There’s been plenty of talk in the UAE press of late about Emiratisation and youth unemployment in the Arab world, with an increasing lack of job opportunities for young people. But what is being done to address the issue, and what can expats to do help? Step forward Injaz-UAE, whose mission is to inspire, train and empower UAE youngsters in preparation for the competitive adult employment market. The group’s solution is to connect students aged 15 to 24 with corporate achievers and private-sector workers, who volunteer to provide mentoring and teach the students job skills. We spoke to Injaz-UAE CEO Sulaf Al-Zu’bi to get the inside track on the programme.
Injaz-UAE was founded six years ago, but you say now is the most relevant time for you. Why is that?
The timing is right because these unemployment and Emiratisation issues are becoming increasingly talked about. We want to give opportunities to the youth, and one of the primary job channels is entrepreneurial activity. But if we want our youth to follow that path, we need to start early. We need to start working on that mindset so they can think about entrepreneurship as a career option. It’s also the right time because Emirati students can seek funding from the Khalifa Fund for enterprise development. So currently they have the opportunities for funding, but they lack the skills to get there. In the GCC you have a lot of youths that are unemployed by choice. It’s not a lack of opportunities, but you have a mismatch between their expectations, what the market can absorb and what it needs. On the other hand there is a huge preference towards government jobs, for obvious reasons. At Injaz, we are the bridge between the private sector and the students.
Can you tell us more about the Injaz-UAE Annual Company Programme competition?
The Company Programme is offered worldwide as well as in the UAE, and is founded upon the premise that it’s better for students to actually try to be entrepreneurs rather than just being told about it – so the classroom is turned into an actual start-up. The students generate ideas with their mentor, they work out the budget, they sell stocks and shares because they have to raise their own capital. Then they come up with a product or service, study its feasibility, and operate. This is a four-month process – the whole idea is for them to try a start-up in a safe, low-cost environment. The group that won the competition last year came up with a business plan for marketing solar-powered lights to consumers.
And these students were only 16 or 17 years old. You say they even raised their own funds?
Yes, they did. Too often we have this culture of ‘I’m going to get money’ and it’s all ‘I’m going to get’, whereas in this case, our students are earning it, and they’re learning different aspects of working in a company. Also, we’re killing two birds with one stone, because they divide themselves into teams – the marketing, the PR, the production, the management and HR. So even if you don’t have the entrepreneurial interest later to start a company, you can work in HR and marketing and still enjoy it.
It actually sounds like a lot of fun.
It is a lot of fun! If I was 16 and somebody came to me and said, ‘Let’s start a company,’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, let’s!’ At Injaz we believe entrepreneurs are made, not born. There is this idea in this part of the world that your father or mother has to be an entrepreneur for you to be one. That’s not the case. At the end of their journey, the Company Programme competition winners also won the FedEx Global Access award, a student company programme award. So it was a huge jump for these public school girls in Barsha, now producing this business idea and winning an award.
Okay, so what can your average Tom, Dick or Ahmed do to support Injaz-UAE?
Volunteer! We invite all professionals from various industries to take part, whether it’s for one-day activities or for extended sessions such as the Company Programme. There is tremendous growth here and a list of 25 schools waiting for volunteers. Whoever is interested can sign up online.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Anissa Punjani, Dubai Corporate Volunteer Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.injaz-uae.org.