While the high rate of unemployment among youth sparked recent protests in Oman, the problem now goes beyond creating job opportunities.
The Youth Pioneer Society (YPS) is a non-profit organization in Bahrain founded by a group of young Bahrainis who met on Twitter in December 2011. Their aim is to elevate youth voices, increase career opportunities for youth, and support entrepreneurs. The group administers several training programs that cover everything from connecting youth to the Bahraini Parliament, developing the creative and entrepreneurial skills of aspiring youth, as well as providing academic guidance for career development.
This interview was conducted with Amira Mahmood, who coordinates Fursa, an entrepreneurship development program; Ahmed Aldarzi, co-founder and head of membership affairs; and Saud Albuainain, co-founder and deputy chairman.
AGSIW: Can you talk about how YPS grew out of discussions on Twitter?
Saud: Back in December 2011 there was a hashtag circulating on Twitter among Bahraini youth who were discussing various issues they were facing. Most of it was about education, jobs, and public policies. I got into the conversation and asked everyone, “Instead of just airing the issues and complaining, how about we discuss solutions?” There were a lot of smart solutions that came out of this conversation so I contacted a few of the most active participants. We met in person and discussed how we could solve these issues and implement the solutions we came up with. For the next three to four months, we did a planning workshop and then we decided to establish the Youth Pioneer Society as the first NGO in Bahrain that is concerned with youth professional development.
AGSIW: What are the main challenges you see Bahraini youth currently facing?
Amira: A fair opportunity to get a job or a position in the market.
Saud: The main challenge for youth is to assume leadership positions. In our society a lot of influence comes in through social media, technology… It’s a globalized world and they see young leadership examples outside of Bahrain and they aspire to be the same. This can be a challenge for them.
Ahmed: I think they don’t know how to raise their voice to those who are in decision making positions – government or the MPs – as well as how to identify which channel to approach and how to express their opinions. This is why we are trying to get them to raise their voices and to be heard within the MP circle.
AGSIW: The Youth Parliamentarian program focuses on bringing youth and Bahraini parliamentarians together in an open forum. How do you see each of these parties gaining from this experience?
Saud: The idea for this program came from the conversation in December 2011. People were complaining about government services, about the lack of good public policies, and about the value and role of Parliament, so we decided to host the first youth and parliamentarians’ open forum. We brought in a number of members of the Parliament and opened it to the public, without registration. We gave them a few topics regarding the environment, education, and housing, and it was an open discussion but we found out after the forum that many youth lacked public speaking skills in terms of forming and voicing their opinions. So, after the open forum we had a “lessons learned” report and based on that we started the Young Parliamentarian Program. It is a yearlong program where participants learn several skills in leadership, negotiation, and decision making and then they have practice roundtable discussions. At the end, we have an open forum with members of the Parliament. We are trying to bridge the gap between youth and the Parliament in a way so that youth speak their voice and members of the Parliament can better understand the youth’s needs.
Ahmed: Members of the Parliament have told us that they find the forums informative and the youth say that the MPs are very helpful. We have seen networks are formed between the MPs and the youth members and they continue to interact even after the roundtables we host.
AGSIW: Beyond training youth to engage with Parliament, how do you see YPS empowering youth?
Amira: One area is through our entrepreneurship program. We have an excellent environment for entrepreneurship in Bahrain to start up a new business, but people do not have the right guidance so we came up with the concept for the Fursa (chance) program. This is our second year running Fursa and you can already see the results of it. In the first year their ideas were quite simple, but this year the ideas are more interesting and people really want to put their best into the program. We have prizes but we keep them secret because we want participants who are focused on learning and developing their business. Participants are optimistic about the program and the current entrepreneurship environment in Bahrain will take the program to new levels in the coming years.
Ahmed: Some of the programs we do are really about empowering the youth. One is called Tumooh (ambitious), which involves visiting high schools to talk to students about how to choose majors and careers and how to build a future. Students really appreciate this outreach because until now many are not sure how to build their future and choose the right area of study. We have another program called Generations, which is for the members of YPS. We, the founders of YPS, are not going to stay here forever so we are looking for people who can continue our work after we leave. We are sending them out to do public speaking, to be on a radio show or in a newspaper and we push them to be the face of YPS to give them the power to speak up to get the knowledge and confidence so that they can lead in the future.
Saud: One of the main challenges youth face is their dependence on government. The problem is they always expect the government to solve their problems. They are over dependent. What we are doing is empowering because we make the youth believe in themselves. We make them believe in civil society organizations; we have many of these organizations in Bahrain and they are a constitutional right so why not capitalize on them? We want youth to be independent in any decision they make whether its academic or in their career or politically or socially. We never say no to someone with a good idea. We tell them go for it, and we hope they learn from the experience how to be an independent leader. We want to build trust between youth and society and in NGOs because NGOs are an integral part of society. We have government and the private sector and we have the NGOs, which connect between both. This may not be easy but it’s not unrealistic. We are testing it and so far, alhamdulillah, we are proven right.
AGSIW: How have people responded to the programs you offer and what are some of the tangible results you’ve seen?
Saud: One of the most common responses we get is related to the fact that, as Amira mentioned, we are strictly a volunteer society. None of us get an income from this and we do it after work hours. A lot of people ask me, who is behind you? Who leads you? But we do things differently; we don’t have a public figure as a patron for society. The most important aspect of our success is the relationships we build with members of the community and we actually listen to youth and give them what they want. We try to help them solve issues themselves. In that sense we are doing things differently.
Amira: I always hear from people that they didn’t know there was an organization in Bahrain which is doing what we do. It’s something new to the community, they first think that they have to pay to be part of the programs but when they learn it is free and that we do this after our work hours or during the weekend, they are surprised.
Ahmed: We have developed credibility with the government; they use us as an example and they invite us to represent Bahrain abroad. This is a mark of the trust we receive from society and the ministry itself. We are trying to build on this and widen our approach.
Saud: We are very proud of the fact that the topics chosen for the open forum are chosen by the youth themselves. This year we are proud of the fact that one of the topics we discussed in the open forum with members of the Parliament has been drafted to be a law. It is currently in Parliament to be discussed. Whether it gets approved or rejected, it is an achievement for a civil society such as ours, which is only three years old, to have a draft law in Parliament. Believe it or not, the person who came up with the draft was 19 years old. I don’t think this has ever been done in the GCC.
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