Ron Bruder: Training youth for meaningful employment in the Middle East & North Africa

In the chaotic hours after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, Ronald Bruder was unable to locate his daughter. "I wasn't sure if she was alive," Bruder recalls. "She was downtown that day, and knowing her instincts, I was afraid she'd run to the World Trade Center to help."

It wasn't until that evening that Bruder learned that his daughter was unharmed physically, if not emotionally. The events of 9/11 left Bruder and his family, like most Americans, with a sense of profound vulnerability and uncertainty about the future, and he decided to transform his feelings of fear and anger into action.

A successful real estate developer and "serial entrepreneur" with relatively little experience in international affairs, Bruder decided to put to work the skills he had used in starting real estate, pharmaceutical, travel and oil companies. He began talking to people who knew more than he did, and reading widely to determine if there was "something that he and others of good will could do to bridge the divide between the Muslim and Western worlds."

Honing a philanthropic vision

Through a major redevelopment project that his company, Brookhill Group, was undertaking in Portland, Oregon, he met a former governor of Oregon who subsequently became a business partner and introduced him to a number of individuals with experience in government, politics and international affairs whose expertise was critical in shaping Bruder's philanthropic vision.

Bruder in particular sought input and involvement from influential figures with a Middle Eastern background and in-depth knowledge of the region. These included Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani, then the Permanent Observer to the UN of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; Moeen A. Qureshi, former Prime Minister of Pakistan; and Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Others early advisors brought a wide range of international expertise: Lee Hamilton, the former US Representative and Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission; Jeffrey Maurer, former Chairman of U.S. Trust Corporation; Jeffrey Smith, senior partner for public policy at the Washington, DC law firm of Arnold & Porter; Alton Frye, Counselor and Presidential Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Ellen Laipson, President of the Henry L. Stimson Center. Ultimately, all of these individuals became members of the board of directors of the Education for Employment Foundation ( -- EFE).

While initial brainstorming focused on the construction of primary and secondary schools in the Middle East, the board advised that this approach would take decades to have an impact on the economy and could be sensitive culturally.

On the other hand, Bruder discovered that there was an unparalleled opportunity to provide supplemental technical and vocational education to the large numbers of young people in predominantly Muslim countries who had some education but didn't have a job.

Linking training directly to job creation

Unemployment figures from the region underline the urgent need for new approaches: joblessness among youth between the ages of 15 to 24 in the Muslim world alone is estimated at over 40%, and is likely to get worse as these countries prepare for a massive infusion of young people into the job market. The Arab world's population -- 285 million in the year 2000 -- is expected to rise 60% to 459 million by 2020.

With a job-creation focus, EFE was launched in 2003 as a US 501(c)(3) nonprofit with Bruder as interim CEO and $10 million in seed money from his own funds. Since the initial $10 million is earmarked for administration and start-up costs, 100% of all contributions to the initial project will be used to educate and train youth in Muslim countries for jobs.

EFE's mission is to promote increased understanding and improved relations between the people of the Muslim and Western worlds by providing constructive solutions that link technical and vocational education directly to the creation of jobs and that can be tailored to the particular needs of each country in the region. Bruder says that strong local relationships with individuals, corporations, NGOs and government are key to the establishment of successful EFE initiatives.

"I'm a strong believer that if I can't do business in Portland, Oregon without local partners, I couldn't go into the Middle East and create a viable entity without strong, local partnerships with individuals and organizations who have 'skin in the game' and are willing to make a commitment of time, money and resources," said Bruder.

Forging strong local partnerships

EFE has assembled a diverse array of partners for its first initiative in the Middle East, the Egyptian Center for Nursing Excellence in Cairo, scheduled to open in the autumn of 2006. In addition to putting university graduates to work, the Center addresses a critical shortage of trained nurses that continues to threaten the quality of Egyptian health care. From an initial class of 75, the program is expected to ramp up to train thousands of nurses over the next five years, Bruder says.

The project has received critical local leadership and support from Dr. Hossam Badrawi, founder of the Nile Badrawi Hospital and Member of the Egyptian Parliament. Developed in partnership with Simmons College in Boston, the Center will be located on the campus of an Egyptian university that will share facilities and services for the delivery of a full-fledged nursing curriculum.

Based on successful models in the US, the program will provide an accelerated second Bachelor's Degree in Nursing to unemployed university graduates and will require about two to three years for completion. Coursework will include needed bridging skills such as English, information technology, and leadership.

A number of Cairo hospitals are expected to provide loans for students in the program in exchange for a period of service in their institutions. A major hospital in New York has agreed to a similar arrangement for students, who will return to work in Egyptian health care institutions after a period of service in the US.

Tailoring solutions to regional needs

EFE is also actively working to identify opportunities to create education programs to meet the specific employment needs of other countries in the region. In Jordan, for example, there is a pressing demand for soft skills training for unemployed university graduates and for emergency medical technicians at a sub-university level. EFE is working with a local university to create a partnership school to deliver both programs. To help address these needs, EFE co-hosted a workshop in Amman in 2004 with the Information Technology Association of Jordan. EFE is also currently exploring opportunities in Morocco and Palestine.

For his part, Bruder, plans to remain personally involved in EFE, particularly in the area of development, and seeks to raise an additional $10 million to complement his initial start-up fund of the same amount. He is supported in this effort by a strong board that includes internationally regarded leaders from the Islamic and Western worlds, including a number of his early advisors in the foundation's start-up.

As part of his commitment to EFE, Bruder has sold his oil company, Devon Petroleum, and turned over the day-to-day operations of his real estate firm, Brookhill Group, to others. He estimates that he spends about 80% of his time on EFE these days. "It's stimulating and I am enjoying the process," said Bruder, but he acknowledged that success in the for-profit world did not necessarily prepare him for the challenges of philanthropic leadership.

"I found in my serial entrepreneur life that if I came up with a better mousetrap, getting people on board and raising money was relatively straightforward," said Bruder. "In the foundation world, each organization has its own niche. Everyone agrees that youth employment in Muslim countries is urgent, but actually getting checks written is not as easily done as I had thought. It's challenging because the rules of engagement are different, which just means that I have to work harder."