Ahead of UN International Youth Day on August 12, Benita Adesuyan talks to the CEO of the Emirates Foundation, Claire Woodcraft-Scott, about the organisation’s youth-empowerment programmes
The Emirates Foundation is a philanthropic organisation that aims to empower young people and help them fulfil their potential. The only British member of the senior management, Claire Woodcraft-Scott, has lived in the Middle East for over 20 years and has been CEO of the Emirates Foundation for three and a half years. She is passionate about empowering young people through the foundation, which runs six programmes to help those aged 15 to 35 acquire the skills and confidence they need to achieve their life goals.
How does the foundation identify the challenges for young people and devise a programme? We study the market, basically – that‘s the joy of the venture philanthropy model, you take a market-based approach. We build our portfolio on what’s happening in the market, seeing what young people need and how we can fill a gap. We identified six gaps in the market and hence we came up with our six programmes and created a service that helps young people change their lives in a positive and permanent way.
What can you tell us about the programmes? Each of the six responds to a specific gap in the market that we think helps young people. We identified that young people don’t have enough financial literacy. They need to be able to navigate a complex financial system, they need to be able to read a balance sheet and most young people can’t do that when they leave school, so we created a financial literacy programme.
Another area we found is that a lot of young Emiratis are not choosing the private sector for job opportunities. Maybe because they don’t know about the private sector or they don’t know how to get access to it. So we have a programme that connects them to private job opportunities through mentoring, internships and placements.
We have a programme for people that drop out of education prematurely, where we give them a second chance with our teacher assistant programme, so that they are not necessarily relegated to a life of unemployment.
We found that a lot of young people have a lot of free time on their hands and don’t know how to deploy that time. This can undermine your confidence, self-esteem and your ability to be an engaged citizen. With the Takatof programme we help young people get involved with their community, build confidence, skill set and sense of responsibility.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge facing young people in the UAE? I think that this onset of the digital revolution is the biggest challenge that young people face. Despite the fact Generation Y are born with iPads in their hands, it doesn’t mean that they understand the implications of a digital world and it doesn’t mean that the older generation is well-equipped to advise them. We’re clearly at the start of a digital revolution and there’s an exponential speed of change that wasn’t around 15 years ago, so it’s about helping young people navigate that space. That’s our job. We’re not here to train or place people in jobs – that’s the role of government – or educate, per se – that’s the role of schools and universities. We’re here to help them navigate the gap between the two and develop personally and professionally.
How many young people have been through the programmes? To date we’ve worked with around 45,000 young people. Most of them are young Emiratis, but we’re inclusive so anyone can join a programme. If you’re a young person, Emirati or not, and you’re confused about what to do with your life, you want support, you want career counselling, need a mentor or want to volunteer and learn more about how to be financially literate, then you only need to go to the website and sign up.
Can working professionals get involved too? Absolutely. They can sign up as a volunteer or sign up to be a mentor if they have ten to 20 years’ experience.
What kind of change do you see in the young people on the programme? I think the biggest thing we give to young people is confidence. It can be difficult to develop self-esteem and some need a mentor, but it can be very powerful. We provide a place where people can grow their self-esteem and confidence and know that they can be an engaged member of society.
What are the future plans of Emirates Foundation? We have our six programmes, but now we want to scale them up. We’ve worked with 45,000, now we want to work with 400,000 people. We have offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi but we want more infrastructure in the northern emirates too. We want Emirates Foundation to be known by young people across the UAE as somewhere they can go for support and empowerment. www.emiratesfoundation.ae (02 404 2994).