Foundation encourages UAE schoolkids to fulfil their potential

The Growing Leaders Foundation encourages employees to learn about leadership and then teach their new skills to a group of school children.
Students from Gems Modern Academy attended a workshop hosted by the Growing Leaders Foundation and Innoverto in November. Courtesy Innoverto
Students from Gems Modern Academy attended a workshop hosted by the Growing Leaders Foundation and Innoverto in November. Courtesy Innoverto

Cindy Coetzee admits she was scared at the prospect of teaching schoolchildren.

After all, as bureau manager and accountant for CNN’s Abu Dhabi branch, she had zero experience of working with youngsters. But her fellow teachers were in the same position. Ms Coetzee was taking part in a Growing Leaders Foundation session last month in Dubai which teaches both employees of companies and schoolchildren about leadership.

Adults study the subject first in the morning then go on to teach the youngsters what they have learnt in the afternoon.

“The thought of it was very, very scary until you started doing it. Those kids were sort of well behaved. I don’t know what I would have done if they weren’t,” says Ms Coetzee.

The event was designed as an introduction to the programme for companies, although some which took part, including DP World, had already signed up. And it is no small commitment. Companies adopt classrooms for an entire year.

“Obviously a one-time intervention doesn’t really change habits, both in their employees and also their students,” says Sallyann Della Casa, who describes herself as lead tree-shaker and dreamer-in- chief.

“So what we do in the matching is allow both them, their employees to get trained and students to be beneficiaries at least three times during the year so we actually measure how they change during that time.”

Ms Della Casa describes the programme as corporate social education – companies use the training of their employees to give back to the community. In that way, both the adults and children benefit.

Leadership is often seen as being tied to a title in the region, but everyone has a leadership role to play within their company, says Ms Della Casa. And by teaching children what they have learnt about leadership the message is reinforced.

“Most of the time as adults we think we need to be experts to be able to teach something. The fundamental part of learning, in fact … we learn better if we are actually able to teach it,” says Ms Della Casa.

Schools are offered the programme free of charge and there is a long waiting list of schools eager to receive the training. “The normal reaction to individuals when we do these sessions is that ‘you should only do it in the poor schools’. Of course the natural response is ‘there are no really poor schools in Dubai’; but the reality is if you look in the curriculum across the board, they are all focused on the technical skills and very few of them, regardless if you are paying Dh150,000 a year or Dh5,000 a year for your child to go, they are not focusing on the non-cognitive [soft] skills,” says Ms Della Casa.

“We don’t discriminate because you happen to go to a school that costs a lot of money,” she adds.

Some companies request a particular area, while others want to work with predominantly Emiratis or a certain income group.

But what they cannot do is request a different age group. Growing Leaders works with children aged nine to 12 because their brains are developed but they are not easily influenced by who anybody wants them to be. And the results suggest that the programme is helping children to discover their own potential.

“We got a letter back from a school principal [who wrote] that after you came one of the shyest children in the school got up and contested the election, saying I now realised that I can be the class president. It’s just a wonderful thing to be able to say to them and for them to understand that leadership does not have to be loud,” says Ms Della Casa.

But it is not just the children who benefit.

It has been proven that this type of initiative increases the engagement and the productivity of your employees, says Medea Noncentini, the founder of C3, Consult and Coach for a Cause, an UAE organisation that enables social entrepreneurs to give back by supporting fledgling businesses on a pro bono basis.

“But more importantly for anybody in the corporate world, it has been proven that training with volunteering attached, which is of course relevant for that specific skill, is much more effective than just sitting in the classroom and absorbing skills in a theoretical way,” she adds.

Would Ms Coetzee agree? Did she learn anything from it?

“Oh yes, definitely. All the things you think you know in your head until you have to go and apply them or teach them to somebody else. Then it becomes a different story, so to know something is one thing and to go and do it is another,” she says.

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Published: December 1, 2014 04:00 AM


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