POKU OSEI, CEO BABBASA
Today is World Youth Skills Day, a UNESCO International Day that highlights labour market inequalities faced by young people. This year’s theme focuses on mechanisms needed to operationalize lifelong learning. In honour of this theme, our guest blog comes from signatory organisation Babbasa, a Bristol-based youth empowerment group that aims to provide employment opportunities to ethnically diverse, less advantaged students. The work Babbasa does honing young people’s skills is crucial to shaping a well-rounded, heterogeneous group of future leaders that continues to learn and adapt to its surroundings.
We live in a dynamic world, which makes learning an endless process for the human race. Learning is needed for everything that we do – jobs, home life, hobbies. This means that lifelong learning is essential for continuous development and improvement both in the workplace and in our personal lives.
At Babbasa, we support young people aged 16-25 who are often disadvantaged by their backgrounds as they move into further education, employment, and self-employment. The individuals we work with come to us disenfranchised by the traditional ways of learning, have had their confidence knocked, and are looking to develop new skills.
We take on the responsibility of becoming a third pillar in their lives, outside of the home and school. We offer them an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to work productively towards a clear path in life, be it through mentoring, skills training, or placement support. We reinvigorate young people’s passion for learning, making us worthy of their time.
Lifelong learning is a philosophy that we encourage under three broad themes:
The importance and relevance of this powerful concept doesn’t get talked about enough, even though imagination is what continues to shape the world we live in. At Babbasa, we are quick to let young people know that imagination is important, allowed and encouraged – whether it’s about what they dream of as a career, want out of education, or generally want for themselves. We give young people the opportunity to vocalise their thoughts in a safe and non-judgemental space, which helps us as an organisation identify and understand the things that motivate them as individuals.
Most of the young people we engage come from low-income households, so access to and understanding of progression options tend to be limited. As a result, we hold sessions where we introduce them to a range of professionals and successful people of colour to help stimulate their imaginations around career options and expand their horizons.
In the past, I have used the analogy that Babbasa is like an all-weather runway where young people are the planes. In other words, the role we play is to provide the safest runway that young people can find to take off from.
This analogy goes to the heart of what I mean by self-determination. Our work is about enabling young people to recognise that they are the authors of their own life stories. We support our mentees through experiential challenges so they realise how the decisions they make connect them to the worlds they imagine.
Most young people we engage through Babbasa tend to lack faith in their abilities due to their upbringing or environment. This means that they are less likely to be comfortable with new experiences and have anxieties or negative thoughts that make them feel like they can’t realise their imaginations and any efforts to do so would be wasted.
On the contrary, we believe that every young person has a unique skill or talent that, if explored and nurtured, can advance humanity in a significant way. We therefore help young people develop a sense of self-belief and determination through our mentoring scheme with established professionals who are often from similar backgrounds as their mentees.
Kindness is usually defined as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. However, the act of kindness embodies more. It calls on empathy and respect to listen to and understand the world around us. It pushes people to become lifelong learners.
Here at Babbasa, kindness defines everything that we do and stand for. It embodies our working values and helps us foster the trust that we gain from young people. In a socially and politically divisive time, we find that talking about the value of kindness also teaches young people how to exchange ideas, empathise with, and understand one another. Holding the value of kindness means that our young people and our staff are always listening to and learning from each other.
When combined, the principles of imagination, self-determination, and kindness enable Babbasa to support young people to become confident and assured, respectful and open-minded, and ambitious and driven. These mechanisms help both the Babbasa staff and the young people we support to understand the value of learning, which I believe inspires a willingness to learn for the rest of our lives.