Getting young people ready for the workplace is what Doha-based social development initiative Injaz is all about. As they roll out their new volunteer programme, we catch up with executive director Aysha Al Mudhaka to find out what it’s all about.
Moving straight from the classroom to a working environment can be a scary transition for any new graduate, particularly, as is common in this part of the world, if they have no previous work experience. That’s why non-governmental organisation, Injaz, is all about connecting corporate volunteers with schools to deliver programmes in entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy.
‘We have our own curriculum and we train our corporate volunteers to deliver these programmes,’ Aysha tells us as we sit in the boardroom of their West Bay headquarters. ‘The focus really is on Qatari [students] so that we can shape the youth and see the impact and make sure they’re really prepared for this global economy. Then we know that students have learned and benefitted to really give back to Qatar itself, but it’s also open to all other nationalities.’
Injaz was spawned from an initiative founded in the US in 1919 called Junior Achievement Worldwide, which has since become the world’s largest not-for-profit economic education organisation currently operating across 123 countries. In 1999, Injaz Al Arab was established and now spans 14 countries across the Middle East and North Africa, having reach one million students so far.
In Doha, Aysha tells us, Injaz has reached over 10,000 students since it opened here in 2007. ‘This is thanks to our 512 volunteers and 65 corporate partners and our schools and universities of which we are dealing with 27.’ The plan for 2013-14, she says, is to reach up to 4,500 students and 200 volunteers.
‘We have programmes delivered in English and Arabic so we have all nationalities of volunteers,’ Aysha explains. ‘We’re not looking for someone who doesn’t commit though. We always look for quality based volunteers, people who have experience and would like to share their knowledge and commit to this programme and deliver it to the students.’
Many of the people that get involved with the programmes belong to the corporate partners of Injaz so their companies support the organisation and their employees during the teaching process. If individuals wish to join, however, says Aysha, Injaz are more than willing to contact their company to see if they will also become a partner.
Aysha herself was an active volunteer for years before making a career change and getting stuck in with Injaz in 2010. For the most part, she says, they look for good communication skills in their volunteers. ‘And the will to contribute something back to the community within education,’ she says. For some programmes, only two years’ experience is necessary but for others, they need more. For instance, ‘The Company Programme is where students learn how to establish a company from scratch,’ explains Aysha. Students will sell shares to their friends and family, up to QR11,000, and then will learn how to create a company and then liquidate it at the end of the competition. ‘Within the class, they vote for the CEO, heads of finance, HR, production and marketing. Every department has to deliver something.’
Students will work on marketing strategies, production phases, they need to sell their products, work on an annual report and demonstrate the profit they have gained. Then some of the money they make goes to charity. ‘What happens is there’s a regional competition at the end of the year for the best student company,’ Aysha explains. ‘So the teaching volunteers have to have really good experience of entrepreneurship, a very good financial background. They need to be senior managers really.’
One of the most impressive companies that has been created in this programme was made last year by a mix of business and engineering students at Qatar University, Aysha tells us. The idea, known as Vibrohear, saw the making of a prototype watch device for deaf people which can be programmed to vibrate at varying degrees depending on the type of noise surrounding it. ‘This is something I’m really proud to see,’ says Aysha. The students that took part in this project will now represent Qatar in a regional competition in Dubai in December.
Aysha says that over the years Injaz has seen many achievements, including hosting last year’s regional Company Programme competition at the Museum of Islamic Art, winning a social development centre award for being the Best Company Supporting Entrepreneurs in Qatar, and piloting a new programme that allows young people to shadow important management workers for a day, which often leads to summer internships and even full-time positions.
But there is much more to do, she says. ‘I hope that we can operate in all schools of Qatar and two main things I think is very important for me is that students benefit from the programme but get job opportunities and also start up their own business.’
This is something that Injaz hopes to help them do next year as they aim to launch a project where alumnis of the Company Programme can actually start up their businesses with the support of the private sector.
These initiatives not only benefit the youth of Qatar but the country as a whole, says Aysha. ‘I’m happy that we’re covering one of the pillars which is human development in the Qatar National Vision. I hope that our achievements are really part of the whole of Qatar’s for the 2030 vision.’