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YouthStart in COVID-19 times

Lena Bondue, Director, YouthStart Belgium

Loss of social connection, loneliness, disruption of school routine, unemployment, money troubles and busy households in small flats: situations disadvantaged youth are facing every day. Today, more than ever, this is the case while COVID-19 and its economic aftermath hit them hard.

At YouthStart, we are concerned that the situation of the young people we serve will get worse in the near future and possibly in the years to come.

Before the coronavirus crisis, things seemed to lighten up for our kids. Companies offered internships and jobs to people they otherwise would not hire because the shortage of qualified labor forced them to tap into new talent pools. Many companies are facing difficult post-corona times, and the newcomers they hired will often be the first to be laid off. The same alarming news comes from our school districts. While studying at home proves to be challenging for all children and teens, it becomes a daunting enterprise for youth at risk. Housing often does not allow for easy study and concentration. The parents are not equipped to offer the guidance and support which are needed. The computer needs to be shared, and the internet connection is shaky or non-existent. Now that our schools are opening their doors again, alarming reports have appeared in the media. The disadvantaged young people, who need school most, did not show up… other priorities, school abandonment, fear of failure got the better of them.

SO WHAT DO WE DO TO HELP?

YouthStart works with Youth Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEETS). These are young people struggling to complete vocational training or desperately seeking a job and a steady income. Since our inception in 1998, we have reached 9,500 young people in Belgium. Our intensive entrepreneurship course has tremendous impact. 81% of those who took part in the program went back to school, found a job or engaged in starting a business after having acquired the YouthStart certificate.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?

Join YouthStart and be part of the answer! Offer young people the opportunity to become entrepreneurs or at least to go through life with an entrepreneurial mindset. Equip them with self-confidence, a founder’s grit and the skills to excel in our economy. And with economists predicting the jobs of tomorrow don’t even exist today, entrepreneurial skills are skills for life!

We need volunteers and qualified freelance trainers, internships and jobs for our alumni, and especially financial support to conduct our eight-day training courses and provide each young person with much needed services.

Check our sponsors page and become a partner today.

Why should you get involved?

There are a lot of advantages to getting involved with our activities. Your investment in YouthStart resonates and might attract top talent to commit to your company: young professionals love companies who are consistently investing in corporate social responsibility. Moreover, your employees will love the opportunity offered to them to become involved with our youth. They can act as business jurors (during our virtual business plan competitions) or become YouthStart trainers. Your team(s) can also develop projects to support our NGO. And last but not least, as a sponsor, your employees have the opportunity to refer youth to us who will receive our training and job-matching services.

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About the author

Lena Bondue, Director, YouthStart Belgium

After her initial social work studies, Lena Bondue chose to fully commit herself to being a social entrepreneur. She has worked for NGOs in Belgium and in the US.  Her work experience in Bedford-Stuyvesant-Brooklyn with pregnant pre-teens, some 35 years ago, installed the notion in her that entrepreneurship education is the way out for most at-risk youth.

When, in 1999, YouthStart started in Belgium, Lena was more than happy to get on board. Reaching disadvantaged youth, exploring entrepreneurship as a professional pathway, empowering youth and installing positive values, is exactly what YouthStart is aiming for.

Lena’s role at YouthStart is to engage corporates and their employees, SMEs and entrepreneurs into the organization’s services and to find the resources needed to offer their programs for free to youth in need.