in their countries to want to give back, to create value in their countries and not to seek a job in the government that is comfortable with long vacations and little work. They need their young population to add value and to grow their economies. They understand that and they are putting a lot of money and a lot of talent into solving this problem.
EFE is very fortunate. We are making a lot of contacts with these governments and with the private sector that absolutely want to see this happen. That is why the report we did is so important. Many companies do want to employ young women. They do want to understand what the barriers are to attracting highest performers, great talent, among young women and men. It is a very positive environment for us to be working in right now because people are looking for solutions.
QUESTION: My name is Isaac. I am a high school senior.
I was wondering if you have any market penetration in the rural areas of these countries. I am assuming, of course, that you operate primarily in urban areas?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: We do. I would like to give you one example. A young women from the interior of Tunisia, Dela Sampti [phonetic], she defied all the odds and got an engineering degree, again from the interior far from the big city of Tunis or Sfax. She was unemployed. Her classmates were all unemployed.
She came to our program, she got skilled up in soft skills, which are the hardest skills to learn; it is what the CEOs across the region have said most young people do not have: communication, teamwork, leadership, work ethic, goal-setting, that sort of thing. She worked on soft skills, also worked on construction project management, because although many of the young engineers are great at engineering concepts, they need to learn how to really work with people and run projects. So we taught her that.
She got a job with CCC, one of our key employer partners, and she is now working in Dubai managing a group of five people. She is from the interior of Tunisia. We have a lot of young people like that.
In Egypt, the youth will travel an hour and a half every single day, each way, to come to our training program, for two to three months. We don't give transportation stipends. We in fact ask them to give a very small commitment fee to make sure that they are committed to stay the course, finish the training, and start their job. Many of those young people come from surrounding areas.
In Palestine, thanks to our presence on Facebook, there was a group from the north near Hebron [phonetic] that said, "You're doing all this training in the Damallah [phonetic]. What about us?" So, within a few months we did the training in their region as well.
QUESTIONER: One follow-up question. How do the rural economies connect with the urban economies? I don't know if it is a presumption on my part, but I assume that there are not big construction companies necessarily operating in the more sparsely populated areas of these countries.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIA: Actually, that challenged our model. Initially we were focused just on job placement. We had a number of donors come to us in the early years and say we'll fund you to do entrepreneurship. We said we don't do that; that would be mission drift.
When we went into Tunisia we saw that because 95 percent of the economy is composed of small- and medium-size enterprises, and they are family-run businesses that will really mainly hire their own family members, we were told by the Tunisians: "You need to have a different program mix. You need to have 50 percent self-employment, entrepreneurship programming, and 50 percent job placement.
In the interior regions of Tunisia, apart from a few factories—Dannon has a yogurt factory there, etc.—there just are no jobs. We then, based on the need—not on donors, but on that need—moved into self-employment in Tunisia and also in Yemen where it is crucial.
For us, as long as young people are getting an economic outcome, it doesn't really matter whether they are self-employed or they are working for someone else.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Carol Spomer.
Perhaps you addressed this at the beginning—I was a little late—but I wanted to know if the logical extension would be to go to the multinationals, the American companies, and say, "What skills do you need? What kind of jobs can we create that you would put into the Middle East to employ these people?" Have you taken steps to do so like the Apples, Googles?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: Yes. Many of the tech companies don't hire in large numbers at all. Some of those companies have one or two people. They have a sales and marketing person in some of these countries.
We definitely are talking with the major American and Western multinationals and there is a lot of interest in our work. The sectors that are hiring young people in large numbers for entry-level jobs are hospitality, so hotels and restaurants; retail, including online retail; construction; and, ICT. These are the four main sectors that the IMF [International Monetary Fund] has identified and we have also seen where there is tremendous potential for young people.
The majority of our 2,000 employer partners are actually local, small- and medium-size enterprises, and national companies in these countries. But we have just opened an office in Dubai, in part to reach and have access to multinationals, Indian, Emirati, Saudi American, and others who are making hiring decisions for the entire region. We have that platform now up and running, so we will be doing a lot more of that work.
We are very happy to say we are working with Pepsi. We are working with Marriot. We are working with a number of multinationals. They want to see a small pilot work, with 25 people. Then if it works, when it works, they would like to scale up to large numbers and across the region. That is definitely something we have been working on over the past year.
DAVID SPEEDIE: To follow up on that, Jasmine, you have mentioned ICT and technology a couple of times in responses. Obviously the growth of technology and Internet use in the region is critical for this.
A very basic question: What about the hardware? What about the access to PCs, to laptops. We are, to use the jargon, an interconnected world. How is that working across the eight client countries?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: It has been a radical change since I started at the foundation 10 years ago. In the past 10 years, Arab Internet users have increased from 60 million to 90 million, so they are getting access, especially in Saudi, in the Emirates, in Morocco, and these other countries.
Also, we are seeing that online payments, e-retail, has increased by 45 percent annually, which is the largest growth on the planet. Again, tremendous opportunity.
As a foundation, we have had to be really nimble and try to react quickly so that we can take advantage of this. A couple of examples: We launched our first blended learning program in Jordan two weeks ago. Blended learning means how do we use online learning and integrate that in the classroom, because for the young people that we serve, in order for there to be transformational change in their habits and soft skills, you need to have a lot of high-contact, in-person time. How do you combine that with online technology? We call that blended learning. We bring the computers into the classroom; we bring the tech into the classroom, but there is still that personal touch.
We would really like to scale up on the training side through blended learning. The question is then how do we scale up on the demand side and make sure that we can get all those youth into jobs?
When we started we had no Facebook page at all. We now have 305,000 followers on Facebook across the region. It has become the main mechanism for recruiting young people into our programs.
The first program that we did in Palestine, that I helped to start, we got the word out to the youth through the career center at the university. Now, 305,000 followers on Facebook. They find us, and when we post certain opportunities, like with Pepsi, we get a massive surge in applications. It has been really exciting.
Finally, the sector approach I mentioned. This is one of the four sectors that is really, really important for young people. It is actually the one they really want to go into because they are excellent at social media and there are a lot of opportunities for them in the space.
In terms of access, I think to your earlier point about rural areas, it is going to be much harder for youth in rural areas. But we find that in the big cities the young people have access, either through cafés or on their mobile phones or in our classrooms, or at universities. They are able to get access, at least in the cities.
QUESTION: I am Mahan [phonetic]. I am currently volunteering with EFE.
My question is, as you mentioned earlier, the region generally is perceived as a very homogenous bloc of countries while it is composed of very, very different countries if we look more in depth.
In the case of youth employment, what was the most striking nuance that you came across as you were working closely with those countries within the local context with regard to how they deal with complexities of U.S. unemployment and how they innovate to solve the issue?
RON BRUDER: We would like to know what you have been doing as a volunteer.
QUESTIONER: I have been volunteering over the last six weeks, and I am actually trying to understand the business intelligence that EFE has accumulated over the last 10 years and see what we can learn about the uniqueness of the EFE model based on that experience. When you have an organization, it generates intelligence without necessarily thinking about it. So understanding the uniqueness of the model, how it is positioned in the region, and also the best ways to move forward by understanding the main flows and the main bottlenecks that the model has come across so far.
DAVID SPEEDIE: And where you do live?
QUESTIONER: I am Moroccan.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: A couple of thoughts in terms of the diversity. I feel so blessed to have been able to spend the past 10 years in the region because I didn't know it very well. It is so different. Yemen is so different from Morocco. Even Morocco and Tunisia are so different. The Gulf states are different.
One thing that really surprised me is that in one country the young women that we trained who wear a veil had difficulty finding a job because employers had stereotypes against these young women. This is in their own country. That to me was absolutely profoundly shocking and surprising. Of course, we built that back into the program and needed to make sure we had a closer match between the youth and the employment they were seeking.
In terms of connectivity, in some countries like Palestine they are so small and interconnected that it is pretty straightforward to get to federations of businesses. For us to be much more efficient, we need to go to a small business federation that can be a platform for a thousand SMEs. We need to go to the federation of businesses working in hotels or in a certain sector. In Palestine that is relatively straightforward to do, and we are doing it.
In other countries, like Egypt where you have 90 million people, it is much, much harder to get that kind of connectivity. We are starting to do it, but it is much harder. The business community is more disparate. It is harder to get people together. It takes an hour and a half to get anywhere in Cairo as well. So there is contextual difference on the employer side as well.
QUESTION: Just real quickly, where is your current funding coming from? Is it all your money?
RON BRUDER: No, no. The good news is it is not. That's the wonderful news.
We have pretty diverse sources of funding now. The State Department has done major funding through MEPI [U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative ?>, through the State Department themselves, through USAID [United States Agency for International Development]. The Rockefeller Foundation has been very generous with us. The foundation called Drosos, in Zurich, has been very generous for many years. The MasterCard Foundation has been generous. Accenture has also been extremely generous. The Sharjah Business Women Council has recently given us a seven-figure grant.
I think I have covered most of them, Jasmine.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: The other piece is the corporate contributions. We are giving a valuable service to companies. We are helping them to source diverse young workers. We are saving them a lot of time and a lot of money by sourcing diverse people, training them, making them work-ready. Even if companies—American multinationals and others—have in-house training, they still need their young people who come in to be work-ready and trainable. We provide that service.
We have ongoing alumni support for the young people mentoring and coaching, and community involvement and so on. For all of this value chain of activities, we ask employers to make a contribution, to cost-share.
QUESTIONER: Is there a placement fee as such or is it indirect?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: Exactly.
QUESTIONER: You do?
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: Yes.
QUESTION: My name is Ed Holland and I work extensively with the cruise ship industry. Some years ago, as the cruise ship industry expanded, it needed workers. The cruise ships hire mainly non-Americans for other reasons.
A program was developed to train workers for the cruise ships, for every job on the ship. It is a floating hotel. Now it has expanded into the hotel and tourism industry. It works mostly in Asia and the Caribbean, and the program is mainly paid for by the cruise ship lines, and whoever wants to participate must pay a substantial amount as well to make sure that they are committed to it.
Do you see this type of training for tourism, hotels, in your arena, as well? There are not many cruise ships coming out of your area, but there is lots of tourism, or the potential for more tourism to come again.
From what I understand from my travels and from people who have traveled in your area, the hotel personnel are not well-trained. That has been a big drawback because it is a wonderful place to visit and there are a lot of things to do. But people want to be comfortable. They want to have food prepared properly, they want the bed made right, laundry done correctly. When a car is supposed to pick them up, it is supposed to be there. Americans are spoiled. But so are all international travelers. Whether they come from America or Europe, they want to feel accommodated. It is expensive to travel, and sometimes it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and they don't want anything to spoil it.
If this has some interest to you folks, I will make the introduction to the people who run it. It runs through some American universities that are featuring the tourism industry. So I am available
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: I will say hospitality is one of the four key sectors that is important for young people. The issue has been that it is stigmatized, especially for young women to work in a hotel. So we have to work on the mentality and the mindset of the young people, as well as the employers, to make it a good place to work, and for the young people and their families to be open to that kind of work. We are working on that.
A number of global hotel chains have approached us recently, and we are working with them to place young people in their companies. They are undergoing massive expansion in Egypt, in the Middle East, in the whole region. It is a really important area where there are future jobs.
QUESTIONER: We see that. Mostly now, the newer employees are coming more from Eastern Europe than from Asia. It used to be basically Asian. The women are trained to be chambermaids and servers and whatever else comes about. I see that more and more women on the ships are now in higher executive positions.
If this is something that you would like to pursue, I am willing to cooperate with you on it.
JASMINE NAHHAS DI FLORIO: That would be great. Thank you.
DAVID SPEEDIE: We would be glad to continue. We have unfortunately come to the end of our time.
I have two final thoughts. The first is that it is an extraordinary story and it as much an ethical commitment as a strategic or pragmatic one. I think that comes through in all of what you both said.
The other is that I came across, while doing some research for this session the International Labour Organization's Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015. A lot of it was pretty bleak, to tell the truth. One statistic is 43 percent of the global youth labor force is still either unemployed or working and living in poverty. That is somewhere in the region of 300 million youth in developing economies.
They also said that the absolute priority, and I quote this directly: "providing youth the best opportunity to transition to a decent job calls for investing in education and training of the highest possible quality and providing youth with skills that match labor market demands." That is absolutely your sweet spot, and we applaud you for it.