By far the most exciting part of my job here at Junior Achievement Africa is when I get to spend time with our students. I enjoy their energy, I love to listen to their dreams and their ideas, I like to coach and mentor them to overcome their fears and to begin to embrace the exciting, adventurous and sometimes nerve-racking path to career success.
So I was excited when we had a job shadow event here in Accra, Ghana in May. During job shadows, which take place across JA Africa’s member nations, students are taken out of school for a day and paired with professionals in their fields of interest. They are allowed to ‘shadow’ these professionals for an entire work day, seeing their work from their vantage point and gaining some exposure to what it takes to do that job and be successful in it.
As part of that event I had the pleasure of being shadowed by a young girl called Linda. Linda had big dreams; she was ambitious, smart and driven. Within moments of meeting her, however, I learned that one big thing was holding Linda back: a painful lack of confidence. No matter how much I tried, I could not get her to speak an octave higher than a whisper. Despite my every effort she seemed determined to curl up and disappear from the room. At an orientation meeting that took place in the conference room of one multinational telecom company the morning of the job shadow day, among a room full of boys and girls the CEO of the company – a woman – could not get any of the girls to speak. The boys spoke up, they answered questions, they gave their opinions. The girls shriveled and wilted against the walls of the conference room.
My experiences that day were both frustrating and eye-opening. It was a demonstration of the fact that we are missing something in educating our girls and preparing them for the world. Even though girls perform academically at par with boys something is holding them back; something is keeping them from developing their full potential. Self-confidence, I believe is only one part of it, but I think the larger issue is a lack of self-efficacy. In order to pursue their dreams our young people need to first believe in themselves.
Psychologist Albert Bandura defines self-efficacy as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. One’s sense of self-efficacy can play a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges. At Junior Achievement, we believe that self-efficacy plays a key role in defining the likelihood of young people’s success. My colleague, Asheesh Advani, JA Worldwide’s CEO, asserts that “we’ve seen how school-age kids, from both wealthy and poor countries, can transform their aspirations when they receive encouragement and support from others. By equipping young people with 21st-century work skills, providing inspiration and training for future self-employment, and mentoring them to consider the possibility of becoming future job creators, we’re attacking poverty and unemployment at its roots.”
So the question for today’s adults is this: how do we strengthen self-efficacy in our students, especially in our young girls? I believe that self-efficacy, like a muscle, must be trained. At JA Africa we have a number of programs that help students build this muscle. During job shadows, students practice it by observing professionals and participating in their work lives. JA holds Innovation Camps in which students are given a challenge in a chosen field and given parameters within which they must develop a creative and innovative solution as members of a team. During leadership camps girls and boys learn what it means and what it takes to lead, and professionals guide them to overcome their fears and preconceptions which hold them back. The list goes on.
What role can you play in this change process? You can give your time and talent. Volunteerism is central to JA’s program delivery model. Across Africa alone we have over 2,000 professionals who give their time to be teachers, mentors, coaches, facilitators, etc. Our young people are watching us. They are looking to us to define for them what is possible. They need our endorsement and encouragement for them to challenge the status quo and to envision a new future for Africa in which they feel prepared to compete in the global job market.
By the end of my job shadow experience with Linda, my shadow, she had learned a few things: she had learned how to write an email, she had drafted her first CV, she practiced how to speak up and share her ideas. I had learned an equally important lesson: I had learned that in order for us to produce young people in Africa who are change-makers we cannot be accidental about their development; we have to be intentional. The investments we need to make need to be personal. I am committing myself to be part of this process, and I invite you to be a part of it too.
Thank you for your support,
CEO, JA Africa