Wednesday, October 12, 2011

UK Riots: Engaging disenfranchised youth yields worthy returns

Youth investment yields worthy returns in the UK

by Khawar Mann
11 October 2011

London - The riots on our streets this summer showed us the importance of engaging with the youth of our country. The education system represents an ideal opportunity to do so at an early stage. Indeed, education for young people in the UK grabbed the headlines once again during the recent UK political party conferences.

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, for example, called for a reduced cap on tuition fees and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, spoke of pumping £2.5 billion into the Pupil Premium – a government-funded programme targeting disadvantaged children. Yet, while politicians debate about how to make education more accessible, we must not be side-tracked from the most important issue: the quality and purpose of education.

For many people, what we witnessed during the riots was particularly disturbing because of the chilling nihilism displayed by many of those taking part. But how do you go about connecting with someone who values stealing a new pair of shoes more than he fears a potential prison sentence? This view ultimately leads to self-destruction and a massive loss of potential in large swathes of young people.

The riots were not linked to ethnicity, but they do provide an opportunity for society to reflect and examine the concerns of those who do not reap the benefits of education.

The way to address this problem lies in engagement with our young people. Despite its shortcomings, we have a fantastic education system in this country. Unfortunately, many families – especially those who are part of ethnic minority groups – fail to take advantage of the opportunities for youth that the education system has to offer. For instance, in some South Asian families, post-education careers for girls are low on the list of priorities for their parents.

To try and counter this problem, I have been working with one of Prince Charles’ charities, Mosaic. We send a wide range of professionals and entrepreneurs into schools across the country to mentor children during term time. Crucially, many of our mentors come from similar backgrounds to their mentees. So, for example, disenfranchised young Muslim students are typically paired with mentors who are of similar backgrounds and have gone on to accomplish a great deal.

Over the course of a year, the young people undertake a structured programme of engagement with their mentors, working to enhance their confidence, their sense of personal belief and the skills that will help them to succeed in education and the workplace. For example, one male student with whom Mosaic worked recently was linked with a city-based financial services company for a summer internship. The placement was a success and showed him the value of a good education as well as the potential that he had to succeed in the workplace. As a direct result of this, he secured a place at university, which his school had never expected.

In the business world, professional mentoring and coaching are increasingly being used to raise the performance of employees at all levels. Its core benefit is raising self-awareness, an attribute that is often overlooked but which both contemporary psychologists and ancient philosophers have assessed as being an essential ingredient for self-development.

By having access to someone who will take time to listen to their concerns and frustrations and working with them to overcome these, pupils – regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds – begin to feel empowered and are inspired to realise their potential.

Through my day-to-day work and involvement in Mosaic, I see the value of investing in human beings every single day. I see a direct relationship between mentoring pupils today and having the level of talent our economy needs tomorrow to fund a healthy, competitive society with plenty of opportunities in which businesses can thrive – not only in the UK, but elsewhere in the world where youth may benefit from such a programme.

Though the broken windows from the UK riots have been repaired, the work of constructing positive prospects for our future generations in a global economy remains. I believe mentoring through an organisation like Mosaic is a highly effective and efficient way of doing so.

Aside from such a long-term goal, one of the most rewarding things from a personal point of view is the great pleasure I take from seeing a child who is awakened to a new sense of purpose. In these uncertain economic times, mentoring pupils is definitely one venture that yields a worthy return on investment.


* Khawar Mann is a board member at the British organisation, Mosaic, which offers mentoring programmes in schools and prisons, and a partner with Apax Partners, an international private equity firm where he specialises in healthcare. For more information, please visit: This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 October 2011,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.