Rombout Peer ’91 and his wife, Jacqueline, journeyed to Australia for sabbatical in search of what they wanted for their lives. What they ultimately discovered is that helping others find direction also adds meaning to their own lives.
After years in politics and management consulting in the Netherlands, a sabbatical in Australia and time developing their idea in South Africa, the pair launched Peer Facilitation in 2008. The consulting firm transforms executive leadership training into a program that helps the chronically unemployed uncover their skills and passions.
The program begins by teaching participants to develop trust, recognize emotional intelligence and deal with individual responsibility. Participants then learn to align their goals and passions while they formulate a plan for reintegration to the work force.
“This program actually shifts the mindset of these people — who don’t believe in anything anymore — so they can be effective,” Peer said. “If you resolve the mindset before addressing the skills, than they can really be valuable to their employers.”
Early results have been positive. Within one year of implementing the program in the Netherlands, the Peers received a national award for Best Practice in addressing unemployment issues in the country. Within 18 months, more than 400 long-time unemployed people had completed the program. Many participants have found more than work — they have found themselves.
Peer recalls one participant, a roofer who had suffered an emotional downward spiral. He had lost his career, his family and was contemplating suicide. During the first few days of the workshop, the man swore at people and refused to participate.
“At the end, he came up with tears in his eyes and said it was the most amazing experience he has ever had,” Peer said. “With some assistance, he was able to start his own roofing company.”
The program gained momentum and drew international attention. But suddenly Jacqueline Peer became sick and died within months. Peer was devastated.
He struggled to move on but ultimately decided he had to continue the program himself. Unfortunately, public funding dried up because of Europe’s financial crisis.
“Sometimes I wonder how to keep going, but one of the last things she told me was that she would guide me from another dimension,” Peer said.
Today, Peer has relocated to Johannesburg — where he first developed the program — and in a city where the unemployment rate is at least 20 percent. He is working to make the same impact in South Africa that he made in the Netherlands. He also hopes to bring the program to the United States.
Peer credits Thunderbird for much of his success and said that his education not only equipped him with the skills to start a business but, also sparked an interest in social entrepreneurship.
“People always ask me, ‘Aren’t these people unemployed for a reason?’” Peer said. “But I believe people are people, and this type of work is about giving people an opportunity. When you give them these types of leadership skills, they can make a difference.”