ABU DHABI // When it comes to networking and promoting her cause, 17-year-old Julia Grifferty is all business and she has the cards to prove it.
The student of the American Community School carries her personal business cards to exchange with the people she meets at environmental and social services conferences.
The 12th grader said she thought she was “going to have to play the part” if she wanted to be treated like a professional.
As her business cards state, Julia is the founder of Boot the Bottle, a campaign she launched to ban the sale of bottled water in schools and boost the use of non-disposable bottles among students and labourers.
Julia said she thought of her business card as an opportunity to make a lasting impression.
“If you were dealing with other students, you don’t need it because there’s easily Facebook. But if you’re dealing with anyone above your age or who’s working, you need a business card,” she said.
“The point of taking out a card at the end is to make that connection.
“I think it’s about making a positive impact because the first thing they remember about you is what’s on your card. It’s like the elevator pitch on a card right there.”
Julia is not alone in her youthful savvy. Fatima Al Kaabi, a 14-year-old Emirati, also distributes her own business cards with the title of inventor.
Fatima, who was honoured by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, last year for her inventions, also gives out an index card listing her accomplishments and awards.
Another Emirati inventor, 15-year-old Khalifa Al Rumaithi, has a coloured booklet in Arabic and English that details his latest invention, which prevents children from sitting too close to the television.
Matt Bowman, founder of Tech Trep Academy, which offers online technology and entrepreneur education for children between eight and 14 years old at TechTrep.com, commended the students’ pluck.
“We think it is savvy entrepreneurship,” he said. “Instilling confidence at a young age is critical for future growth and success. They are also learning that they can do hard things.
“Learning to overcome and deal with adversity at a young age will benefit them in the future as they deal with setbacks and challenges.
“We have found that entrepreneurship is actually one of the best ways for young people to apply knowledge gained from traditional subject areas like maths, English and science.”
Mr Bowman said schools often failed to help students understand how to apply what they learn in real life
“Launching any type of business provides an immediate application of real skills and knowledge,” he said.
“Young entrepreneurs can gain significant advantage by applying the real-world skills of interpersonal communication, descriptive writing, problem solving, critical thinking, creative design, maths calculations, and building prototypes in ways that a ‘book-smart’ learner never will.”
Sulaf Saleh Al Zu’bi, chief executive of Injaz UAE, said there had been a definite trend in the UAE towards boosting students’ entrepreneurial skills, thanks largely to the Government’s support of small and medium-sized companies.
“The economy was encouraging it, educators were requesting it and there is a definite shift in the Ministry of Education to support it as well,” she said.
“There is no doubt about that, it’s an economic strategy that has been in place for awhile, now you’re starting to see the manifestation of it.”
Injaz UAE works with schools to teach entrepreneurial, work-readiness and financial literacy skills to students between 11 and 24 years old. Most of its students are Emiratis from public schools.
Ms Al Zu’bi said for students to succeed, they would have to develop skills and business leadership.
“Entrepreneurship should be taught just like mathematics and English because you will get problem-solvers, you will get inventors,” she said.
“The Arab world has to create jobs and the GCC is pushing for nationalisation in the workforce and Emiratisation. One way to do that is entrepreneurship. I don’t think it’s happening enough, to be honest.”
Julia credited her school’s social entrepreneurship programme, encouragement from her teacher and living in Abu Dhabi for helping her to develop her leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
“I don’t think I would be able to do this without having Ms Russell [her teacher] or the programme because I think Abu Dhabi is really welcoming to new ideas and initiatives. It’s all about innovation,” she said.
* The article has been amended since it was first published.