In preparation for Sri Lanka’s next Country Partnership Strategy with the World Bank, we’ve been consulting with numerous groups, including those representing youth, for their ideas and feedback. Traveling to all corners of the country and interacting with many youth groups in Sri Lanka, it is clear that youth want more -- more opportunities, more facilities, more acceptance, more inclusion.
In contrast, discussing the same issues with the older generation, their view is that youth are unskilled, lack exposure to real-world challenges, are not dependable, and are too picky about available jobs.
The gap between the perceptions and aspirations of the two groups seems like the two rails of a railway track that are never destined to meet.
My firm belief is that each of us, from every generation, needs to stop expecting someone else to make a difference on our behalf and start acting! Doing small things by taking the challenges into our own hands and finding pragmatic solutions at our personal level can make a bigger difference than just talking and complaining.
I’d like to share a personal experience that made a positive difference to a small group of Sri Lankan youth.
Before joining the World Bank, I founded a marketing communications company. I wanted to make a difference for youth who were less privileged, not proficient in English and didn't belong to the ”right” social circles, through no fault of their own.
My plan was to employ local youth by establishing an island-wide network of brand coordinators. When I met with youth leaders who belonged to an island-wide youth group to explain my vision, they were extremely skeptical and suspicious of the private sector. Their perception was that the private sector was about exploiting the youth. But they were willing to try us.
We enrolled young college graduates as our extended regional team and trained them on the concept of brand activation. We also initiated them into the private-sector culture and provided them with expectations and on-the-job training, which allowed them to develop a career in this field. It also allowed some of them to continue working in their own hometowns.
Their job was to plan, execute, supervise and manage large-scale brand activation projects in all corners of the country for multinational and local blue-chip companies in Sri Lanka. To date, they are part of this network, earning handsomely. They may not speak good English, but they contribute immensely to the growth of the company and the brands in their care.
Though English is the working language of the company, they can speak and present in the language in which they are most comfortable. The blue-chip companies that the brand activation company works with have accepted that it is the content that matters, not the language. These young graduates have blossomed and shone, and many have even been recruited by others once they are trained by the company.
It's undoubtedly a win-win for the company and this young talent in the country.
We also hired undergraduates 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 after they graduate. And we hired school dropouts to work as brand promoters for short-term projects in different parts of the country.
I had the greatest pleasure in identifying more than 1,000 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.
I believe it’s time we stopped theorizing and got down to doing something meaningful. Given the opportunity, the right training, and guidance, youth can make an immense contribution. You only need a positive mindset and a sustainable action plan.
The youth need to keep knocking on doors for opportunities, and we adults should keep opening more doors for them.