As Facebook’s IPO continue to garner interest (both good and bad), the question on many people’s lips is this: Can Singapore produce business leaders who started young such as Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates?
Well, perhaps the Young Leaders of Tomorrow (YLT) programme can help to usher the way.
First started in Hong Kong by two Harvard Business School graduates – Kong Huijin and Agnes Kong – the programme provides a highly challenging yet supportive environment to help 15 to 18 year old students navigate real world trials and opportunities.
For its Singapore leg, former investment banker Samantha Yee and PR consultant Geraldine Kan (former journalist and Northwestern Postgrad) joined hands with their Hong Kong counterparts to pull together a 10-day programme from 4 to 15 June. Piloted here as an almost pro bono programme (the founders foot most of the costs themselves), YLT is a labour of love born out of a desire to make an impact in the lives of young Singaporeans.
With their Ivy League and business world credentials, the four founders pooled their collective knowledge and experience to impart essential skills to these students at the cross-roads of their lives. As none of the founders themselves are educators, the YLT programme adopted a more MBA-style approach, providing real world scenarios, case studies, groupwork and mentoring.
Collaborating with local schools – its inaugural Singapore run include students from Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, St Andrew’s Secondary and Victoria Junior College – YLT was designed to equip the students with work and life skills in preparation for university and beyond. Along with building their leadership, communications and analytical skills, the programme also instilled a service mindset for these “leaders of tomorrow”.
To prepare them so, the seven participating students were tasked to tackle a business issue for Singapore non-profit WINGS (Women’s Initiative for Aging Successfully), in collaboration with the Singapore Memory Project (SMP). Participants also discussed and role played a microfinance case study, heard from an eclectic mix of successful professionals, and received adult mentorship and one-to-one coaching.
Speakers for the first run include T’ang Quartet cellist Leslie Tan, NUS Business School assistant professor Andreas Birnik, and social work executive Cheryl Lek, while sessions were assisted by junior facilitators (university students with a strong leadership bent themselves).
So how did the first run do? According to the founders, it was so well received that students, schools and parents are raving for more. Schools and parents alike found the programme useful in complementing the formal educational curricula in educational institutions.
What about the students themselves? Well, the feedback seemed rather positive, with glowing testimonials penned by participants citing how the programme helped them to overcome their shyness, boosted their confidence, and drew up qualities they never knew they had.
Surprising even the founders themselves, the teens grasped business issues quickly and developed a compelling creative proposal at the end of the programme for WINGS. Their campaign idea “Grandma Had a Life Too!” to strengthen inter-generational bonding was creative and fun, complete with target audiences, objectives, proposed solutions, incentives and budgets. I was impressed by what I saw and the founders promised me that they had minimal influence on what was produced.
For the road ahead, the founders will be refining the programme to better suit the school calendar and time-frames with shorter, more customised programmes. They would also be seeking ways to make the programme more commercially viable while ensuring that its core principles of equipping students are not compromised.