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In June 1959, following requests by non-Jewish bodies, the World ORT Union Executive Committee decided to establish a technical assistance department, which would undertake, on behalf of governments, international organisations and voluntary agencies, training programmes in underdeveloped areas. Its philosophy was based on a belief in the need to extend ORT’s technical knowledge, experience and pedagogical teaching methods to non-Jewish communities in the developing world.

After much reflection and debate at the 1960 ORT Congress in London, it was concluded that the humanitarian aspects of the proposed initiative could not be ignored. The Congress ratified the decision with the proviso that nothing be done to deplete personnel and ORT experts from the basic programme. ORT’s Director General, Max Braude devoted his energies to extending this new field of ORT work. He assumed overall responsibility for it, assisted, in Geneva, first by Charles Levinson and, later, by Eugene Abrams, who headed the ORT Department of Technical Assistance. Since the U.S. Government could not proceed in areas of technical assistance unless projects were implemented by an American agency, American ORT played a large role in many of these undertakings.

In June 1960, American ORT signed an agreement with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to assess the vocational education needs in eight newly independent African countries: Mali, Guinea, Sierra-Leone, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Dahomey (now Benin), Ethiopia and Cameroon.  Missions took place in September 1961 and some of their recommendations were then implemented, with Guinea being among the first beneficiaries. Between 1962 and 1970 ORT established and operated an industrial/technical training school in Conakry, Guinea, offering high level technical training in 17 vocational skill areas.

Over the years, the department was successful in securing funding from multilateral agencies (e.g., World Bank), national governments (e.g., Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), private companies (e.g., Shell) and other organisations (e.g., George Soros Open Society Foundations). It undertook projects in many, varied fields such as agriculture and forestry, vocational and technical education, transportation, healthcare, nutrition, information technology, women empowerment, etc. For example, from 1977 to 2005, the department was involved in a rural development programme in Senegal, financed by the Swiss Development Agency. They helped to redevelop four existing schools in agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry in Ziguinchor, St Louis and Bambey.

Courses were also offered for current staff to upgrade their skills and helped local farmers’ organisations in training their members in crop, livestock production, pest and disease management, etc. Rwandans, Chadians and Guineans also attended the schools thanks to grants offered by the Swiss Development Agency.  In Guinea, from 1968 to 1995, IC collaborated with a private firm, CBG (Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee). They trained over 1000 technicians in a variety of roles: mining, equipment maintenance, road, rail and port infrastructure. Instruction also took place in Europe, in ORT schools in France and at the ORT Central Training Institute in Anières, Switzerland. The latter welcomed, for example, from 1974 to 1993 more than 450 individuals from Africa, Asia and Latin America to train as teachers.

In 1984, the Technical Assistance department was renamed the International Cooperation Department (ICD). In the early 1990s, it also developed programmes of democracy governance in the emancipated countries of the former Soviet Union. ICD had several offices worldwide, the main ones being London, Washington and Geneva. The latter office mainly dealt with projects financed by the African Development Bank and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The Washington office managed projects financed by US based organisations (like USAID) and in London, ICD worked with European based organisations. Over its first 50 years’ existence, the department implemented more than 350 projects in 98 countries, helping individuals gain skills, fulfil their potential and become self-reliant.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s aid funding became harder to secure due to conflicts and economic problems globally. The IC department suffered loss of revenue and its activities were reduced for a time. In 2001, an IC Standing Committee was created in Washington which looked at the history of the department, the challenges it faced and devised a recovery plan. This included strengthening the work of IC with national ORT organisations – ORT South Africa and ORT Russia in particular. Over the next few years IC worked on several projects in Africa, developing programmes in Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa. In Europe, it worked on advocacy programmes and support for people with disabilities in Montenegro. In addition, IC programmes were implemented by ORT Russia in partnership with Hewlett-Packard. This was also extended to Ukraine with a five-year community development project in the 'youth empowerment zone' of Slavutych located within 50 kilometers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, as well as ICT skills projects.

In Latin America ORT Chile established a strategic alliance with the biggest national networking telecommunications company, CTC Telefonica, in which both parties agreed to organise computer training courses for the benefit of people with disabilities all over the country, as well as reinsertion training courses for inmates in different prisons around the country. IC also continued to work in Asia and the Pacific. It provided skills training in and improved agriculture and roads in Sri Lanka (2005-2010). The programme improved living conditions for families in communities severely affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, and improved their access to clean water and markets. As part of the programme, ORT worked with a local Sri Lankan organisation, Shilpa, to provide vocational training and income generation skills to women in Sri Lanka’s hard-hit south east region.

In 2010, ORT IC worked in Haiti following the earthquake. Thanks to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and UNESCO, training in earthquake-resistance building techniques was provided to over 700 construction workers. In 2011, with local partner Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH), the World ORT NPH vocational school was also opened, offering courses such as paramedic training, electricity, plumbing, etc. Students were able to alternate weekly between the classroom and the workplace, which not only enhanced the training, but also helped graduates find a job.

World ORT IC has earned a reputation for excellence in providing technical assistance, training and capacity building services in a wide variety of sectors. Whereas most charities and non-profit organisations in the field of international development primarily target humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, World ORT IC is well-known as a major provider of long-term technical assistance that meets local needs and builds a self-sustainable local management capacity. Despite this excellent reputation and track record, in recent decades the international development funding scene had become highly competitive and funding for projects was becoming increasingly difficult to secure. In 2015, World ORT suspended its involvement in international cooperation projects in the hope that this is just a pause in activities, rather than an ending. More recently it has begun work in Greece, supporting refugee women from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries affected by violence and conflict. The programme provides vocational training while also offering counselling and psychosocial support. In Ghana, a recent innovative STEM training project enables young girls and women from low-income backgrounds to take after-school and weekend courses in graphic design, game design, coding, video editing and academic subjects including mathematics and science.