Today I have the pleasure of interviewing the Italian Andrea Brentan, President of the Education for Employment Foundation (EFE-Europe), former CEO of Endesa, co-founder of startups and funds. The interview is very interesting because of the help work that EFE-Europe develops in North Africa in favor of young people for their training and employment directly in their countries of origin.
Andrea, why have you accepted the Presidency of the Education for Employment Foundation (EFE-Europe)? What is EFE-Europe and when was it born?
EFE-Europa is a non-profit foundation, based in Spain, founded in 2006. Since its creation, EFE-Europe has trained more than 115,000 unemployed and homeless young people in the Middle East and North Africa region, of which more than half are women, placing them in jobs with very high retention rates. For this reason, when the term of my predecessor, Aldo Olcese, who did so much in his nine years as president, and having seen for myself how EFE-Europe operates in my years as a counselor, ended, I did not hesitate to accept the presidency; There is no better way to counteract the very high levels of unemployment in that region and its serious social consequences than to train young people in the skills considered a priority by companies and place them in jobs. These problems have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, making the Foundation’s work more necessary than ever.
How is the Foundation organized? In which countries does it operate and with how many dedicated people?
EFE-Europe is the European arm of the international Education For Employment network (EFE Network), which operates mainly in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, through affiliated local entities and local personnel specialized in each of the countries where we implement our projects. Likewise, as part of multicountry initiatives, we also collaborate with organizations in Spain and Portugal to tackle youth unemployment in these countries. Total, we have about 150 dedicated people and we have a network of more than 2,500 trainers certificates that teach our courses according to the demand of the labor market. The geographical and cultural proximity of EFE-Europe allows us to work very effectively hand in hand with these local entities in obtaining funds in Europe by institutions, companies and individuals, in consultations with companies on their training and employment priorities , in the design and implementation of training courses and in the placement of young people in jobs in a sustainable way. We are working so that the funds raised do not decrease as a result of the pandemic and allow us to even increase the number of dedicated people in order to increase our contribution to the reduction of unemployment levels, which have soared precisely as a result of the pandemic.
What is the specific objective and how many young people are educated for employment per year?
The objective concrete is place unemployed and homeless youth in jobs, with high levels of retention. Our success lies in our orientation to market demand: we consult with private companies to identify their specific hiring needs and, above all, the skills they seek in the candidates they interview. This allows us to design and execute tailor-made training programs in various technical specializations, digital skills, languages, attitude and relationship, thus guaranteeing placement and, very importantly, job retention. We closely monitor our programs and continue to support our young beneficiaries and businesses to ensure the sustainability of the results. Between 2017 and 2019, we trained around 60,000 young people. By 2020, despite the pandemic, we will reach 11,000 more young people, thanks to the agility that has allowed us to move on to a high percentage of distance training through digital media. The aim is to constantly increase our number of beneficiaries for the next few years.
What role does the Foundation play in the current panorama? Surely, the work of EFE-Europe will be even more necessary with the pandemic, which is worsening the unemployment situation in African countries?
Young people and women are being the most affected by the socioeconomic effects of Covid-19. Before the pandemic, youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa region was already close to 27% (the highest rate in the world), reaching 43% for young women. As a result of the crisis, it is estimated that, approximately, one in five young people has lost their job, with even more marked deterioration in the case of women. In this environment, it is clear that EFE’s role, precisely aimed at directly counteracting unemployment, assumes an even greater socioeconomic importance. After an understandable initial turn and prioritization of health projects by the donor community, it is logical that funders increase their contributions to our initiatives, which will translate into an effective improvement of the social problems that unemployment brings.
How important is it to help young people thrive in their home countries? On the other hand, I think that there is no better way to help countries in their cultural and economic development than the education and training of young people.
The devastating effects of uncontrolled migration at levels well above the absorptive capacity of European countries on economic migrants and the social fabric of these countries, as well as the social tensions caused by unemployment in the countries of origin, they are under the gaze of each one of us. Therefore, offering young people a concrete opportunity for sustainable employment in their countries, in addition to satisfying a primordial and legitimate aspiration and need, is one of the, if not “the” way to tackle these effects.
What is the profile of the companies that finance the work of EFE-Europe?
There is more than one profile. One of the most important is that of companies that have put social responsibility, sustainability or ESG criteria in their specific priorities and that recognize as a priority social objective, both for Europe and for countries on the other side of the Mediterranean, to counteract unemployment. . Furthermore, this generates a direct favorable evolution of the context in which these companies operate when they have operations in the countries where we operate. In addition to companies, also we have institutional funders whose main objective is to improve employment through training. And we also began to work with individuals who want to contribute to the solution of relevant social problems.
What are the companies that are currently supporting and financing the Foundation?
The main entities that finance EFE-Europe include large multinational companies such as Accenture and Citi, which have long had social responsibility as a priority and concrete objective, and have placed their trust in us, through their continuous and repeated financial support to what over many years. Other large financing companies are Mastercard, Vitol, Trafigura, Chanel, Cartier, among others, which also have a strong social commitment and support our work to provide concrete opportunities to young women and men in disadvantaged conditions. In addition to companies, also we have the financial support of institutions of various kinds such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Labor Organization, the European Commission, governments, especially the British, French and American, or various UN agencies.
Is the funding sufficient or with more funding could more be done and for more countries?
Faced with the magnitude of youth unemployment in that region, much more can be done with the continuous improvement of our efficiency and effectiveness, a constant objective of our operations and, even more, with an increase in our financing. Usually, our priority is to increase our activities, especially in the countries where we already operate, for the clear advantages in terms of our knowledge and experience and economic optimization. That said, we keep a constant watch on the dynamics in other countries, as a basis for geographic expansions of our activity: an example is our relatively recent expansion of operations in Algeria.
What is the return for financing companies?
The return for our financing companies is at various levels. The most general return is to meet your increasingly challenging social responsibility and ESG goals by investing in improving employability and employment in geopolitically critical regions through an operator, such as us, which has demonstrated throughout over the years the effectiveness and efficiency of its activities, its processes, its systems, and, above all, professional and moral quality, passion, dedication and empathy of its people. This return becomes more direct when it comes to companies that operate in “our” regions and even more when they participate in our surveys on their employment priorities: in these cases, at the local level of the countries of operation, the private company is an employer and you get a very tangible return by gaining access to qualified young people with the necessary skills.
Finally, what is EFE Europe’s aspiration for the next few years?
The aspiration for the future is, first of all, overcome the impact of the pandemic, achieving the objectives of the ongoing projects and maintaining a high level of funding. Beyond this, we want follow a growth path. Personal and professional growth of our people. Growth in our way of operating, our economic efficiency, our processes and systems and our achievements. Growth of our funding and, therefore, of the number of young people trained and placed in decent jobs; to achieve it, in addition to maintain the loyalty of our historical funders, we want to work much more with companies and different institutions so that it is increasingly recognized that effectively tackling unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa directly leads to an improvement of the social context not only in those countries, but also in Europe and that, in this, EFE is a leading operator in which you can put all the confidence.