What happened at The 2015 ICS Forum Review: ‘Creating the Global Workforce of Tomorrow’

Yesterday evening, Salford Business School hosted an event in conjunction with International Citizens Service at their Media City UK campus in Manchester. The evening involved a panel discussion consisting of prominent figures from government and international development organisations, discussing the present and coming challenges of driving solutions to global problems.

Members of the panel included:

Richard Calvert – Director General of Finance and Performance at The Department for International Development
Brian Rockliffe – Director of International Citizens Service
Sue Lawton – Vice President of Business Development for GainXlnc
Professor Kurt Allman – Associate Dean for Enterprise & Engagement at Salford Business School

The attendees in audience consisted of representatives from the respective organisations funded by ICS; each involved in a variety of projects across 30 countries working to alleviate poverty. ICS has so far delivered funding of £54.8m over the past 3 years, supporting young people in tackling poverty across the globe. In addition to this there has recently been a further £3.9m delivered to innovative approaches which support entrepreneurs and emerging businesses in the developing world.

Also present at the event were Leaders of international NGOs and a small cohort of volunteers with experience spanning a variety of developing countries. I was attending as part of the Balloon Ventures (Now also Balloon ICS) team, alongside Josh Bicknell and Douglas Cochrane (founders of Balloon Ventures) as well as 2 volunteers who had previously worked with the organisation in Kenya. (Click here to read a featured story in the Guardian on how and why Balloon Ventures was formed)

What was discussed?

The panel were discussing the goals for international development going forward after 2015, a year by which member states of the United Nations were expected to have achieved the Millennium Development Goals. Ahead of this year, will be the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, which are currently being formed by an Open Working Group of countries from across the globe, setting the aims and agendas of poverty alleviation for the coming decades.

Whilst it was important to discuss what has been achieved over the past 15 years, it was also important to be critical of the shortfalls of what is yet to accomplished by member states regarding the alleviation of poverty in the long term. The panel discussion touched on a number of areas including the skills and attitudes needed of the future workforce in tackling such issues, as well as the challenge of providing equal opportunities for women and ethnic minorities. Aside from these and many other well informed discussions, it was the Q & A that proved to be productive in raising additional issues faced by disadvantaged communities across the world.

Questions posed and debated to the panel included dealing with:

  • The responsibility of multinational corporations and their integral role in alleviating poverty
  • Ensuring inequality is not overlooked, questioning whether it can be made worse as the result of international development projects
  • Considering the factors that lead to increased inequality, and pressing for initiatives that can prevent development projects inadvertently facilitating inequality, especially those involved in entrepreneurship
  • The importance of networking and the integration of development professionals into corporations so as to amalgamate poverty reduction not as a side thought to operations, but as being part of the core values and aims of any corporation, particularly those with global supply-chains
  • The ever-increasing role of SMEs as employers and influencers in local communities both in the UK and abroad, helping them to recognise their role in helping young people to develop and apply skills to build an effective workforce for the future

My own perspective on the issues discussed

From my personal experiences as a volunteer and young professional, I consider there to be two key elements that should form the part of such a discussion but seemed to be overlooked when the topics were discussed:

  1. Regarding the integration of businesses and corporations of all sizes in combating poverty and inequality.

It is a fact that many local companies operating in the developing world, (not to be confused with multinational interests) play a vital part in the many issues discussed. Many local companies have aims and interests aligned with those of development organisations and NGOs – a commitment to providing sufficient welfare and opportunities to staff in their own organisations. However there is also the challenge of those organisations that exploit workforces, whose actions must be challenged at a local level, or even better counteracted by the organisation and grouping of smaller businesses as a competitive force.

Whilst in Kenya, I took it upon myself to network with a number of local businesses – both small (employing less than 20 people) all the way up to meeting the board members of a company involved in large scale pan-African and global operation employing thousands of people. It was interesting to find that such companies were enthusiastic in involving themselves in efforts to help disadvantaged communities and individuals. Such companies are in a position to offer leading training and skill development for small businesses on how to expand and up scale their businesses up to and beyond a national level of trade through their influence, expertise and global network.

Aligning such local organisations with co-operatives, community groups and entrepreneurs is essential in creating the connect that the panel spoke of – a connect between businesses and effective use of their responsibility as influencers in driving social change. I believe an approach which integrates local corporations and businesses with local development initiatives to be more effective in the long term than the connections made between multi-nationals and such communities.This is because a bond between local businesses and local communities will always be stronger than a bond between multinational corporations and local communities in the long term.Therefore, our efforts should not just be with influencing foreign companies operating within, or buying from developing countries, but also with in-country corporations.

Many local businesses and corporations like those I am acquainted with in Kenya are involved in some community initiatives, yet have hardly any connection with foreign NGOs and development organisations, who seem to concentrate more on obtaining support and funding from foreign sponsors. Local businesses and in-country corporations are the largest employers and influences of communities, yet are disconnected from the people working to empower these communities.

I was surprised at how easy it was to create a link between a project I was working on Kenya and one of the largest businesses in Nakuru, who saw potential and interest in working alongside small local traders and business people from disadvantaged local communities. These companies are on the doorstep of foreign NGOs, and are a resource there to be influenced and involved in community projects!

Building strong co-operatives of small traders in agriculture, the manufacturing of ready made goods, or the delivery of services can strengthen such small entrepreneurs by organising and combining their efforts to not only encourage better inter-community trade, but bring them more supplier power and capacity for volume when trading with larger businesses together. This is kind of a devolution of supplier power, pushing to have power shared more evenly between larger industrial players and small traders. Many large scale exporters experience supply shortage which can actually be fulfilled locally if it is facilitated. Such an approach will bring more ownership of an industry and control of local resources into the hands of small scale traders operating in their own capacity, as opposed to in the capacity of being employees of larger corporations or being at the peril of their buying power which can exclude them from a market.

I was pleased to hear President Uhuru Kenyatta raise a similar point at the 2014 East-Africa business summit, where he spoke of just one of many examples – the fact that Kenya still imports hospital beds from China, yet it has the skills and the labour force at a local level to produce these beds in-country!

This is a whole new thinking, away from the old supply-chain models into integrated value chains, something you can read about here, and will be something I plan to talk about and give examples of in a future blog post.

  1. Regarding the development and application of young people’s skills both in the UK and abroad.

In recent times the majority of the most skilled and sought-after young professionals fall for the allure of working in larger corporations when entering the world of work. This creates a disconnect in two ways: Not only do larger corporations absorb the majority of top-end talent, but such a result also creates an undesirable culture amongst young people. This culture is one that brings a perception that working in a large corporates is the best and most desirable outcome when entering the world of work. This is of course is an obtuse outlook when we consider the role of SMEs as being the backbone to most economies in the world.

Bringing highly skilled young people into employment at SMEs as well as encouraging them to start their own businesses, will help create a rebalance in any economy where corporate strength can be often be overpowering in a number of ways. As well as shifting talent towards SMEs, it is even more important to bring the best skills to where they are needed the most in today’s age – not as much in banking and professional services, but in engineering and technology! These are the main lines of work which are finding solutions to the planets most pressing issues, such as those regarding climate change and bringing long-term technological solutions to the developing world in the form of digital tech that can improve interconnectivity for businesses and people, or improve the living standards of communities suffering severe poverty.

To bring about such a change in culture of young people and their tenancy to seek careers in professional services, a shift in mentality must be pressed. Occupations involved in engineering and technology must be re-branded and presented differently to young people. The allure of high salaries that come from professional services must be counteracted by an allure to empower young people and make them realise their potential and responsibility to make the world a better place for future generations.

This is an area I feel passionate about, and look forward to delving into further in my next blog post which I have been working on for some time and is due to be published in the coming weeks. I also discuss the importance of understanding each African Nation as being individual, with each one needing tailored approaches to its problems as opposed to blanket assumptions on the causes and solutions of poverty in each country.

The highlight of the event for me was being introduced to Brain Rockliffe with whom I got to a chance to talk about about what I achieved on the ICS program I took part in. Moments like this only press young people like myself to work even harder in debating, creating and delivering innovative and change making solutions in a co-operative and forward thinking manner.

As my own efforts continue in attempting to deliver and embody the characteristics I have spoken about, I hope to be soon presenting an example of what can be achieved through co-ordinating a newly formed social initiative and a business that is built on a foundation of responsibility in the integration, aiding and empowering of disadvantaged communities in the developing world.

By Shammi Raichura

Tweet me: @shammi_investor
E-mail me: shammi.raichura@gmail.com