This article originally appeared in ellaletter.com
Recall yourself as a nine-year-old girl. What kind of dreams did you have?
There is a lot of talk about “empowering the next generation”, but sometimes we forget the reverse, learning from the newcomers and remembering that internal spark and dreams we had within us as children who eventually settled for more practical dreams.
“There is fearlessness of a nine-year-old within all of us that needs to be fed and kept alive throughout our lifetime,” says Sallyann Della Casa, a Dubai-based author and the force behind Growing Leaders Foundation, an organization that aims to immerse young leaders, educators and entrepreneurs in cross-generational learning. Since its establishment six years ago, the foundation has engaged thousands of adults and young people.
Soukaina Rachidi spoke to Sallyann, who led a workshop at the Global Women in Leadership (WIL) Economic Forum last week, about why she brought together pre-teenage schoolgirls with seasoned female professionals to discuss what it takes to thrive.
ella: What was your goal for the “Voices of Tomorrow” workshop?
The intention was to build a bridge through film, conversation and joint artwork, where the older and the younger women and girls became both teachers and students. Exploring the complexities and the simplicity of being a girl and a woman is a collaborative process. During the workshop, the young women used my book Who Will I Become to guide the conversation with their older counterparts. The girls and women created a piece of artwork together that represented what a woman needs at various ages in her life to thrive.
ella: What was the most unexpected feedback that you received from the youth participants?
It brought into focus why these types of events are so powerful.Too often we go to female empowerment events and nobody takes the time to even ask what each of us has done for the younger generation of women — besides our own children of course. Women’s empowerment is only sustainable if it can affect the future of women in a positive way.
ella: Do you think more young people are getting involved in the public sector?
In a place like the UAE with a strong youth agenda, this is happening gradually as the government leads the way by mandating inter-generational dialogue through legislation. There is now a Youth Ministry and a youth agenda. This was the same strategy that was used when the UAE government mandated a quota for women on corporate boards, which resulted in the elevation of the role of women. This process is now occurring with youth thanks to the government’s efforts to lead the way.
ella: What are the obstacles to inter-generational dialogue?
In my experience, it is always the adults who obstruct and limit the conversation, as children always come to the table with an open mind. Particularly young people who have yet to reach their teenage years, like these girls. The adults feel they should be the one speaking, sharing and mentoring.To change these types of communities where the tradition of inter-generational communication is one-way from the adults to the children, old habits need to be changed and cycles need to be broken. That requires a lot of work and commitment.
ella: What advice would you give to young people who are afraid to speak up?
I would encourage young people to try to focus on discovering their inner leadership potential first. In their minds, they are free to explore who they are in a safe environment, where they feel that their voice matters and their silence leaves no mark in the world. Once they have a better understanding of who they are, speaking up will become second nature, as it will come from a place of self-confidence and strength.