Open Door Policy

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The New Year is full of promise. Looking and listening to what people have to say, in newspapers, social media or the radio, there is little doubt that expectations for 2018 to be more productive and successful than the preceding year are very high.

I am of the same view; but only if we are going to do things differently.  What do we need to do, when do we do it and how do we do it? Just wishing for a productive year is not enough without definite plans about doing. We must do to be able to produce different results; act out the plan and keep at it until something happens.

Something is happening…I had the pleasure of attending a fundraising breakfast for a young women’s organisation called KUPES. This organisation is the brainchild of one dynamic young lady who I had the pleasure to meet back in my days in a different setting. Even back then her name was synonymous with action, energy, curiosity and can-do-it attitude. I was fascinated because she was both implementing programs and also solving problems as they arose. One meeting I had with her and I was totally convinced that Norena Chiteba was going places.

Like most things, hers was a small beginning. However, her idea was organic, evolving and growing. The idea was to create a forum for young people to speak amongst themselves, to be heard and seek opportunities that are elusive when you stand alone. Since inception in 2009, it has evolved into an important organisation for all young people. They offer all sorts of personal and social support services. They learn by doing and confronting their situations head on and finding the solutions they are looking for themselves or through their peers. Problem solving is growing up. It builds capacity and confidence for young ones to face their challenges. Norena Chiteba is my candidate for ‘Action Express’ award. The ability to figure out a need and identify the recipient and bring them together is doing. I call it Action Express because it is direct and impactful.

I am involved with activities focussing on young ladies too, with specific emphasis on all things financial. Whether we are teaching girls to be assertive, creative or ambitious, my contribution is that financial literacy is a source of empowerment. Financial literacy, women and girls empowerment, entrepreneurship and leadership (in that order). New Faces New Voices is an organisation registered in November 2016 under the Graca Machel Trust. Its objectives are to utilise the position of women in the financial sector to enhance access of other women to finance. It also seeks to have women pursue higher positions in their institutions through skills training, self-study, mentoring and coaching. The belief is that this approach will breed a pool of gender sensitive women in positions of influence so that other women are better served. In looking at this strategic objective, New Faces New Voices (NFNV) Zambia chapter had to come up with the most impactful approach to enabling this constituency to benefit in the shortest possible time.

Under the Graca Machel Trust are several other sub-units all focussing on women and their possible elevation to acceptable levels of financial participation. It is heartening to note that, other than NGO- led or indeed foreign based initiatives like the GMT, there are many local organisations like KUPES who are doing exactly the same thing. They need to be noted, supported financially and in other ways. Well done Norena for raising the flag!

Her work has certainly heightened awareness of the needs that are all around us; especially among young ladies. The girls have realised that they actually have to pursue their dreams themselves and tell their own stories. There are opportunities out there but only if you seek them and fight for them. You hear this everywhere. A waitress in the restaurant, hairdressers in salons, an attendant at the tailor’s shop, a cashier at the supermarket, a petrol attendant…the story is pervasive. These girls are in transit, working at various jobs to save money to proceed with studies that have been abandoned because of lack of funds. One can only commend these small entrepreneurs who employ these girls with little or no qualifications albeit at very minimal salaries while they are trying to help themselves to achieve their ultimate goals. They do not hide the fact that as soon as they make the money required they will be leaving. Maybe the problem sited by many entrepreneurs about high turnover of workers with little skills stems from this phenomenon. Easy to join and easy to leave. SME’s on their part cannot afford to employ experts.  So this pool of half-educated young people is a cheap source at their disposal.

Perhaps this is where the solutions lie. The convergence of the unskilled and expedient needs of SME’s.

In general SME’s will help to employ these hordes of not so skilled young people but also create opportunities for them access funds. Funds remains the driving force of this movement of young people in most sectors. While the bulk of the needs are cash to pay for tuition, there are other needs required which actually do not need cash. These young people actually have aspirations. They want to be heard. They also want comfort and security to air their innermost dilemma without ridicule or humiliation. They want to feel safe. They want role models to affirm their dreams and that they are attainable. They want to solve their problems and make their own decisions.

What is not readily available is an organised structure that helps them to systematically deal with their challenges. Mentorship from experienced persons to help them untangle their challenges and prioritise issues. Sometimes the issue is information; sometimes its emotional support; sometimes its affirmation that you are good the way you are; yes, sometimes it’s about money. Many times it’s about opening doors and using the existing networks. Networks are very valuable and we who have them may not use them for ourselves but lend them to young ones for their use. I believe this is the true value of our networks, when we use it for someone else’s benefit.

My appeal to all my colleagues in my networks is to make a conscious effort to help these young people when they arrive at your various busy doors. Often the gatekeepers want to insist on appointments or some prior notices. This can be a nuisance but I believe these referrals are few and far between. Just pause, and try place yourself in the shoes of this novice that wants a few minutes of your time. Take yourself back to the time when you needed to collect data for your research; or was looking for expert insight into the workings of a particular industry or indeed prospects of a paid or unpaid internship. Stop to listen and hear them out. If you cannot deal with them directly, which is often the case, hand them over to someone else who will deal with them the way you would, and follow up to ensure that they get what they came for.

It has happened in some instances that when such people are referred and when they get there they get frustrated by the tough entry requirements. The gatekeepers just won’t let them past the door. In short, the whole referral system must be seamless. Those to whom referrals are made must be of a mindset that deliberately sympathises with the plight of young people and accept them when they call. That way their supporting staff will enable these people through. It is overwhelming enough for them to come to these places on their own. When they make it to the office be gracious and make time to understand what they need and try to help. It is these experiences that either make or break their hustle.

Finally, things will work better for good if we all do the following things:

  1. Self-awareness. Perceptions are always there but we should use these for accurate understanding of our state of mind and our surroundings.
  2. Self-management includes sensitivity to others and listening to their issues and noting their feelings.
  3. Social awareness is networking and managing relationships.
  4. Relationship management. I made reference earlier about referees and referrals working in tandem. This also includes teamwork and Leadership.
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