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DU grad helps build economy in Palestine

Rob Jordan started Idealist Consulting to help Palestinians create jobs.

For a while there, Rob Jordan had a pretty cushy lifestyle.

He was living in Bellingham, Wash., where he worked for an outdoor equipment company selling ankle weights for SCUBA shops.

“I was 27 years old, had a house, two cars … and I was bored,” he recalls.

Now, he’s a little more engaged — but then again, he’s working on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s initiative to promote stability in the Middle East by developing technological infrastructure in the West Bank.

“Jobs are really the answer to helping reduce strife,” says Jordan, who minored in Middle Eastern studies while working toward his master’s degree in international studies at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. “It’s very difficult for Palestinians [to engage in] commercial trade because the borders [with Israel and Jordan] are so incredibly tight. When you have poor people, especially poor young men, you end up with angry, desperate people. Desperate people do desperate things.”

And, despite his early beginnings, Jordan has seen his share of desperate people.

 It all changed for him one day when he closed a big deal with a client.

“He was going out of business,” Jordan recalls. “I sold him the ankle weights so I could make a sales quota. My boss was very proud, and I wasn’t. I was like, ‘What am I doing? I’m just making money to make money.’ So I decided to take a hiatus.”

For Jordan, that meant a few months of traveling, followed by a stint with the Peace Corps in Ukraine, where he was assigned to work with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to help grow small businesses. He even stayed on to work with the NGO for a year after his Peace Corps service because it gave him his first taste of international business development — but also his first glimpse of corruption.

“I had to bribe people for my mail,” he recalls.

So when his wife landed a job in Colorado — and he learned that the Korbel School gave scholarships to former Peace Corps volunteers — it was a done deal. He enrolled and graduated in November 2001 with a master’s degree in international studies.

Since then, he has worked for nonprofits abroad. He spent three years overhauling administrative policies for an organization in Costa Rica, where illicit activities were rampant among customers and staff. In the U.S, one of his first independent clients hired him — not for his business management expertise, but to install its computer network.

“I’d installed one network before — I figured I’d figure it out,” he says.

Jordan’s go-with-the-flow attitude is probably what changed his life. When his wife’s employer needed someone to design a database to help a nonprofit manage fundraising, Jordan was the obvious choice.

“What gave me an edge was that I was not afraid of learning technology and that I had experience with nonprofit business management — not so much that I knew about databases,” he says.

He used a customer-relationship management system administered by — a company that, unbeknownst to Jordan, was seeking nonprofit partners. When Salesforce officials heard Jordan was successfully using their database with nonprofits, they offered to make him a consulting partner — waiving the usual $10,000 fee along with the cost of their product.

The deal spurred Jordan to launch his own company, Idealist Consulting.

“Our mission is to provide nonprofits with as much free or gifted technology as we can, and deploy it,” he says. “We work in cloud computing technology. It’s all on remote servers online, so we can work with companies all over the globe.”

Jordan floated the idea of using the technology to build economic security for Palestinians and, ultimately, to ease tensions in the Middle East. Working with and the Carana Corp., Idealist Consulting would help Palestinians create jobs by building their own cloud-based businesses.

“It allows Palestinian consulting firms to sell technology services anywhere in the world without having to cross borders,” he says.

And unlike jobs that develop physical infrastructure, cloud computing jobs are accessible to anyone — even women, who in a traditional society are expected to remain at home.

“Technology is an androgynous economy. It doesn’t care whether you can lift 300 pounds or 50 pounds,” Jordan says. “It doesn’t care how old you are. It doesn’t care where you live or what religion you are. Cloud computing doesn’t care how easy it is for you to travel.”

Jordan’s idea took.

Project Palestine received $500,000 in gifted technology and labor, as well as the support of Clinton, who has made Middle Eastern affairs a priority. The project formally kicked off last December in a ceremony with Clinton — he attended the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence ceremony — and left for Ramallah this June. The project is projected to be a year long.

There’ll be no hiatus when this gig is up, though. Once he gets back, he plans to do the same thing all over again — this time in Haiti.

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