Monday, April 6

The power of the youth

Aston University invited me to deliver a lecture, so thought of using the time to go visit SIFE.

Meet a bunch of very enthusiastic and passionate young people who are members of the SIFE community. Quoting from their website:

Working with leading corporate partners and member universities, SIFE establishes student programs on campuses around the world. With the support and encouragement of their faculty advisors and a local business advisory board, SIFE students apply business concepts to develop community outreach projects that improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need.

SIFE teams’ projects address a variety of topics, such as market economics, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, personal success skills, environmental sustainability and business ethics. Rather than mandating a uniform set of projects, teams are encouraged to work within the framework of these topics while adapting their approach to the diverse needs of people in different communities. The result is a program that is global in scope and purpose with the flexibility and responsiveness of a community-based organization.

Being a sort of a volunteer in this organisation, a representative of the bank sponsoring quite a lot of their work. Hence, I go about the various universities in the world speaking to the students, assisting and guiding them on their projects and generally being a pain in the patootie. I also assist in the judging of competitions and stuff.

The students were really good. I found their eyes alight with enthusiasm. Here’s what the SIFE website says:

SIFE provides university students with the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to their communities while also discovering their potential to achieve an even greater impact as the business leaders of tomorrow. It’s this balance between immediacy of results and the continual development of effective, responsible leaders that defines the SIFE program and is essential to creating truly sustainable change.

By using the business concepts they are learning in the classroom to help others, SIFE students develop stronger business and leadership skills, as well as a sense of service and responsibility to the community and world around them. They’re emerging as leaders who understand the opportunity for business to make a positive economic, social and environmental impact. It’s the reason so many top companies have identified SIFE as a leading source of socially responsible business talent.

And yes, I saw these students. You know what? I find that seeing them fills me with hope for the future. They were smart, enthusiastic, dedicated and have been doing this for the past so many years, passing the torch from student to student, always being engaged and really making a difference to the common person down in society. I met them and listened to their competition presentation, which had some very interesting initiatives. I gave them some hints on how to improve the initiatives and how to better give the presentations. However, what was more important was the initiatives that they are doing. I am liberally borrowing from their presentations with due apologies :)

It's not like that the student were from business studies, but gratifyingly, I saw students from a variety of disciplines, such as management, French, German, International Relations, Strategy, Politics, English language, and international business. A good smattering of subjects.

The first initiative was to work with The Children's Hospital to see,

“How can we motivate these children to become environmentally aware, whilst giving them the courage to succeed in the business world?”

These students are working with the kids to reduce, recycle and reuse. The next initiative is

“How can we encourage young people to learn more about how businesses trade on an international scale, if they have no prior knowledge of the subject? “

Look at the progress they made in terms of understanding complex concepts after the students got engaged with the children?


The next initiative was:

How can we expect disadvantaged young people to survive in an increasingly competitive environment without the essential skills?

Disadvantaged sounds like such a simple non-threatening word, no? But these students are working with Children in Care, children whose family lives have been shattered, completely spoilt by their parents, who are either drug addicts or in prison for sexual assault or what have you. Then we also have the homeless young people, who have run away from home to escape from abusive parents or those who have simply fallen through the cracks. And finally they work with youth offenders, children who have started engaging in criminal activities or have been sentenced to jail terms. How do you fix these issues? These university students are actually doing something about them. They are giving them training and sacrificing valuable time of their own so that they can do some productive work.

They started small, with only 22 young people who had 23 sessions spread over 6 weeks. They learnt about bank accounts, budgeting and budgets and interest rates. Each one of them went through guidance on how to write a CV and cover letters and practiced with mock interviews. And 3 were actually invited to a real interview for a job. Not much, you might think, but I believe that this is a huge improvement. That’s civil society in operation and each took one of them away at least something in terms of knowledge gained.

The next initiative was

With a fall in graduate jobs how can we give graduates another route to success?

They invited 300 graduates and worked with various local firms and banks to arrange for entrepreneurship training and opportunities. Jobs are disappearing these days, but that doesn't mean that the graduates should do nothing. Thankfully the firms assisted in pushing the graduates to think about working through opportunities to start their own business.

But what impressed me most was that these students actually asked a basic question:

How can we expect our projects to have a significant impact without ensuring our own sustainability?


This is crucial! Public service does not mean sucking on government largesse, but should be self sustainable. So the students themselves actually arranged for ticketed events (a gruesome hideous jelly bath event. A picture is shown above.) They are also seeking sponsorships from firms to make sure that their work and funding is sustainable. Very creditable indeed.

I was reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s speech on the wonderful world of youth and I am taking the liberty to quote segments of it:

Supreme value of youth period is incalculable and indescribable. Youth life is the most precious life. Youth is the best time. The way in which you utilize this period will decide the nature of coming years that lie ahead of you. Your happiness, your success, your honour and your good name all depend upon the way in which you live now, in this present period. Remember this. This wonderful period of the first state of your life is related to you as the soft wet clay in the hands of the potter. Skilfully the potter gives it the right and correct shapes and forms, which he intends to give. Even so, you can wisely mould your life, your character, your physical health and strength, in short your entire nature in any way in which you make up your mind to do. And you must do this now.

O fortunate youth, recognize this great duty. Feel this wonderful privilege. Take up this adventure. God watches you graciously, ever ready to help and guide. I wish you to be great. The world has put its faith in you. Your elders keep their hopes in you. Now youth means to place your firm confidence in yourself and exercise your hopeful determination and resolution and willing good intentions in this beautiful task of self-culture. This will truly bring supreme satisfaction and fulfilment not only to you, but also to all concerned. The shaping of your life is indeed in your own hands.

To imagine that a whole host of these teams across the world are working towards similar goals makes me feel alive. What a wonderful collaboration of students helping others! When I saw the enthusiasm and motivation of these young folks, I was humbled and I can only wish them the best.

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