What do you want to be when you grow up?” is becoming an impossible question for kids today, who are studying for jobs that don’t even exist yet, in industries their prehistoric parents (that’ll be us) have never even heard of. But, luckily, there’s a growing community of innovators and entrepreneurs here in the UAE, who are passionate about preparing our children for the careers of the future, and teaching them that the sky is no longer the limit – in fact, they should (literally) just head straight for Mars instead.
Sally Ann Della Casa runs one-day to full-week business bootcamps for children as young as seven through her organisation Growing Leaders Foundation. “Parents are conscious that their children will be living in a world very different from the one we live in today and they are eager to provide them with tools to become entrepreneurial in mindset,” she explains. “In our young business bootcamps, we are teaching the same start-up concepts that we use with adult entrepreneurs and we can tell you that the kids grasp these concepts way faster than the adults, since they go in without assumptions and inhibitions.”
The bootcamps focus on a range of aspects from discovering your leadership style and how to use a business canvas through to validating an idea and presenting a product or service to the market.
“These kids are the Elon Musks of our time, if we give them the tools to harness and bring their ideas to life,” Della Casa believes. “One girl on a recent bootcamp had a brilliant idea for an app, providing solutions for life on Mars. In short, these kids are innovating way bigger than the adults and they are ready to solve issues beyond this planet!”
But it’s not just adults teaching the kids here. Della Casa is also harnessing the fact that the most innovative ideas are usually the simplest and most obvious ones – and it is children who spot these first, long before they have dawned on us grown-ups. Which is why local companies Fetchr and Fruitful Day jumped at the chance to get involved and offer their advice and experience to the bootcamp students recently – in return for some child genius perspective on their real-life business models.
Tariq Sanad, CFO of new courier service Fetchr, says: “The youth bootcamps sparked our interest in helping to encourage children to build on the ideas and innovations they come up with, so they realise having a career is not just about getting a job somewhere.
“The kids we worked with understood more about the fundamentals of business than one might think and they made things really simple – where adults unfortunately like to make them complex – and this was a real eye-opener for us as a business,” Sanad admits.
“As a result, we are bringing two kids in to be Child Executive Officers for the day this month so that our product and growth teams can present new ideas to them to see how they react and give the kids the opportunity to work with us on these ideas,” he reveals. “It’s an experiment, but we are confident it will bring insights we probably would have otherwise missed.”
Marie-Christine Luijckx, managing partner of fruit delivery service Fruitful Day, agrees. “There is nothing like pitching your business to a group of young people – they’ll give it to you straight,” she says.
“We talked to the children about a new gifting range we are about to launch and what we needed to make it successful. We had a lot of fun brainstorming and the children insisted we include some chocolate with our fresh fruit to make it more appealing, which we’ve actually taken on board in the form of some dark chocolate shavings for dipping fruit into.”
So how does Della Casa see her students’ ideas turning into reality? “My younger students have monetised their business ideas online, via channels such as YouTube,” she says. “But clearly parent support is needed for their projects to get further and, to be honest, many parents are not there yet – they are eager for their kids to be exposed to entrepreneurship and get the mindset, but this is being totally kid-driven.
“My older students have all gone on to do amazing things. One has developed an app that controls a robot that races camels, mines camel racing data and is changing the way camels are being purchased.
“As a result, the entire camel racing industry in the region is changing,” Della Casa says.
“Between the ages of nine and 12, a child’s brain is fully developed but not yet influenced by who the world wants him or her to be.
“It is then that we need to encourage curiosity, open-minded thinking and innovative doing, along with the ability to problem- and pattern-solve, plus have a sense of empathy towards others and communicate.”
Check out www.growing leadersfoundation.com to sign your kid up for the next young business bootcamp.