Disadvantaged young people are not poor. They are rich in motivation and talent!

15 June 2023

The word ‘disadvantaged’ is such a dreary word. It sounds very discouraging, as if disadvantaged young people have no use or hope. Though they may not get the right opportunities from their environment, these people are wonderful and talented. Research has shown many times that in nature versus nurture, it does matter where your cradle is as it can determine what opportunities you get in the future. While it is something that you have no influence on at all. What many people fail to realise is that young people who may have been born in a less fortunate cradle can sometimes be very talented and willing to work extremely hard. Often even much harder than the average person.

After coming here from Iraq with my family as a child, I kicked open every little doorway that came my way. I was determined to seize every opportunity that I could get my hands on. And I generally see the same in disadvantaged young people. When they get that opportunity, they go at it at 150%.

Many young people have a strong intrinsic motivation to get out of that vicious circle you enter as a family the moment you are disadvantaged for whatever reason. Because you have a migration background, for example, or if your parents live on benefits. At that point, you will have to swim against the current. It will not come to you by chance, so swimming with the current is out of the question. For instance, as a child from a migration background, you are more likely to be under-advised at school. If you do manage to make it to university, it will require quite a bit of intrinsic motivation.

I was lucky enough not to be under-advised, but I always had to work very hard with part-time jobs to cover the cost of my education. I was taught from an early age to work very hard and to come up with solutions to problems my classmates never faced. For example, I didn’t buy books since we couldn’t afford them. So I had to make sure I could still succeed without books whether it was being the first at the library to read the book there or by always being the first to class. The same goes to young people who were not born with a silver spoon, they learned from an early age to work hard and deal with problems creatively.

Diverse company benefits from broader perspective

Another way in which disadvantaged young people can add value is with their outlook. Precisely because they often have fewer opportunities, they can see things from a different angle and from a different perspective. As an employee for a company, that can be very valuable. Studies have also shown that diverse teams do a better job.

I also think the value of a factor like language is often underestimated. Many people from migrant backgrounds speak multiple languages. That is good for the brain but in addition to that, it can open up a lot of opportunities for a company. You can potentially open up a whole new market.

Richer with diversity

For me, it is important to take the sting out of the term ‘disadvantaged’. I also generally don’t like to put a label on people. Only if someone has labeled themselves. But with disadvantaged young people, it’s about situations they themselves are not the cause of. Disadvantaged is a term that is actually neutral, but doesn’t sound neutral. We often link it to poverty, as I do myself, but not everyone who is disadvantaged comes from a poor family. The term quickly evokes a kind of stereotypical image.

I wish we wouldn’t look at people as pigeonholed. We should see someone who is different from others as an enricher. A diverse team with diverse backgrounds has a broader view of the market.

As someone who has fewer opportunities than others, you can be proud of who you are. You are not hopeless, perhaps more disadvantaged than others, but not hopeless. The sky’s the limit. Those who work hard and are creative can achieve a lot. And fortunately, we see many examples of this in our society.

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