Jihad or Jobs?

An American entrepreneur bets that economic opportunity can help heal the Middle East.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all CNNMoney.com RSS FEEDS (close)

Bruder teaches a student in Amman the art of the job interview.
Students at a professional-skills course that Bruder's foundation offers in Amman
Education for Employment Foundation founder Ronald Bruder relaxes during a recent visit to Jordan

(FORTUNE Small Business) -- We're upstairs at a dingy community center in Jabal Natheef, a hilltop slum in the Jordanian capital, Amman. The steep, winding streets house a mixed population of Palestinian refugees and Jordanians. Violent crime and drug addiction are commonplace. Many children are fatherless. Jabal Natheef resembles your typical American inner city, except that the bored, unemployed youngsters who hang out on street corners and in videogame parlors here make prime recruiting fodder for al Qaeda.

Which explains why a Jewish-American entrepreneur named Ronald Bruder is in Jabal Natheef, putting a veiled Jordanian woman through a mock job interview. Alaa Al Hagesa is 21 years old. She studies religion at a local university, and her only previous work experience was teaching small children to read the Quran.

"Why should we hire you?" Bruder asks. Al Hagesa sits straight up in her chair. "I am the perfect!" she replies in broken English, speaking through the thick black fabric that shrouds her face. "I have good grades in university. I can deliver!"

Bruder nods and scribbles a note. In a rare concession to the broiling summer heat, he has doffed his crisply tailored suit jacket and is conducting the interview in a monogrammed, blue Oxford-cloth shirt with contrasting white collar, polished silver cufflinks, and a tightly knotted yellow silk tie that ends precisely at his belt buckle. He stares down at his sheet of questions.

"What sort of compensation are you looking for?" Bruder asks in a high, slightly nasal voice whose vowels evoke his Brooklyn childhood.

Al Hagesa shrugs her shoulders. "How about two Jordanian dinars a month?" (That comes to about $2.83.) Al Hagesa shakes her head.

"Too little."

"How about one million dinars a month?" Bruder presses. The veiled girl giggles.

"Too much!"

Finally, she allows that she'd like to be paid 250 to 300 dinars a month, about average for an entry-level office job in Jordan. Bruder nods in satisfaction. Then he asks Al Hagesa for feedback on the three-month course that she just completed. Sponsored by Bruder's Education for Employment Foundation (EFE), the course teaches young Jordanians the basic skills of getting and keeping a professional job: writing a CV, handling job interviews, presenting to an audience, and so forth.

Al Hagesa bubbles over. The course was great; she learned how to work with a team and how to carry herself with confidence. "I couldn't even answer questions before," she exclaims. "Now I can!"

"Anything we could have done better?" Bruder asks. Yes, she replies, adjusting her all-enveloping black robe. The lecture on proper professional dress was not relevant, she feels, to her personal situation.

It's all in a day's work for Bruder, a former real estate developer from New York City. Bruder, 60, made a tidy fortune reclaiming polluted industrial sites, or brownfields, all over the U.S. But for the past six years (ever since Sept. 11, 2001, to be precise) Bruder has devoted most of his time to a very different kind of reclamation: creating economic opportunities for educated young people in Muslim-majority countries.

There are plenty of philanthropic Jewish entrepreneurs in New York City, but only Bruder has created a foundation to help Arabs find work. He shrugs when I ask whether his charitable endeavors have raised any eyebrows in his family or in the American Jewish community.

"I have an elderly aunt who cherishes me but can't understand why I'm playing for the wrong team," he says drily.

Bruder's logic is simple: He believes that the rage driving some Muslims to become terrorists stems mostly from economic frustration. Each year universities across the Islamic world produce thousands of graduates who have little or no hope of landing a rewarding job. Every day, 24/7, this wired generation is bombarded with media images suggesting that Westerners live lives of unimaginable luxury.

They're hiring!These Fortune 100 employers have at least 350 openings each. What are they looking for in a new hire? More
If the Fortune 500 were a country...It would be the world's second-biggest economy. See how big companies' sales stack up against GDP over the past decade. More
Sponsored By:
10 of the most luxurious airline amenity kits When it comes to in-flight pampering, the amenity kits offered by these 10 airlines are the ultimate in luxury More
7 startups that want to improve your mental health From a text therapy platform to apps that push you reminders to breathe, these self-care startups offer help on a daily basis or in times of need. More
5 radical technologies that will change how you get to work From Uber's flying cars to the Hyperloop, these are some of the neatest transportation concepts in the works today. More


Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.