A million dollar question which has been there from as long as I can remember. Same issues, same discussions, same conclusions. So what’s new? The Non Youth are discussing the issues…the Youth are complaining with not much impact.
I had the privilege of meeting and consulting with diverse youth groups in the country – north, south, east and west, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, some who belonged to activist groups and some others who were ‘stand alones’. All these Youth simply said one thing. They wanted more than what they had now. More opportunities, more facilities, more acceptance, more inclusion… The lists were very long.
I also heard the issues raised by the Non Youth, I mean the adults. Their view was that the youth were unskilled, they lacked exposure, they were not dependable, they were picky with the jobs on offer … Their lists were very long too.
The two sets of issues seemed like a railway track that was never destined to meet.
My firm belief is that each one of us, both Youth and Non Youth, need to stop winging, expecting someone beyond us to make a difference, but start acting! Talking, deliberating, protesting hasn’t got anybody ant where, has it? Doing small things by taking the challenges into our own hands and finding pragmatic solutions at our personal level is my mantra. This is my humble prescription moving forward. Making a difference within one’s own small universe is how I believe one could contribute to this widely debated topic called the ‘Youth Factor’.
Speaking about my own experience may sound very much like blowing my own trumpet. But I have no other way of sharing a positive intervention that had tremendous impact, very small in measure, but big in effect.
Here’s my story…in my previous avatar in the private sector.
When I was given the mandate to start a media neutral communications company for Ogilvy, my first thought was ‘how am I going to make a difference to the less advantageous Youth of this country?’ This thought occurred to me due to two reasons: I am a local graduate and I had realized my dreams without the support of any body. It was mere passion and hard work that had got me to where I was. I had also seen how doors hardly opened for Youth who were not proficient in English and who didn’t really belong to the ‘right’ social circles, due to no fault of theirs. I had told myself that I was going to change their destiny some day. That day had come, because I was in the driving seat!
My business plan for the company had a clear mandate – to only employ local graduates and to see how the unemployed school drop outs who had no particular career goal were going to be absorbed to the Ogilvy process. This was a differentiator I was going to use for the benefit of the company, going forward.
The first thing I did was talking to the then Chairman of the National Youth Services Council (NYSC) and asking if I could create an island wide Ogilvy Network using the NYSC membership. He readily agreed as he too was looking at collaborating with the private sector. When I met Youth Leaders to explain my vision, they were extremely skeptical and suspicious of the Private Sector. Their perception was that private sector was about exploiting the youth. I had to do a lot of convincing before they agreed to consider my proposition. I had to explain some principles on which this company was going to be founded, like not getting involved in socially harmful products like cigarettes, alcohol and of course politics. They were willing to ‘test’ my pledges, by joining in. I succeeded in creating an island wide youth network as district coordinators for Ogilvy Action. They were going to be Ogilvy’s regional eyes, ears and on ground implementers. These rural youth were given an on the job training and in addition a strong induction on Ogilvy values and principles. A thorough training on private sector culture and expectations was also a part of this strenuous training. Being a District Coordinator for Ogilvy Action was indeed a lucrative career option for them and they didn’t have to move to Colombo either.
To date, they are a part of this network and some of them earn over Rs 40,000 per month! They don’t speak good English, but they manage to contribute immensely to the growth of the company. It’s undoubtedly a win-win for both the company and this young talent in the country.
Next is the opportunity given to the local, non English speaking graduates. The company has been hiring these young boys and girls fresh from the universities through the use of ‘word of mouth communication strategies’. They are given a very clear idea about the expectation and commitment. Though English is the working language, the ambience is created for them to speak and present in the language that they are most comfortable in. The Blue chip companies that Ogilvy works with have accepted that it’s the content that matters and not the language. These young graduates have blossomed and shone and have even been grabbed by others once trained by Ogilvy.
Ogilvy also have created an opportunity for under graduates to work part time to earn pocket money while learning on the job, during their free time. Some of these part timers are absorbed to the company post their graduation. This is the third model Ogilvy has been working on.
I have had the greatest pleasure in identifying these young hopefuls, mentoring them, training them not just on work, but about life skills as well and putting them on the fast track to developing their chosen career. More than one thousand youth may have passed through the annals of Ogilvy Action and the process continues even after I had bid adieu to the company.
I believe it’s time we stopped theorising and got down to doing something meaningful. If given an opportunity is given to them with training and guidance, benefits could be immense. You only need a positive mindset and a sustainable action plan.
The Youth need to keep knocking on opportunities and the Non Youth should keep opening more doors for them.