Phillips receiving award with Her Majesty at the Buckingham Palace. / Photo Courtesy of Leonard Cheshire Disability.
This exclusive GBC-Education blog series, In Their Own Words: Youth Speak Out for Education Investment, highlights the unique relationship between private sector investments in education and youth, the very population that they’re seeking to impact. In the series, A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors scattered across the globe talk about the work they’re doing with businesses to help improve education in their communities. Follow this series to learn about the different ways businesses can engage youth to better their contribution to education.
WHY HE THINKS BUSINESS SHOULD ENGAGE YOUTH:
“So that kids get an opportunity to gain the knowledge necessary or required to launch various ventures in life. And you know never know, it can be a business venture and be that particular business that has supported education that ends up benefitting.”
Inside Buckingham Palace on a warm day in late June, A World at School Global Youth Ambassador Leroy Phillips, 24, sat across from representatives from one of the biggest multinational corporations investing in the education space, GBC-Education member PwC. He couldn’t see the investors, but he could feel their presence and, along with five other Queen’s Young Leaders Awardees sitting in the room next to him, he could sense the tension in the room.
When it was his turn to make his case to the PwC panel for investing in his Sports for Youth Development education initiative, Phillips launched into his pitch.
“When I was six years old I lost my eyesight. My teachers didn’t think I could cope with my workload and gradually, they gave me less and less,” he said.
It was the beat to which he had marched to for the first fourteen years of his life as he struggled to find his grounding, visually impaired in the intolerant landscape that dominated his home country of Guyana.
“My parents, my teachers, and the people around me didn’t even know what the word ‘accessible’ was,” he explained. “I went through school after school, dropping out when each headmaster continued to reject my ability to perform as well as any other student.”
As he spoke, his confidence mounted: As a Global Youth Ambassador he had already worked with the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown advocating for education and at the Queen’s Young Leaders awards ceremony in Brussels, he had met Queen Elizabeth II and David Beckham.
In the coastal South American country where Phillips was born, as much as 15 percent of people with disabilities have never attended school according to a report released in conjunction with UNICEF in 2014. For children in their teens, the out-of-school numbers for children with disabilities are nearly three times as high. And, due to deep-rooted gender roles in Guyanese society, girls with disabilities are doubly marginalized and even less likely to enter the classroom.
Unfortunately, this trend is widely repeated across the globe. A recent Human Rights Watch report released in August found that 500,000-plus disabled children in South Africa are barred from school, many of whom are shut out during their early childhood years when government officials tend to separate children according to their [dis]abilities. And, of the 10 percent of children with disabilities around the world who do make it to the classroom, only half actually complete primary school, in part because lack of research and knowledge on how to incorporate them into learning environments.
The fact remains: The goal of universal access to primary school will never be fully achieved without developing specific learning interventions targeting the millions of children who lack access to primary school due to their disabilities. Businesses can help the education sector research and implement options for children with disabilities within the classroom. They can not only scale up their potential workforce by working to educate youth with disabilities, but can also invest in direct programming that engages youth like Phillips who have firsthand knowledge of what businesses can do to serve those with disabilities.
This was why Phillips designed a program that would both educate and integrate those with and without disabilities, which he explained as he concluded his pitch to PwC.
“The cycling of dropping out of school changed when I started to join organizations like the Guyana Blind Cricket Association,” Phillips explained. “Older youths encouraged us to get an education and make a difference for people with disabilities. This is something that I’m always going to live for and do on a day-to-day basis.”
He couldn’t see the expressions of the PwC panelists when he finished speaking. But, along with their applause came their word: It had worked. Moved not only by his struggle but his perseverance, PwC chose to invest in Phillips’ Sports For Youth Development initiative over the other awardees’ pitches.
Now, through their partnership (which is still in the works), Phillips reports that he’s designing an informal educational environment in Guyana that injects life skills into sports which students can attend on the weekends. Through his program, on the sidelines of sports, youth — both those with disabilities and those without — will receive practical lessons that teach basic hygiene, reproductive health, and disability awareness.
“It’s crucial for businesses to support education,” says Phillips today. “If businesses don’t support education, then in the long run, who will be a part of their business and help it run effectively and successfully?”
Right now, the plan is for PwC to honor their original grant of $1,444,449 GYD ($7,000 USD) impacting more than 100 youth so that the most marginalized youth in Guyana will have supplemental lessons to their schooling. When asked what PwC has to gain, Phillips makes their case clear: “The Queen’s Young Leaders Award program is about awarding youth for the outstanding work they’re doing and providing them with opportunities for networking and partnering with those who can then, in turn, support our projects. So PwC came onboard in the right way.”