UAE summer camp for kids with a business twist

Digital marketing specialist, Android developer … Zumba instructor. Less than a decade ago, none of these jobs existed. So how do we prepare our children for their careers, when according to the US department of labour, 65 per cent of the jobs they will be employed in don’t even exist yet? Step forward the entrepreneurship summer camp for kids.

Building Youth Owned Businesses is a week-long course that teaches children aged nine to 15 about financial literacy, prototyping and branding, culminating in a business demonstration to the start-up community. It’s the first time that the course, which kicked off on Sunday at the Impact Hub in Downtown Dubai, has run in the UAE.

Kathy Shalhoub, a trainer from Growing Leaders Foundation, the social enterprise running the course, says this kind of practice is more fun and more beneficial than most school curricula.

“Kids are smart, full of ideas and have not yet learnt to fear failure,” she adds.

A mother of three, Fatima Paruk, 41, is keen that her two older children learn about entrepreneurship.

The South African entrepreneur has been in Dubai for 16 years and launched the online cake supply shop three years ago. Her 16-year-old daughter, Husna, suggested that the business branch out into customised 3D-printed cookie cutters, and so this summer she will be training on a 3D printer her mother bought. Meanwhile, her son Mohammed, 14, will be attending the Building Youth Owned Businesses course.

“This is probably my 10th business,” says Ms Paruk. “I did a cake decorating class then couldn’t buy the boxes or boards for the cakes I made, so I went back to South Africa and started buying them piece by piece. Customers were taking whatever stocks I was bringing in for personal use.

“In the ‘80s I worked with my father on his mail order business. It was a booming clothing catalogue for gold miners who were too far out from the cities to shop and did not have freedom of movement during apartheid.”

As a result, Ms Paruk encourages her children to join her business as partners.

“We have family meetings, they come on business trips,” she says. “We are moving ahead with a couple of their ideas like the cookie cutters – it will be their business, their baby. This is the investment I’ve made in them.

“I’ve done Cakebox to pay for their education – but they could go to university and still be out of a job. I want to make them streetwise. I would love Mohammed to run a business from scratch.”

Two years ago, Mohammed presented an idea to his school for an electronic smart bag for people with disabilities. It would synch to an app and track its owner (say at an airport), so it was never lost. He still wants to develop this, but for now, he helps his mother with the orders, queries and with the site. But he feels that attending the entrepreneurship course, which costs Dh1,750 per child, will strengthen his business acumen.

“This camp will teach me leadership skills, and how to further my ideas and bring them into the business,” says Mohammed. “I want to start my own business after university.”

But does Mohammed really want to spend his summer transforming himself into the next Donald Trump, instead of playing videogames with his friends? “Friends you have the whole year – business camp only comes in the summer,” he replies.

The Canadian Sallyann Della Casa, 37, a former corporate lawyer, is the “lead tree shaker” at Growing Leaders. She mentored Ms Paruk during the start-ups brain dates she runs on Saturdays.

“Traditionally, entrepreneurship is taught as pitch deck, IPO, exit strategy, sell,” says Ms Della Casa. “I’m doing the exact opposite: how do you buy a business aligned to you – the true north of the business – and to what you stand for. Virgin, Tesla, Huffington Post – you can’t talk about them without talking about Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Arianna Huffington.

“The definition of entrepreneurship is a moving term. In the past it was about real estate and factories. Today, companies such as Uber and Air BnB own nothing tangible. Entrepreneurship now is about identifying unique talents and aligning them to a career. People assume you’re going to come out owning a business … but one of the things I’m teaching is not to be attached to the outcome.”

So how will this benefit young minds such as Mohammed’s?

“Even if you end up as an employee, companies want workers thinking like start-ups – hungry, creative, reactive,” adds Ms Della Casa. “Worldwide, 75 million youths are unemployed, while 36 per cent of employers are saying they can’t find talent. I give young people tools – financial literacy, identifying your own brand, how to fail, tinker, pivot.”

But whether kids learn to be entrepreneurs or not, at least they will never need to train as a leech collector, toad doctor or royal rat catcher – some extinct jobs from two centuries ago.

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