This week I had the privilege of working with the EY Foundation and a group of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. When I found out that the group consisted of 60 students – well saying I panicked would be an understatement – I struggle to look after my own kids let alone that many teenagers! Generally I shy away from asking for help – but at this point I was well and truly into the zone of begging, although I needn’t have, when it comes to giving back people really do dig deep.
First, I approached someone I coach – Yona Christodoulou – an amazing, inspiring and engaging woman who herself had a tough upbringing. Yona shared her story and the youngsters hung off her every word, nearly all the comments she made that morning got a round of applause. I also spoke to a friend Kevin MacAuley (a partner at Ernst and Young) in the hope that he may be able to loan me extra hands in the form of younger members of his team – you know people who may actually be able to connect with these guys better than a woman in her – well who is quite a bit older than them. Kevin gave me four members of his team who were all fabulous!
The EY Foundation has fantastic intentions and does incredible things for the youngsters on their programme – helped by the numerous people across EY who get involved as mentors and organisers. Their vision is for ‘every young person in the UK to achieve their career ambitions’ and their mission ‘to reduce the barriers to work….and inspire and engage them to achieve their potential’. On their website there are stories from the young people who’ve completed the programme. One guy, Mohammed talks about how the information his mentor gave him, the insights into how to apply for jobs and what to look for, gave him ‘a cheat sheet’. He even said it feels like he had ‘an unfair advantage’ knowing what he did. Maybe compared to his peers he did – but for most of us we take for granted that we have anything we need at our fingertips. It’s the rest of us that have that unfair advantage.
The guys and girls this week were amazing – funny, feisty, spirited, motivated, engaged and charming – each of them characters that I wanted to get to know better. For example, I walked into the toilets where three girls were discussing their hair and got all embarrassed when they saw me, but rather than shutting down or walking out, within seconds they had included me in their banter and had me laughing at their sass.
These young people are not only great fun, but they are full of potential – I urged them all not to lose this as life pushed and pulled them. They haven’t had the comfortable life that I have, the opportunities that are espoused as being there if you look for them aren’t for everyone. When they are given an opportunity they do it incredible justice and eat up every ounce of what is put their way.
I’ve written this not to say look at me, look at what I’ve done, rather look at EY and the EY Foundation – look at what they’ve done and are doing. Some of these teenagers live on the doorstep of Canary Wharf. The disparity of their lives and life inside the shiny offices seems unjust. We’re in the UK, a country that people are flocking to in order to find better lives, but it’s not always what we’re offering. There’s so much that could be learnt and leveraged by other corporate entities to help bring a little equality into the world that sits right on our door step.
Many thanks to Brenda Trenowden, Yona Christodoulou, Kevin MacAuley, Fiona Campbell, Rupen Patel, Olivia D’silva, Alisha Somani, Luke Rainbird, Niraj Thakrar, Jessica Nicholson, Kathryn Darling and Victoria Ahonsi.
Not everyone is in the photo – we grabbed people on their way off to lunch. Yona is the striking lady at the front in the white jacket.