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Cause for hope

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There are lots of drawbacks to the job I do – the endless travel and all the associated problems; long days and lonely nights in hotels, away from home; dealing with delegates who feel resentful or angry and seem to have forgotten their manners. As we reach the end of a difficult year, it’s easy for the negative things to stick in the mind, so it was good to be reminded of the upside of the job recently, which found me working with a bunch of graduate trainees from a large organisation on a corporate social responsibility workshop.

The idea was to give the graduates a project to do on day one of the workshop, have them carry out the project on day two and then review it on day three. It’s the third time I’ve run this workshop and previous projects have involved decorating community centres or building things. This time the task was even more daunting: the graduates had to go into a school and engage a group of 40 students (14 to 16 years old) on the issues surrounding electricity generation and supply and to conduct a debate about the “green” credentials of the electric car.

I’ve worked with graduates on development programmes before and, I must confess, my view of them is sometimes jaded. From some individuals on some programmes I’ve seen a sense of arrogance and entitlement that I find difficult. Not this time, though. What I encountered was a group of early twenty-somethings who were polite, engaging, thoughtful and fiercely intelligent. They worked together to achieve the project with a dedication, resilience and humour that I found quite inspiring.Not only that, the students they taught were polite, thoroughly engaged and grateful for all the work that had been put into the day. They were fascinated by the science they were being taught and had a surprisingly comprehensive grip of the issues surrounding electric cars.

I’m conscious that last paragraph contains a great many adjectives but I make no apology for trying to convey how impressive both groups were – if you believe everything you see in the media, it’s tempting to believe that the “youth of today” are nothing but feral, hoody-wearing hooligans. It was fascinating to watch the next two generations engaging with each other and discussing the future of the planet they’re inheriting and exploring practical ways in which to clean up the mess that previous generations have made. The whole workshop made me feel guilty and old but, above all, very optimistic about the future.

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