The Business of Unemployment

Mohamed Abdul Latif Jameel
Mohamed Abdul Latif Jameel
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The International Labour Office's figures suggest that if unemployment is not tackled sustainably, the Middle East will have 50 million men and women without work in less than a decade. They will want the dignity of work and they will not tolerate the indignity of being out of work.

That is the scale of the problem that threatens the foundations of our society.

How can one help?

As you know, every region is different. But let me tell you about Bab Rizq Jameel, BRJ - our simple, grassroots solution that works for the Arab world and quite recently Turkey.

Bab Rizq Jameel means “beautiful gateway to prosperity” in Arabic – and so it has proved.

My inspiration comes from two men. My late father, Sheikh Abdul Latif Jameel, who founded our business in 1945, taught me that every CEO actually has two responsibilities – two jobs - not one.

The first is to lead his business sustainably, profitably and in harmony with all the stakeholders.

The second is to help his community to help themselves, in a sustainable manner.

Mohammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, proved with his Grameen Bank that the unemployed don’t actually need charity – they need a chance to make their own way.

That’s why I don’t want to be just a philanthropist. I strive to be an effective social entrepreneur.

I believe you cannot treat unemployment simply as a socio-economic problem because no government has the resources – the hard cash – to always buy its way out of the problem.

In our region, neither government spending nor foreign investment generates anything like the number of jobs we need, with a few exceptions.

Nor can we see them doing so in the foreseeable future.

Instead we must focus on what I call “the Business of Unemployment”. A business in which the private sector has a duty to play its full part, making the eradication of unemployment a business problem, requiring a business solution – and earning business profits.

I postulate that unemployment has to be treated as if it were itself a business where the unemployed workforce becomes the customer of the business. Each job created can provide not only employment for the individual and a skilled worker for the employer who hires him, or her - but also an income for the job creating company.

10 years ago, I thought it was time to put the idea into practice, and to start at the level of the individual, not the bureaucracy.

In treating unemployment as if it were a business, I was encouraged by the fact that this approach had already succeeded in health care, and other industries, where the achievements of commercially run hospitals had proved that business methods could achieve social goals.

We set up a job creation company to facilitate the creation of jobs through the micro-alignment of the needs of industry and the economy with the needs of the labour market participants – the men and women seeking work.

It is the micro-alignment that makes the difference. It is the last mile in the job creation process. Creating one local job at a time – that is what micro-alignment is all about.

Governments, by contrast, mostly do macro-alignment. That is why they often fail to create enough jobs. They can get everything right except the final part – the delivery at local level of the local jobs that local businesses need.

That’s the theory. How has our Business of Unemployment worked out in practice?

In our first year, 2003, we started BRJ modestly with just 2 job creation officers – myself and the director of my office, and a couple of hundred thousand dollars in capital. Our target was to encourage and train 10 - just 10 - unemployed Saudi Arabians to become taxi drivers.

We lent them the money to acquire a taxi each – “soft” loans, but not loss-making loans. All were fully repaid.

When this modest experiment worked well, it sparked interest from both companies short of trained labour and individuals without jobs. So we said: “Let us expand the service.”

We had no grand plan. We simply grew organically, as a business does. And now tonight, I would like to say that I am not representing only myself by accepting this award. In fact, I am representing a team of more than 700 fulltime job creators, working from more than 36 Bab Rizq Jameel branches in the Arab world and Turkey. They specialise in all types of job creation and training, from health care to catering.

Not only that, but in fact I am representing more than 300,000 young job seekers, who decided to take action and jointly create a job opportunity with us – 100,000 of them in this year alone.

We deliver employment that is both self-starting and self-sustaining. This is because we operate at ground level, matching real needs of individuals with real needs of businesses and providing sustainable training to make it all possible.

Distribution is crucial. A network of branches close to the customer is just as necessary for us as for a bank or a grocery chain, together with a stronger digital presence.

Our sales network of branches in various cities and neighbourhoods puts the job creation sales team in the field in direct contact with their job creation markets. They are then able to quickly identify barriers and difficulties, and take action to develop the right solutions for unemployed people's needs. And, just like in any other business, the sales and marketing team must be motivated by commission, rewards and recognition.

BRJ not only creates jobs and training, but also:-

• helps close the gap between educational institutions and private sector requirements;
• provides job creating micro-finance to help housewives and young women to make the transition from 'aid recipients' to 'producers';
• and encourages young people to start their own small business;

all under one roof

Since inception - up until the end of October 2012 - BRJ has successfully helped to create over 320,000 job opportunities in the countries where it is operating; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Morocco and recently Turkey. Before they begin their training we are able through BRJ’s separate programmes to guarantee a job opportunity at the end of the process for all the trainees.

All of the job opportunities that we help to create are reviewed and confirmed regularly by an international independent auditor.

So far this year we have successfully helped to create over 100,000 job opportunities with receivables of over 150 million dollars. Our ultimate plan is to help create 500,000 jobs annually in the Arab countries and Turkey, through a team of 2,000 job creators distributed amongst 200 branches in those countries.

We have already proved that our business model is self-sustaining. Thus in Egypt we have been able to recover all our job creating costs and sometimes create a surplus through fees and charges to over 50,000 customers for whom we have helped create job opportunities.

From this practical, grass roots experience, I believe that the best contribution business people can make for the society they operate in is to help convert socio-economic problems into business problems and opportunities.

But don’t take my word for it. I offer you an open invitation to come and see for yourself. See how BRJ works in Saudi Arabia or Egypt for local entrepreneurs who need skilled workers, for unemployed men and women who need jobs and for the sales team who make the Business of Unemployment financially sustainable as well as socially responsible.

If you are then inspired to try out a project of your own, we will happily work with you to transfer our knowledge and experience for you to be our competitors in job creation. We’d consider it a success if BRJ became only the number two or number three in the job creation business.

Better still if there were another 20 BRJs working to make unemployment yesterday’s story rather than tomorrow’s problem.

So let's make job creation part of the solution to unemployment. As leaders, let us seize the moment, for ourselves and for society.

But we need to act decisively – and we must begin today if the coming population bulge is to be turned into an opportunity for greater prosperity.

Together we can build a future that works, a future that can be bright, a future for everyone.


(An extract of a speech delivered in Washington DC on Nov. 13 2012. Mohamed Abdul Latif Jameel from Saudi Arabia is the owner of the largest Toyota dealership with operations around the world. His company is named after him, and also deals with real estate, software solution, and advertising and media.)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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