It’s all very well isn’t it to think that after many years of work and knowledge acquisition you are up to date with, and still a participant in, world affairs. Maybe still invited to take part in debate, public or private, that you think is meaningful. To demonstrate that you are worldly wise and making some sort of important contribution.
I wrote recently about the inevitable rise of Artificial Intelligence, pointing out that the ability to prevent this new technology from taking over the human race in due course was at least for the time being still very much in our control. Then this week we have had “important” events like the Bitcoin rise - a bubble if ever I saw one, a boost for Theresa May in the Brexit negotiations albeit a small step forward in what - for me - is not a clever strategy to leave Europe in this manner, and President Trump leading us all closer to global violence with his announcements about Jerusalem.
And then I was brought back to earth with a bump!
I was in Dubai and had been invited by my colleagues at HSBC Middle East to attend a workshop for young people about finance. Right up my street, you might think. But actually it has been a long year what with one thing and another - no complaints, it’s what I do because I want to, although the health bit in the middle was something of a distraction (mending nicely thank you) - and after a particularly taxing week I admit it, I was tired and honestly, less than enthusiastic.
However, I duly turned up with some fellow Directors to participate in this “workshop”. It was in a warehouse-like space that was rented out for events like this, and after a general briefing on what was expected of us the attendees came to join us. Sixty of them, boys and girls - aged variously from about 14 up to early 20s. Many of them - but not all - born in the UAE of originally immigrant parents who themselves had been in the UAE maybe for 20 or 30 years. A few recent arrivals from Syria/Palestine. None of them with citizenship they could use, the majority of them without schooling or at best very elementary, from low-income families, a few with jobs - but my goodness, all of them eager and with aspirations and with hope. A hope that was etched on their faces as they sought even the most rudimentary knowledge and took in the sort of advice that said, for example, if you were lucky enough to get a job and receive money, the idea was to resist the temptation to immediately go and spend it. All of it. “Save” was the word of the day
They were asked to create a future time-line of their lives and put their aspirations on paper taking into account that everything they did cost money, and pointing out that the more attention they paid to learning the better equipped they were to get jobs, and fulfil some of their dreams. The young 16 year old boy on my right said “you know, dreams never come true”. I asked him how he knew, and of course he didn’t really have an answer but it was a belief borne of the life he had lived so far. I gave him and the others at my table some of the background to my life (readers of my Blog know the history) and said that although I agreed life was made up of many combinations of things including luck and opportunity you also had a part to play in making your own luck. He understood what I was saying although I’m not sure I convinced him - but despite that, he did still want a better future. And he wanted to work for it. And as for the young man opposite me - he will either rise to the top of the pile or sink (and then probably come back up again). He gave a really good impromptu rap performance and was prepared to get up and give a presentation on some of the things we had spent time talking about - with a bit of prompting. But lively - oh yes.
The aspirations were interesting. They wanted to go to college and study; own their own businesses - anything from construction companies to car sales to restaurants. But what I found really interesting was that many of them wanted to devote some of their time and money to helping those who were even worse off than they were. That was a lesson for me - not a lesson from me!
I left the workshop refreshed, energised and ... humbled. And it was not purely and simply that I had been a part of something that I was not initially looking forward to and realised that I had done something that was truly worthwhile, and clearly I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the young people themselves. But I was also very taken by the dedication of the adults who were giving their time to try and ensure that these children had better lives than their parents, and were in a position to make a difference, including I am pleased to say colleagues from the HSBC team in Dubai who are fully involved and unstinting in their support.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by others - but in relation to the UAE most vocally by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai, - whose view is that if we do not educate our children we are making them vulnerable to pressures representing elements that will only lead our world down a slippery slope of temptation and make them easy targets for the recruiters of terrorists.