Mariavittoria Garlappi

Building bridges across nations with skills, expertise and partnerships

The European Training Foundation (ETF) is a natural bridge between the European Union and the vast European neighbourhood, says Mariavittoria Garlappi, a senior human capital development expert specialising in the skills dimensions of entrepreneurship and migration. It does this by creating and sharing new skills-linked knowledge at the country and regional levels.

Findings from research into migration in seven European neighbourhood countries illustrate the importance of ETF work. Noteworthy, and sometimes counter-intuitive, are rising qualification levels among migrants, and a growing feminisation of the phenomenon – many more migrants are skilled woman on their own, searching for better opportunities.

The ETF also provides expert policy and strategy advice to its 28 partner countries, and leverages partnerships to support education and training systems within and between nations. Its partner countries stretch from North Africa and the Middle East, through the Balkans and Türkiye, to Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.

Entrepreneurship and migration – Hot topics

Garlappi explores new knowledge in her thematic fields of entrepreneurship and migration skills.

“Don’t ask me how I came up with these two; life has its mysteries. But I love these topics. I keep informed about new developments. I look at the realities in our partner countries, so as to develop new understandings and new approaches to skills aspects,” she says.

These are reinforced by networking. Part of Garlappi’s time is spent at events or exchanges with other institutions at the international, European and institutional levels, such as the International Organisation of Migration, the European Commission, universities and research institutes.

ETF experts do not work alone, she stresses:

“Knowledge creation is a collective exercise. Together with colleagues, we prepare and share analyses of what’s happening in a given country or region. We produce policy recommendations, because that’s the main objective of the ETF, and provide support for long-term development in our partner countries at system level. It’s co-creating at a broader level.”

An important aspect of Garlappi’s work is supporting the European Commission's activities in entrepreneurship or migration, and linking them to partner countries.

“The Commission has the big budget and resources, while the ETF is there to provide ideas and recommendations for action.”

Well-grounded expertise

During her 18 years at the ETF, Garlappi has had many roles. She has worked mostly in the Southern Mediterranean, and in a previous job with the Italian Chambers of Commerce, she operated in Central Asia, the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe.

She has worked at the school level, running teacher training and curriculum projects, and even setting up schools. She’s been an ETF country liaison and a country manager – in Palestine, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel and Kosovo. Now she operates more in the thematic policy and strategic arenas.

Her working life has been dedicated to education, although the field of her master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in the United States was international relations.

“I immediately turned to education because I thought that’s the best way to really do aid,” she says. An international relations background has helped her work with partner countries that are very different from EU Member States. “Without this understanding, you risk missing important things.’

A complex terrain

Given the diversity of partner countries, it is not easy to discern a coherent picture of what is going on across the neighbourhood. To resolve some of the complexities, ETF experts work with partner countries and the European Commission to find up-to-date and efficient approaches to any situation.

For instance, says Garlappi, Europe might need more nurses and welders, doctors and truck drivers.

“Quite unexpectedly for many people, the same skills needed for those jobs are also lacking in the countries of origin of migrants who come to Europe. These are common issues.”

Also, for example, people migrate for many reasons:

“Because the salaries are too low, because conditions of work are not decent enough, because the decision to leave your own country is very personal. We may think we are so different, but in fact, we are very similar.”

Having worked in many ETF partner countries, Garlappi also knows their specificities.

“This combination of common trends and country specificities is where the ETF can add something,” she says.

The ETF’s long-term monitoring and assessment of skills policies, systems and performance helps its partner countries to measure how they are performing, track trends and share best practices. The agency monitors country support for small and medium-sized enterprises, including for entrepreneurship training. Garlappi led two rounds of assessment, conducted with the OECD, of how Europe’s Small Business Act has been adopted in North Africa and the Middle East.

The ETF has a voluntary network of centres of vocational excellence. Network centres must fill in a self-assessment tool, and some of the indicators are about entrepreneurship.

“We are able to monitor entrepreneurship at the vocational school level through the network,” Garlappi says.

An entrepreneurial mindset

The European Commission recognises entrepreneurship as a key competence that every citizen should have. The broad nature of Europe’s key competences is reflected in the ETF’s work. Entrepreneurship is seen as not only about promoting business start-ups. Historically, the literature suggests around 8% of a population should be entrepreneurs.

“At the ETF we promote much more than that – an entrepreneurial mindset for everybody in society.”

Entrepreneurship helps make students and teachers flourish, says Garlappi.

“It has to do with creativity and taking the initiative, mobilising the resources around you to add value. This value can be financial, but also cultural or social, without the need to set up a company.”

Entrepreneurial learning can also help self-employed people to better manage their work lives.

“We try to see how far the training system can help to provide an entrepreneurial mindset to everyone. Linked to this campaign, I think entrepreneurship as a mindset is the basis for growth. Because growth is not only economic. It is also about creating value. When a civil servant is effective, when a housewife creates value, when a teacher is entrepreneurial, the whole society moves on.”

Garlappi has been working on the concept of entrepreneurial schools. It is not enough to foster an entrepreneurial mindset through teachers, especially if the overall school and the behaviour of staff are not entrepreneurial. She has been leading a partnership promoting entrepreneurial schools involving five institutions from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Morocco and Tunisia.

Also, she led a major seven-year initiative in Tunisia to promote entrepreneurship as a mindset, around four integrated pillars. The first pillar was policymaking.

“We started by defining what entrepreneurship as a key competence is for Tunisians. Not for the Europeans, not copy-paste.”

A charter of entrepreneurial learning for Tunisia was produced, and agreed with social partners, employers, trade unions, NGOs and ministries.

The second pillar was pedagogy, developing a module and training for trainers.

“It is now compulsory in the overall VET system in Tunisia. I’m very proud of that.”

There was a third pillar looking at what governments can do to help a vocational school be entrepreneurial, and a fourth pillar about networking among practitioners and policymakers. The main message from the initiative is that partnerships are key. This was able to happen because government, schools, trainers, students and social partners were all on board.

“You cannot delegate this only to teachers in school. That doesn’t work,” Garlappi argues. “Parallel to that, you need to have a policy vision, and then pedagogy, and then networking across practitioners and educators, among entrepreneurs and trainers and students.”

Migration or demographic transition?

Migration is a major issue globally. In its favour, people who migrate across borders are natural bridges among countries. But there are big questions around identity. If migrants are seen as undermining people’s identities, migration becomes a problem.

“In the biggest part, they are an opportunity,” says Garlappi. “Europe needs millions of migrants in the coming years as we are an ageing society. And if we want to tackle the green and digital transition, we need skilled people from abroad”.

“The skills dimensions of migration are a win-win for everybody. It’s an area where we can more easily find agreements across countries – more than if we talk about border control or visas or readmission. Very recently, the European Commission launched two very important initiatives to foster legal pathways of labour migration with the countries of origin. The ETF is helping on that. That’s where we can add value.”

Garlappi led a major assessment and monitoring exercise of migration spanning decades and covering seven countries – Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. The ETF team analysed the extent to which the needs of migrants were captured by education and training systems, and what policies and measures were in place to support them. “Next year we want to do this across all ETF partner countries.”

This exercise has produced findings of major significance that will help Europe at large understand and deal optimally with the hot potato of migration. It led to the two emerging trends around rising migrant qualifications and gender. While migrants from the Maghreb region used to be low skilled, today a third of Moroccans abroad have university degree-level education. And one third of skilled migrants are women, leaving their countries alone to find a better life.

Contrary to what many people think, if a country has economic development there will be more, not less, migration in the first phase.

“Migrating is costly, so it’s not the poorest of the poor who can migrate. You need money, you need a network, and you need some character to leave, even from the poorest countries,” says Garlappi.

Migration is a key feature of the seven countries analysed. Despite having at least 10% of their populations abroad, education and training policies are not much concerned about migrants. For instance, equipping them with languages and cultural skills, or providing services.

“The attention has been almost exclusively on remittances so far. Sending people abroad to get money back. While remittances are important, the focus has been changing as countries like Morocco and Tunisia increasingly miss the skilled people they lose.

Now countries want to counter the brain drain. To do that, they need to accompany people abroad, monitor them, and find out if at some point they are ready to invest back.

Together with new policies, “partnerships among sending and receiving countries are needed that can have long-term beneficial effects for both countries and some sustainability mechanism.”

More and more, “we talk about green, digital and demographic transition in Europe. The need we have for people from outside is enormous. So now we call it ‘demographic transition’, rather than migration,” Garlappi concludes.

Whatever the name, the ETF's analysis makes it clear that the green, digital and demographic transitions link to each other – and to the entrepreneurial imperative.

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