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How has AMIDEAST helped the Lebanese in their pursuit of higher education in the US?
Helping people who are interested in higher education in the US was one of the first things we started when the organization was opened in Lebanon. We have helped several generations of Lebanese access colleges and universities in the US, which number over 4500 accredited institutions. The strength of the US system is that it has programs that can fit anyone’s needs in terms of their academic background, their financial wherewithal, or their diverse interests, such as combining two or three different majors to develop a certain expertise. 
 
The Education USA Center at AMIDEAST is one of over 400 centers supported by the US government around the world to make sure there are professional and unbiased advisors available to help everybody. So we have professional advisors who help students navigate all stages of the university application system. One key feature that distinguishes our work is that we are not an agent of any one school. We work based on what we believe is the right option for all students according to their profiles and ambitions. We represent them all and help them connect with the right schools. This professional counseling service is free to everybody. Our Advisors travel all over the country to provide workshops, and individuals can come and meet with the advisors about their specific interests and questions about the application process. We also help in researching the institutions that might offer scholarships and financial aid for foreign students, for which there is a growing need. We have helped many students not just win admissions to leading US universities, but also win scholarships and financial aid awards. 
 
You are widely known in Lebanon for your standardized testing services. Could you tell us a little more about the academic and professional examinations you administer and the scores achieved?
In fact, we administer more than 27,000 tests each year, both computer- and paper-based. Most people know us for the college admission tests, but one of the trends I have seen over the time I have been Country Director is more and more professional certification exams for just about every field and sector: -Certified Management Accountant (CMA®), Project Management Professional® (PMP®), United States . Medical Licensing Examination,  exams, Certified Information System Auditor (CISA), etc. There are literally hundreds of professional certification exams, many of which are delivered through the computer based test centers which we host. GRE®, MCAT®, TOEFL® and SAT® are the most widely known academic tests. People are often surprised to know that even though we administer the tests AMIDEAST does not have access to students’ scores; they are linked to privacy laws in the US where the tests are developed. 

What about English courses and programs?
We began offering English language courses in 1980 and have served many different types of people over the years. We have courses open to the public based on each person’s current level of English . Usually we have a very interesting and diverse mix in classes, from housewives to doctors,  from bank employees to engineers, in fact, people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Some of the English courses are sponsored by different companies or institutions for their employees. We offer training for different companies, institutions and NGOs which have a target pool of people they want us to train. We have worked for fifteen years with the Institute of Finance, training employees in the Ministry and, more broadly, in the public sector where we provide the English training at their premises. 

Among the English programs we have launched is an important program with the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon: the English Access Microscholarship Program, which provides English training each year for 1160 teenagers -- all of them public school students --  in 58 different villages throughout Lebanon. This project is designed specifically to engage the underprivileged youth of Lebanon in a two-year adventure of learning and empowerment. AMIDEAST has just graduated the 9th cohort of Access students, all of whom find the program to be very helpful for their future studies and careers. 

It is said that public schools fare poorly in languages. Based on your program, how did you find English proficiency in public schools?
There are some public schools that teach languages very well, and there are others that don’t. Most importantly, just because a school is private, it does not necessarily mean the school is better. One has to look school by school to determine language competencies. It is important not to generalize about public and private schools, and instead to look at key issues that affect the quality of the education, such as the leadership of the school, the abilities of the teachers, and the level of community support there is for the school. 

Which programs/projects are assigned the highest budgets?
Each AMIDEAST program has its own timeline, budget, source of funding, intended beneficiaries and objective. It is a pool of about two dozen programs and services every year. Typically, the large-scale development projects have bigger budgets, and we are currently working on three different USAID-funded projects in the country in partnership with other organizations. One is supporting 150 local organizations with capacity building and training. Another, D-RASATI 2, works with the Ministry of Education to support public schools nationwide. Our role in this project is focused on three components: the School Improvement Program (we worked directly with 205 schools and 630 school leaders), Leadership Development Program (we worked with Lebanese University to train 583 school principals in a 9-month leadership curriculum) and Extra-curricular Activities (117 schools have been served so far). A new program, Improved Basic Education Services Program, was just launched a few months ago, and will focus on early grade reading literacy for students in elementary school and access for students who are not in school, both Lebanese and refugee children. 

Other programs we are proud of include the professional training programs we offer. We have a very popular workshop on social media and other workshops on project management, Human Resource management, and several soft skills workshops. We also have a really strong program on entrepreneurship training, which we launched five years ago, as part of a global initiative with the technology company Cisco. We are helping people in Lebanon who want to start or grow their businesses. We offer very hands-on and practical workshops that help them with the specifics of establishing a business from the business plan process, registration requirements, legalities, marketing, and all key aspects of running a business.. And all of the curriculum was customized specifically to Lebanon’s system. We provide ongoing support, mentoring and linkages, and have already helped several hundred aspiring entrepreneurs. 

How does political and security unrest affect your work?
If you look at the map where AMIDEAST works, you will see that many of the countries we work in have faced unrest and war including Lebanon. But we have a long-term commitment to these countries. Certainly security problems affect our work. For example, we launch a project and have a clear work plan but when security problems erupt, we have to make a plan B, and sometimes a plan C. With the Access program for example, we plan activities throughout the year where we try to bring the students from all regions together but sometimes, unrest forces some students to miss these activities if parents feel it is not safe for their children to come. 

What is your annual budget?
The budget fluctuates from year to year depending on the different programs available. On average, it would be between five to six million dollars per year. AMIDEAST is proud to implement a number of programs with funding from the US government and US embassy, and this represents approximately half of our annual revenue. The other half comes from corporations, foundations and private donors. Our work to help entrepreneurs is a good example of how other donors are allowing us to contribute to this important need in the country: We are in the 4th year of an entrepreneurship program supporting women in five countries, including Lebanon, which is funded by Citi Foundation. The AMIDEAST Entrepreneur Institute is funded by the members of our Advisory Board, who are all successful Lebanese business and civic leaders, who want to help aspiring entrepreneurs start their own businesses and create jobs for others living here.  Such private support is critical for launching new initiatives that allow AMIDEAST to expand its impact.  


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