Avoiding Thesis Editing… I’ll Start a Blog Series Instead

Blogs are always difficult to start, and often feel pretty self-indulgent and narcissistic – this weird notion that people are interested enough in your day-to-day life to take time out of their day to read about your thoughts, feelings, and the mundanities of your work. However, in the process of applying for and starting my PhD, I really struggled to find any people talking openly and honestly about the day-to-day experience of PhD studies in the UK. I’m a first-generation student from a working-class background, with me and my brother the first in our family to attend higher education, and me being the first in the family to go on to postgraduate studies – so there was even less information available to me. I didn’t know anybody in my personal life who had gone onto do a PhD, so there were so many questions I didn’t have answers too, and I couldn’t find anybody on the internet talking about this.

I’m currently in the final stages of writing up my thesis for submission for my MSc in Social Science Research Methods at Cardiff University, on the cusp of moving into the PhD phase of my Wales DTP ESRC 1+3 PhD. I started my academic journey at Aberystwyth University with a BSc in Business Economics, before moving to the Institute of Development Studies for my MA in Globalization, Business and Development. Throughout my studies, I was involved in running the Aberystwyth University Economics Society and various committee roles in an amalgamation of sports teams, as well as working as: a subway sandwich artist, a pet store colleague, an international student recruitment assistant, a finance assistant, a entrepreneurship NGO in Kosovo, a gym assistant, a project manager at an NGO for entrepreneurship education, a research assistant at a Bosnian think tank and a business and entrepreneurship teacher at an international summer school.  I then worked at Oxford Brookes Business School as a research assistant for the Centre for Business, Society and Global Challenges for 1 year, where I was involved in research (obviously), teaching and coordinating the Oxford Human Rights Festival.

Throughout my time at OBBS, I realised I wanted to continue with the research I had been conducting throughout my undergraduate and masters – focusing on how young people in the Western Balkans transition into employment, and what a ‘successful’ school to work transition looks like for them. So, I applied for my PhD with a proposal surrounding this idea, focusing on Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo as I had worked in these countries, and my two dissertations for my BSc and MA had focused on these countries – plus, I was learning the local languages already. I interviewed for a few, was accepted for a few, but Cardiff University was both able to fund me, and I felt a stronger affinity to my potential supervisors than in other places based off our mutual research interests. I’m somebody that deeply struggles with commitment, never staying in the same place or job for too long, so finding a team of supervisors I felt confident enough to commit four years of my life to was definitely a big step to take. So, I packed my bags, moved all the way to Cardiff, and started the (1+) part of the ESRC programme in the midst of the global pandemic.

The 1+ consisted of completing an MSc in Social Science Research Methods (SSRM),  which involved extensive theoretical and philosophical teaching surrounding social science – which was completely new to me, as someone who had mainly been in business schools and development studies prior to this. To say it’s been a challenging year would be the understatement of the century, and there are definitely many things I would change and improve about the SSRM training, but overall – I feel like a more competent and theoretically grounded researcher now I’m coming to the end of it. I’m an incredibly practical person who is still learning to see nuance and think of a world outside of the teachings of neoclassical economics and the business school bravado, so undertaking the SSRM allowed me to gain an appreciation for the study of the nuances of the world, and the various creative and outlandish methods that researchers use to uncover knowledge within the social sciences. Will you ever see me undertaking an ethnomethodological investigation into the science of waiting for the discount stickers to be put on the fridge produce at my local Tesco Extra? Maybe not. But it has pushed me to a greater appreciation for qualitative research, where my SSRM dissertation involved interviews rather than large surveys (one day I’ll get my interview data into a pretty graph!). 

Outside of academia, I’m a self-employed freelance consultant – I basically help various NGOs and charities across Europe with their social entrepreneurship education training material and deliver workshops and courses on social enterprise as and when people want me. I also work zero-hours at the universities COVID testing centre – it’s an excuse to leave my house and speak to people outside of my PhD programme, and I really enjoy the time away from ‘academic work’. In my free time, I’m really into fitness – I do weight training and running in the gym, recently completing four half marathons in a month to fundraise for Remembering Srebrenica Wales, who I sit on the board for as the Education Lead. I run the Youth Ambassador programme for Remembering Srebrenica Wales, working with young people across Wales to fight the denialism about Srebrenica, and educate other young people on what happened at Srebrenica, and what is being done to fight for justice. I’m also an Ambassador for the World Summit Awards, an organisation centred on technology-driven social entrepreneurship to combat the UN SDGs, where I attend in-person and virtual hackathons and summits in both a mentorship and juror capacity, occasionally hosting events for them too. I really enjoy cooking and baking too – trying to veganize my favourite foods (Italian and Turkish) and bake protein powder into anything chocolatey. I am also really into reading – however, I am very lazy with it and trying to get better! That does mean I have some very aesthetically pleasing bookshelves, and arguably, that’s halfway there to being a ‘readingluencer’ or ‘bookstagram’ or whatever it’s called!

          So now, as I write this, I’m in the final stages of the SSRM – I’m finalising the write up of my dissertation, and relentlessly drafting and redrafting my work until I feel ready to send it into the world (like a parent sending their child off to university, but I’m just submitting a word document into Turnitin). I’m hopefully planning to publish a few pieces from this dissertation during the first year of my PhD (check back in a years’ time and we’ll see if that happened), and come October, I’ll be officially a fully fledged PhD student. I’m planning to ‘blog’ at least once a month, about the day-to-day mundanities of PhD life, and anything else I think is relevant, interesting, or worth sitting down for an hour to write 1,000 words or so about. I’ll also be sharing blogs I write for other organisations on this website too, as well as other professional things – essentially, this website is becoming a portfolio of everything going on in my life, because LinkedIn is so last year.

What is Social Capital and Why Does It Matter?

From a young age, we are told that if you work hard, you’ll achieve everything that you want. If you just apply yourself in school, you’ll become successful, whether this means becoming a famous actor or actress, the CEO of a Fortune 500, or having any form of influence in society. If you just go to university, get that degree, find that full-time job and work your way up, you’ll be comfortable in no time. You’ll earn enough to buy a nice house; you’ll retire at sixty and you’ll have enough leisure time to dedicate to all the charitable causes and hobbies you’ve been delaying dipping your toe in to. However, is this really the case? Do those that work the hardest, really get the most rewards? Or are some people just more likely to stumble upwards than other people, and if so, why is this?

 The UK has a serious social mobility issue which has become more apparent in recent years, demonstrated perfectly by the current chumocracy we see in the dishing out of government contracts to the owner of our elected official’s favourite pubs. Social mobility refers to the ability of an individual to move upward in social status, based on common social variables, such as wealth, occupation, or education level. A person’s social mobility is highly dependent on a few factors, such as, the degree to which a ‘class’ system exists within the country, and a person’s social capital. The UK is inherently a very classist system, with even George Orwell saying that Britain is “the most class-ridden society under the sun.” This means that actually, class, and your social capital, does matter. As they say, it’s not what you know, but who you know and how you know them.

Social capital refers to “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.” Whilst this in itself is a vague concept, it is inherently about the societal norms in which you grow up in, the strength and influence of the network of people, such as friends and family, you can call upon, and the degree of trust and reciprocity across these networks. This is a term I have found myself grappling with in recent years, reflecting on my own experiences growing up in a working-class area – I have an incredibly strong personal network of friends and family, and I trust them with my life. I’m sure if I rang up one of my third aunts twice removed, they’d do me any favour that I needed, and they could manage. I don’t think they could lend me a million pounds, or secure me a contract to provide PPE, but I know they’d definitely lend me a cup of sugar and let me stay for tea.

This is what social capital comes down to though – the weight of that personal network you have, and it’s standing in society. Rich people stay rich by keeping wealth and opportunities circulating within their circles – there is no such thing as a true meritocracy in such a capitalist, classist society like the UK. I think of acquaintances of mine that have gained work experience whilst at university because their Dad’s best friend works for one of the Top 4 banks, and whilst the bank doesn’t usually offer such work experience… if they can borrow the house in Dorset for a week, they’ll take them on. It’s within these transactions of opportunity between elites and the upper and middle echelons of society, that inequality is reproduced, and mobility is stunted. This may seem like an innocent, helping out of a friend, but the consequences of these tiny little interactions run deep.

When person A has work experience at a bank that their Dad’s friend gave them in exchange for a week in Dorset, whilst person B only has their part-time retail job as work experience because they do not have such connections in their personal network. All else being equal, such as grades, degree, and where they studied, and they’re both being sifted through a recruitment portal… who gets in? Person B is stunted in comparison to Person A, despite having the same grades and qualifications. In the long term, person A leverages that work experience to get a full-time job at the bank and reproduce those inequalities for those within their own personal network (most likely, people from a similar class background). Person B is left to compete in the apparently meritocratic system in which young people are expected to manoeuvre – they may get their lucky break and go from there, but not every person B can make that lucky break. This is how social inequality is reproduced, this is how social mobility becomes stagnant, and this is how we end up in the current crisis we are in: the elites of society holding all of the power.

When this example is extended even further up the ladder of society, we look at senior leaders in this country. Most senior leaders benefit from this form of social capital – being given a leg up, and having visible, accessible role models whose careers they can emulate and seek guidance from. However, when these senior positions are filled for the most part, by those within these upper classes of society, the policies, and practices that they implement are implemented based upon their own ideas and experiences of the world. We are living through a prime example of this, with ten years of Tory rule decimating some of the prime ‘levelling-out’ schemes and opportunities that had been previously in place: the closing of the Sure Start scheme, the defunding of the NHS, the underfunding and defunding of vital youth clubs and services, and the withdrawal from schemes such as Erasmus+. When those at the top have never experienced the bottom, they feel no shame in cutting away the safety ladders that provide many working-class people with any opportunity to climb up the social mobility ladder too.

Commissioned for The Everyday Magazine

Inequality, Political Participation and Political (Il)literacy in the UK

I grew up in a very working-class area. My school had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe when I was attending, and I vividly remember metal detectors propped up outside the school gates greeting me some mornings as I ventured in to start my day of learning. The teachers at my school, God bless them, tried their hardest to get everybody to learn, but my year group still came out with a 32% 5A*-C GCSE rate, significantly below the national average.

The year after I left, the school was converted into an academy. What I’m saying is, there was not much that I learnt at school academically speaking that has been very fruitful to my career trajectory thus far. When I went to university a few years later, I realised just how woefully my schooling had prepared me for adult life, critical thought, and an understanding of how the world works outside the little microcosm that is my hometown. I had no understanding of the political system and how the government’s choices affected my day to day life, I thought feminism was an extremist ideology which required me to burn all my bras on sight, and I had no understanding of the extent to which British imperialism and colonialism had destroyed nations and continents. Was this a reflection of my ignorance to the world, or was it a result of the materials in which I had access to, to educate myself with? 

After spending years in a small university town in which most shops sold a diverse array of newspapers, broadsheets and tabloids, and I had unlimited access to a library that was beautifully stocked with all the knowledge I could seek, coming back home was eye opening. Every time I go back home, I do a tour of the local corner shops and see what is on the newspaper and magazine rack, and every time I am disappointed. Without a fail, there’s your usual gossip and tabloid magazines, such as Heat, Take a Break and Hello!, sharing the news on the latest celebrity boob job or cheating scandal, as well as the sensationalist tabloid papers such as The Daily Mail and The Sun.

These are magazines that littered my childhood, reading about the horrific ‘real life stories’ in Heat, and learning about the ‘state of the country’ from the Daily Mail, and these experiences seem to be pretty common for those I speak to from my background. I used to think that these papers were chosen out of preference, perhaps they were the cheapest, the prettiest, or the most reliable, but since growing up and reading more into them, I realised it’s probably for different reasons. However, it’s the prominence of these papers in working class areas that leads to political literacy and disengagement in those that are working class. 

So, where does this issue of political literacy stem from? I’d argue that it’s the language used – the more unreliable the paper, the more accessible it is linguistically. According to the National Literacy Trust, 12% of adults in Wales, 16.4% of adults in England, 17.9% of adults in Northern Ireland and 26.7% of adults in Scotland have very poor literacy skills. This means that “they can understand short straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently, and obtain information from everyday sources, but reading information from unfamiliar sources, or on unfamiliar topics, could cause problems.” This is also known as being functionally illiterate.

The language used in these papers is incredibly accessible – even those in my family with lower levels of literacy, are able to fully understand what is being said. So when the Daily Mail twists some new research, a news story or a finding and sprinkles in their own bias and sensationalism, it’s reliability isn’t questioned because often, it’s the only thing linguistically that makes sense, or isn’t headache inducing to read and try to understand. The issue we have in the UK with political literacy and participation isn’t because people don’t care about politics or making changes in their community, but it’s because the information surrounding politics and participation is in a language that is alien to so many people – including myself, someone working on a PhD, at times.

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, electoral participation amongst the young and the poor is declining dramatically. Arguably, these groups will have lower levels of literacy (when you’re young, you’ve had less time to build up that literacy and critical thinking outside of a schooling environment, and when you’re poor, you have less access to materials and resources that can aid in improving literacy, or less time due to working ridiculous hours and having more pressing issues than understanding the BBC). People only engage and participate politically when they understand why democratic politics is important, and how it can improve their life. When politics is seen as something that only happens at Westminster, and only concerning the Eton elites, political participation will be significantly lower. 

How do we change this, when the working class are significantly underrepresented in journalism, academia and politics, the main sources for this information? We need to push for more accessible language, support grassroots organisations working to demystify politics for those who do not have the financial resources to subscribe to many pay-walled more ‘reliable’ sources or the time to read long extensive articles and books wrapped up in jargon that takes extra time and mental capacity to comprehend.

It starts with throwing away this jargon we use to make ourselves sound smarter to try and overcompensate for our massive inferiority complexes that we all have – if it can be said in easier words, say it that way. I promise you that those who will think less of you, probably weren’t your target audience anyway. Political literacy is a basic social requirement that empowers people to being politically engaged and active, so lets start bringing down those ivory towers of who can engage in politics and social justice discourse by making it accessible to all, regardless of their literary abilities. People will only turn out and vote when they understand the why, and what voting and campaigning can do for them, in their communities, and for the individual and very valid concerns and challenges that we all face.

Comissioned for the Everyday Magazine

UK Foreign Aid & The UN SDG’s

The turn of the decade marked the beginning of the ‘Decade for Action’ – the ten-year push to achieve the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 goals are a collection of interlinked goals, agreed by all 193 UN territories, that are a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all“. These goals address the global challenges that we all face, such as poverty, inequality, gender equality, climate change, environmental degradation and peace and justice (Figure 1).

Los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible (ODS) y la salud global The  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Global Health - Project - ISGLOBAL

Figure 1: The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The COVID19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact globally, wreaking havoc not just on global health, but on inequality, poverty, climate change, gender equality, education and economic development. At the recent turn of the decade, the SDGs were looking less likely to be achieved – with projections suggesting that 6% of the global population would still be living in extreme poverty by the end goal of 2030. However, following the COVD19 pandemic, this looks to be even higher, and it’s not just global poverty seeing a backwards slide in light of the pandemic. During the crisis, at least 70 countries have halted childhood vaccination programmes, and in the UK itself, health services for cancer screening, non-COVID19 infectious diseases and family planning have been severely interrupted or neglected, potentially reversing decades of improvement in public health. The impact that COVID has had, and will continue to have, on the achievement of the SDGs is astronomical, and whilst as a global community, we have tools to combat this, our response to this global challenge stems down to whether achieving a ‘sustainable future’ is in the policy agenda of our countries politicians. For the UK, the situation looks bleak.

One of the main ways in which the SDGs can be achieved within this next decade is a concentration on development aid – which is “financial aid given by governments to support the economic, environmental, social and political development of developing countries”. Development aid differs from humanitarian aid, in the sense that development aid focuses on long-term poverty alleviation, rather than short-term responses. The UK has long been one of the worlds biggest foreign aid donors, consistently being one of the only countries to commit to and achieve the UN’s target of committing 0.7% of the annual budget to expenditure on foreign aid. However, 2020 has been the year in which the UK has backtracked on its commitment to “promote sustainable development and eliminate world poverty”, with both the DFID merger with the Foreign Office back in June and now the reduction of our commitment of 0.7% of our annual budget to 0.5%. This has come in parallel to proposals to increase national defence spending, and restrict employment in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to just British nationals – limiting the talent pool in which FCDO will recruit from and drastically reducing the diverse talent pool to recruit from which is essential for a effective, impactful foreign aid strategy. This year has not only revealed our governments commitment to upholding and increasing economic inequality within the UK, but the DFID merger and cut to the foreign aid budget demonstrates a governmental commitment to increasing inequality and poverty within the global sphere. Whilst the COVID19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the reversal of some of the developments made globally towards achieving the SDGs, the cutting of the aid budget and the DFID-FCO merger will further snowball this regression in global development.

Many critics of the UK’s historic commitment to the 0.7% expenditure on foreign aid argue that we need to focus on ‘protecting our own first’, inciting nationalistic ideologies and focusing developing on a British identity rather than a global identity. However, to what extent can we say that our government is even protecting its own in light of this pandemic, when we have prioritised the protection of the middle and upper classes to the expense of the working class. Poorer areas of the UK have experienced some of the highest COVID-19 death rates and have faced higher levels of financial hardship, have experienced a disproportionate share of the COVID19 burden (which has had an even higher effect on those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds). If we were protecting our own first, disabled people would have been better protected (not just physically, but in terms of financial security too), yet disabled peoples death rates are 2-3 times higher than those of non-disabled people due to this troubling fixation with brushing this off as “well, they had underlying health conditions anyway”. If we were truly protecting our own first, we would have protected young peoples livelihoods, however, 1 in 3 young people (age 18-24) have been furloughed or lost their job (twice that of working adults overall), and many young people have been messed around by their universities, and left more vulnerable to the long-term scarring effects of early career instability and unemployment.

Part of the modern British identity, as argued by former PM David Cameron back in 2011, has also been in our commitment to help the worlds poorest, spending aid money transparently and efficiently. A vast amount of the UK’s economic growth and development has been off the back of exploitation of poorer countries – through colonialism, slavery, and the continued extraction of natural resources in poorer countries to protect our own biodiversity. So why, as a nation, are we so happy to exploit these poorer countries and their resources for our own economics needs, yet so angry at the idea of redistributing a small portion of our GDP (our military spending is 2.1% of GDP, for comparison) to foreign aid? Surely, in pursuit of ‘building back better’, as our politicians keep reminding us is the priority, we should focus on not just building ourselves back to our pre-COVID days (if that’s even a desirable end point), but the countries around the world that we have benefited from the exploitation and underdevelopment of. Whilst the COVID19 recovery is inevitably going to be an economically challenging time for the UK, especially considering the end of the Brexit transition period by the end of 2020, now is the time to strengthen our international commitments, rather than isolate ourselves even further.

Written for Kairos Europe

Jobs Are No Longer for Life; Just for Now

This isn’t another article berating Millennials or Gen Z’ers for killing capitalism by whatever means, but rather, a love letter to two generations making choices that defy the choices of the generations preceding them. There are many things that millennials and Gen Z do not have in common, such as our taste in fashion, style, music, entertainment, or pretty much, our taste in everything. I sit somewhere between the two, born in 1995, a big fan of avocado toast and coffee, but not so much a fan of Facebook.

There have been countless occasions in which the Millennial and Gen Z generations have come at a head-on collision in recent years. Many articles, vlogs, and Twitter threads outline contention points between the two generations. However, there is one thing that we do have in common: our propensity to job hop. That is, when the going gets tough (or inconvenient, or boring, or no longer interesting), we get going.

Millennials and Gen Z are spoilt for choice. Whether it comes to our love lives and our toxic relationship with dating apps, or our relationship with our careers and the professions we chose, we are always shopping for the next best thing. We have a world of knowledge at our fingertips. In contrast, our predecessors would have to go out on foot with a CV to find a new job. One quick google can tell us that the company next door is hiring for our exact same role but offering us a nice shiny pay-rise. If we want to switch industry, there is a world of free or cheap courses that can be done from the comfort of our own beds providing us with the knowledge and skills needed to enter a new industry. If the entire world is at our fingertips and all these opportunities are out there waiting for us, why would we not grab them?

With all these opportunities awaiting us, theirs been a growing concentration on developing multiple sources of income, or as it’s otherwise nicknamed on the internet, ‘hustle culture’. This hustle culture, particularly throughout the pandemic, has placed more emphasis on an individual’s economic value and productivity rather than their human value and work-life balance. Because of this, millennials and Gen Z are much more likely to have ‘side hustles’, according to a recent survey by SunTrust bank.

Millennials are both more likely to have side hustles than previous generations, and more likely to have multiple side hustles, which leads to a more significant proportion of our income coming from these side hustles. Many young people aren’t staying put because they’re juggling multiple plates, rather than depending on one income source. This defies what our parents have taught us that loyalty is rewarded in the workplace and that you need to stick at one thing and do it well.

Whilst there are many downsides to this hustle culture, such as burn out and toxic productivity, it does provide young people with the opportunity to try on multiple hats and see which one fits. Suppose my full-time job gives me the flexibility to pursue these side interests. In that case, it becomes a balancing act I can afford to pursue, allowing me both security and the opportunity to appease my curiosity of ventures anew. However, with any balancing act, there often comes a need for a shift – one side hustle takes off and demands more of your time, another becomes less profitable or interesting anymore, or you find a

Amongst the younger generations, there is also a rising demand for flexibility, with 92% of millennials identifying flexibility as a top priority whilst job hunting. Disillusioned with the idea of the restrictive 9-5 job, we want more for ourselves, and we are more switched on to how and when we are at our most productive. This could be due to the changing role of technology in our lives. With the invention and hyper-usage of smartphones, we are always switched on and available to work. If everyone is easily contactable, 24 hours a day, what is the need to be sat in the office 9-5 when a Zoom call will suffice? The pandemic’s WFH push has further highlighted how remote and flexible working is the future. This also links to our lives’ changing nature – with more women entering the workforce. Yet, the demands in home life are barely changing, women particularly need more flexibility to ‘have it all’.

However, it’s not just us that is the ‘problem’. Employers are increasingly recruiting for more short-term, temporary working arrangements, to provide them with increased flexibility that the current uncertain economic climate requires, reducing the liability on their side to provide company benefits, statutory sick pay or annual leave. This can be seen across a range of sectors, from hospitality and retail all the way to academia and consultancy.

As the world becomes more globalised, and the needs of businesses become more complex and quickly changing, there is less loyalty on the employer’s side to provide a conducive environment that warrants a younger employee to commit their life to the organisation. Simply put, Millennials and Gen Z want more than what many businesses are currently offering, and they aren’t afraid to shop around until they find it.

Commissioned for The Everyday Magazine

Building Resilience in the EU Entrepreneurship Agenda

This essay was submitted to the European Commission SME Week Youth Essay Competition, in which it was awarded a place at the SME Week Finals.

SMEs are of a great importance in the European landscape, accounting for over 99% of
European businesses and representing a wide variety of sectors such as hospitality, tourism,
travel, retail, IT, food service and manufacturing. COVID-19 has highlighted the weaknesses
of many SMEs, with over 90% of SMEs reporting a decrease in turnover since the beginning
of the pandemic (SME United, 2020). Whilst in recent years, emphasis has been placed on
the sustainability of SMEs in an increasingly globalised world, the current pandemic has
shifted the emphasis to concentrate on the resilience of SMEs. Broadly speaking, resilience
refers to the ability to manage adversity, which in the context of SMEs, refers to the ability of
an organisation to avoid, absorb, respond to and recover from situations that have the
potential to threaten their existence. In the current climate, this includes increased global
competitiveness from globalisation, technological advancements, shifting consumer
demands and environmental or ecological disasters, such as COVID.

Whilst resilience and sustainability are the new buzzwords on the block when discussing
SMEs and enterprise in Europe, they interconnectivity between the two concepts is scarcely
explored. In order to be resilient, an organisation must be able to withstand adversity and
change, whilst to be sustainable, an organisation must be able meet the needs of the
present without compromising the future. When discussing these terms, we often think in
terms of how an organisations internal environment operates, such as its ability to withstand
structural change or financial hardship – which makes connecting the two terms difficult. To
be resilient is to be preparing and managing for every hardship – making decisions quickly,
therefore focusing on flexibility as a core element of strategy. To be sustainable means
devising strategy based on longevity of the brand, thus, investing in sustainability in the longterm can hinder flexibility of response to challenge in the short term.

From the start-up stage, sustainability is seen as an afterthought for many SMEs, with the
focus being on profits, revenue and business growth. This is because sustainability is seen
as a long-term investment that often lacks short term returns, meaning for an emerging
entrepreneur, investing in sustainable is less attractive. Further to this, many traditional
entrepreneurship education programs, such as MBAs, business degrees or extra-curricular
training programs, tend to leave sustainability off the agenda, or leave it as an elective or
afterthought. This lack of emphasis at the start-up, or grassroots stage, means many
entrepreneurs do not begin their entrepreneurial journey with an understanding of the value
of sustainability for long-term strategy, and therefore, tend to neglect it within their SME.
The current motto of the COVID recovery is to ‘build back better’, by placing sustainability
and the environment at the forefront of our social and economic recovery. For a more
resilient Europe, building back better looks incentivising the private sector and SMEs that
operate within it to prioritise the SDGs in their work, whether this be through auditing their
supply chain to ensure decent employment for all, or assessing their environmental impact to
ensure clean water and land. Currently, there is a disconnect between the SDGs and
businesses, with the SDGs being seen as something for governments and councils to
prioritise. However, as COVID has demonstrated to us, private sector interventions (such as
firms shifting production to produce PPE to cover the shortage, and further expanding to
produce environmentally friendly PPE) can have just as much of a positive impact, if not
more so, than government intervention.

Whilst many more experienced SMEs may be set in their ways in how their sector, industry
and organisation work, the COVID pandemic will see many young entrepreneurs emerging
due to a lack of employment opportunities. In the past five years, EU policy has concentrated
heavily on youth entrepreneurship, both as a mechanism for diversifying and advancing
economic activity and as a solution for youth unemployment. In the previous youth strategy
(2010-2019), enterprise and employment were two of the eight targeted youth strategies,
and fostering youth entrepreneurship is highlighted as one of the objectives of the Europe
2020 strategy, as well as its Youth on the Move flagship initiative. In order to build back
better, existing EU policy needs to target this emerging group by advancing the scale and
scope of existing enterprise education, both in further and higher education institutions and
in external organisations, such as NGOs and informal training groups, and increasing access
to this training through investment and innovation within the field.

To centre sustainability (and thus, resilience) at the forefront of entrepreneurship education,
EU policy needs to outline a framework of a sustainable entrepreneurship program, that not
only focuses on profitability and growth as core targets of the business, but alignment and
achievement with the SDGs. Training aspirational entrepreneurs on the values of the SDGs
and the impact these goals can have on a businesses value, due to shifting consumption
demands for more ethical businesses, as well as the value in being an ethical and
sustainable business, will have a longer lasting impact on the long-term resilience of SMEs
in Europe than any financial intervention or incentive proposed. This includes working with
successful social enterprises across Europe to create a toolkit for enterprise educators,
connecting businesses and education providers, and working with non-profits within the field
of sustainability and the SDGs to shift existing enterprise education programs towards
sustainability orientated curriculum. A universal framework, implemented alongside EU SME
policy, would provide aspiring entrepreneurs both old and young with a toolkit on how to
incorporate sustainability at its core, in a way that aligns with the SDG ethos of what
sustainability truly looks like.

To create a new generation of sustainable, and subsequently resilient SMEs, EU policy
needs to focus on entrepreneurship education policy to ensure sustainability is at the root of
all business movements. Entrepreneurs are not made over night, but through years of
experience, education and skills development. Young people across Europe are becoming
more interested in entrepreneurship as a viable career path, with a growing interest in
extracurricular enterprise training programs and schemes, with many young people starting
up their own ‘side hustles’ and enterprises during lockdown as a source of income. Providing
young entrepreneurs with a roadmap or framework to being a sustainable entrepreneur not
only encourages those on the receiving end of the training to centre sustainability in their
business strategy, but also incentivizes more mature SMEs to re-strategize in order to keep
up with the growing demand for sustainability, which further aids in building back better.

SME United, 2020. The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on SMEs in Europe, Brussels: SME United.

Published for the European Commission SME Week 2020

COVID-19 and Youth Labour Market Transitions in the UK

Whilst COVID-19 may not be perceived as a direct threat to the health of the majority of young people in the UK, it poses a direct economic impact on young people’s livelihoods; namely, their transition from school to work and the early stages of their careers. The pandemic to-date has already infected close to one million people across the world, claimed more than 2,000 deaths in the UK alone, sent stock markets crashing and sparked vast warnings that economies and businesses are heading for a deep slump. Young people in the UK are set to be the hardest hit demographic in terms of long-term economic impact, due to the impact on education systems, job loss and the consequential long-term unemployment. Sangheon Lee, head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) argues that “Young people tend to be more affected by these crises than other age groups, so that is why we very much worry about the impact of the COVID-19[1]. Young people are disproportionately more affected by economic shock, as they’re more likely to be engaged in precarious and insecure employment, usually in the services or hospitality sector, and are more likely to be considered as disposable in the corporate chain. They are less likely to have a safety net of savings to fall back on and are neglected in government policies such as universal credit, universal basic income or unemployment benefit.

The unemployment rate in the UK for 18-24 year olds sat at 10.4% last year, compared to an overall UK unemployment rate of 3.4%. On the surface, these figures aren’t too shocking – however, employment on a zero hour contract with zero hours of work scheduled still classifies a young person as being ‘employed’, which is the situation for many young people. Young people in further and higher education are also classified as being in ‘employed’, with those engaged in some form of formal education taken out of the unemployment measurement. The working experiences of young people across the UK are shaped by diverse and complex circumstances which are inextricably interconnected, such as family background and connections, ethnicity, religion, gender and education.  We can safely assume that youth unemployment will see a drastic rise in the next six months, but current policies and protocols in place have the potential to hinder the labour market transitions of young people for years to come, particularly those from economically disadvantaged or socially marginalized backgrounds.

Whilst the cancellation of GCSEs and A Level exams was initially met with a breathe of relief from many young people across the UK, this quickly shifted to disappointment following the announcement that awards will be given off of existing predicted grades. For young people from working class or BAME backgrounds, many find they often overachieve their predicted grades due to unconscious bias. Being awarded a grade that is one or two below what you could have achieved has a serious long-term impact on young people, hindering their ability to take certain A Levels, enter into apprenticeship schemes or university of choice. In the longer-term, this hinder their chance to enter elite graduate schemes that not only base acceptance off degree classification, but A Level and GCSE achievements. Not only does this restrict upward social in certain industries, but it widens the already growing inequality between state and private educated students across the UK.

The recent announcements of the capping of university places for the 2020/2021 admission cycle was initially outlined to prevent universities recuperating financial losses by increasing student numbers[2]. However, the capping of university places and the awarding of predicted grades locks out many highly-able but underestimated students from lower income and marginalized backgrounds from entering university. The two options available to young people at this point is to either retake the following exams – at a cost they may be unable to afford, or to give up on ambitions of university and enter employment. However, with the economic recovery following this pandemic looking to go on for years to come, how will a shrinking labour market absorb the growing group of non-university entrants when they’ll be competing with graduates and well-connected young people in similar positions, seeking entry-level roles? The impact of COVID-19 will shake up the entire global economy, make us rethink about globalization and hopefully rethink our current approach to public health in the UK. It will also highlight the glaring inequalities we see not only in the poorest of countries, but in our own country here, the UK. COVID-19 is set to shift the way we think about the future of work, the nature of the workplace and what essential work means, but it will also have a deep, scarring effects on young people graduating from schools, colleges and universities into the current economic crisis, which will take years, if not decades, to fade.

Published by Kairos Europe

Why Women’s Economic Empowerment Matters

“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” Hilary Clinton

The world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030; one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations in 2015. Based on current trends, it would take 257 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity, despite the fact that women’s equal participation in the economy would add $28 trillion to the global economy (approximately 26% of global GDP). The movement towards women’s empowerment isn’t about strengthening women, women are already strong;  they raise households, lead communities and influence change whilst still being restricted a seat at the table. Women’s empowerment is about changing the way the world perceives, and values that strength, alongside ensuring women are afforded the same opportunities and privileges that men are. Investing in women’s empowerment, more specifically, their economic empowerment, sets the world on a direct path towards gender equality, healthier households, poverty eradication and truly inclusive economic growth. Whilst economic empowerment specifically relates to a person’s ability to work to create wealth, it indirectly links in with family planning, access to schooling, and the financial inclusion and political representation of women, all factors which contribute and enable women to break the barriers barring their seat at the table.

Family Planning
Family planning, the ability to control and plan your fertility, represents an immense extension of human freedom, allowing women to decide freely the amount of children they want, when they want them and how they want them. Growing rates of contraceptive methods has resulted not only in improvements in health-related outcomes such as reduced maternal and infant mortality rates, but also improvements in educational and economic outcomes, particularly for girls and women. Currently, more than one in ten married or ‘in-union’ women worldwide have an unmet need for family planning (i.e. they want to stop/delay childbearing but are unable to access the correct contraception); with this being as many as one in five women in Africa. Access to family planning not only ensures women can prevent an unwanted pregnancy, it also allows couples to have smaller families and to space the gap between children more efficiently, ensuring they are less vulnerable to extreme poverty, children are healthier and better educated, and women are able to re-enter the labour market if desired. Availability of family planning also has important incentive effects, by increasing parent’s investments into girls not yet fertile, such as daughters and granddaughters, including investment in their health, education and general well-being. The more access we have to family planning, the more opportunities we are given outside of potential motherhood. 

Girls Schooling
Educated women have a better chance of escaping poverty, leading healthier and more productive lives, and raising the living standards for their children, families and communities. Children born to literate mothers are less likely to die before the age of five than to illiterate mothers. They are more active in the formal labour market, have less children, marry at a later age, and engage more actively in civic spaces. However, less than 40% of all countries provide girls and boys with equal access to education, twice as many girls as boys will never even enter the school playground, and over two thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are female. Keeping women in school keeps them away from early marriage, with girls who have completed seven years of education marrying on average, five years later than their uneducated peers. It’s no secret that the more educated a person, the higher salary they can command, with every extra year of education estimated to increase a women’s earning power by 10-20%. Educating women from a young age, keeping them in school for as long as possible and allowing them to access all breadths of academia (from social sciences to STEM) creates a society in which women are active citizens, engaged in innovation and at the forefront of decision-making processes. 

Women in Work
Throughout the world, women and girls bear most of the burden of unpaid household and care-work, are more vulnerable to insecure employment and receive lower pay for the same work as men, as well as a systemic under-valuing of feminised jobs (such as caring, teaching and nursing). In the 50 countries across the world where women are more educated than men, they still earn 39% less than their male equivalent counterparts. In the UK, PWC estimates a 16.4% gender pay gap, with women disproportionately more represented in part-time precarious employment and working outside the labour market (such as in unpaid labour). UN Women estimates that 57 million people (majority being women) supply full-time, unpaid work (such as caring for elderly relatives) that fills the gaps caused by weak healthcare provision globally, in which the total net contribution of this work to the global economy is $10 trillion per year. Comparatively, the global automotive industry contributes $4 trillion to the global economy annually. Investing in ‘feminised labour’, and reversing the under-investment in social services such as nursing and childcare allows more women to present in the labour market, earn a decent living and be valued for the work they provide. It also encourages more men to enter this field of work, diversifying the labour market and moving towards gender neutrality in these sectors. Opening up access to typically male dominated fields to women provides a diversity of perspective in innovations in these areas, and provides women with equal access to the same opportunities as men are provided. 

Financing Women
When household income is controlled by women, either through their own earning or cash transfers, a greater proportion is spent on the health, education and well-being of children. At a macro level, financial inclusion for women has a significant impact on the overall economic growth and community development, due to the productivity gains from human capital investment. Despite this, women are disproportionately more likely to be ‘unbanked’ than their male counterparts, with only 65% of women globally having access to a bank account in comparison to 72% of men (with an even larger gap being found in regions such as Southeast Asia and the Middle East). This means that women have less security around their income, are less likely to be able to accumulate savings, and have a reduced access to loans to either fund their household, or start-up their own business. Globally, women are less likely to receive capital investment than men, due to societal assumptions around women’s ability to manage money, and business. By increasing access to finance for women, by the provision of bank accounts and removing social stigmas around lending to women, you don’t just increase the amount of women starting up their own businesses, you also increase the investment going to the next generation, investments in their health, education and well-being. This investment in the future generation leads to significant productivity gains for the country on a macroeconomic level. 

Political Power
Despite women making up over half the global population, we make up less female heads of government than we did five years. Amongst the 193 countries worldwide, only 10 of these countries are headed by a women; New Zealand, Namibia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Estonia, Croatia, Norway, Ethiopia, Taiwan, Lithuania. Interestingly, the rate of women’s representation has increased significantly in the past two decades, rising from 11.8% representation in national parliament in 1998 to 23.5% in 2018. This still does not mean the 30 percent benchmark, often the level of representation required to achieve a ‘critical mass’. Furthermore, a recent UN Women study found that almost 50% of people globally believe that men make better political leaders – a social judgement that places an invisible barrier, and an affront to fairness and a real meritocracy. Globally, we have a real problem with women taking the lead, both in business and in parliament. The full and equitable participation of women in politics is essential to building and sustaining strong, diverse and vibrant democracies. Women’s participation results in huge gains in gender equal policies, greater responsiveness to citizen’s needs (as women tend to be more involved with the local and wider community), and increased investment in the social sectors – sectors that are globally underfunded and undervalued. This provides the global economy with a more sustainable future, ensures we have healthier and happier citizens, and means that women and men are represented equally at all levels of public and private life.

Normalising women in education, in business and in positions of power and decision-making in the public sphere helps reduce these unconscious biases and stigmas that are held in private. Women’s economic empowerment is one of the most essential tools we have to ensure sustainable and inclusive economic development and growth across the world. Investing in the power of women, in every aspect and every step of their life, means a healthier, happier and more equitable society for all.

Published by the Oxford Human Rights Festival 2020

Fighting for Foreign Aid

The UK is one of the worlds biggest foreign aid donors, having the third largest aid budget in the world and being one of only a few countries consistently achieving the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of the annual budget (the countries gross national income) on foreign aid.

However, with the recent election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the UK, the UK’s position as a ‘development superpower’ is at great risk. In the running of, and since the announcement of his election, there have been numerous whispers and rumours about the ways in which the UK’s foreign aid spending will be reformed.

Currently, approximately 70% of the UK’s £14 billion a year (0.7% of national income) foreign aid budget is spent by the Department for International Development (DfID), with the rest spent by various other departments, most prominently, the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Foreign Office. On the 22nd July 2019, the now former Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox stated that the DIT will use increasing amounts of the aid budget to “help promote investment in developing countries and promote British interests”.

So, what comes of the countries who are in dire need of foreign aid, but can’t offer as desirable a return on investment as British interests would seek? What becomes of foreign aid to low-income countries such as Nepal, Tajikistan and Rwanda, who are both land-locked and resource scarce?

Nepal is an excellent example of the threat that shifting foreign aid to be more trade-focused rather than poverty focused poses.

Out of the 33 active projects funded by the UK aid budget in Nepal, only one of them has the Department of Trade (BEIS) funding it – and the project has one of the smallest budgets out of all aid-funded projects in Nepal.

For a country with little now to offer us, what hope is there for UK aid to Nepal once the new aid reforms come in, especially considering our history of scarcely rewarding the Nepalese Ghurkha for all their loyalty and support in our armed forces. Following the proposed reforms of the Department of Trade controlling even more of the aid budget, how hard will Nepal now have to fight for aid when we’ve taken all the resources we could get?

Historically, the UK’s commitment to aid has been justified on two grounds – from a moral perspective, demonstrating the UK’s commitment to help alleviate world poverty, and from a policy perspective, helping support the achievement of development milestones such as the SDG’s. However, numerous charities and agencies have warned that aid is no longer as effective and efficient as before, and taxpayers are no longer getting maximum value for money.

In a letter to the then Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, 23 agencies suggested that aid spending is now diverted from the worlds poor in order to promote commercial and political interests, or as the Prime Minister calls it, British interests. With the UK’s legal obligation to commit 0.7% of GDP on aid, many of those working in the humanitarian sector have raised concerns that ministers are using aid as a form of bribery, by classing politically convenient projects as aid, and ensuring the strings attached lead to increased cooperation with British industry.

The ONE Campaigns UK Real Aid Index has shown that DfID’s expenditure of the aid budget was rated highly for its focus on poverty, its effectiveness and its transparency, but the same couldn’t be said for other departments, such as the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade.

Of the aid spent outside of DfID, over 1/3 is spent in upper middle-income countries, who have very little need for UK aid.

For context, examples of upper middle-income countries are China, Azerbaijan and Russia, who all appear to be thriving off their own industries. A key example of this diversion would be the concerns raised by a committee of MPs over aid delivered under the Prosperity Fund, managed by the Foreign Office. Projects supported by this fund include extensive investment to China, including projects development the film industry and improving museum infrastructure.

Considering that the Prosperity Fund “aims to remove the barriers to economic growth and promote the economic reform and development needed to reduce poverty in partner countries”, its an interesting to choice to invest in the film industry in a upper-middle income country rather than invest in projects working with youth, health, education and disaster management in low-income countries.

In a time in which the Conservative government austerity measures, essential government departments and public services must fight furiously against budget cuts, the commitment of 0.7% of national income may be infuriating to them.

Do I think that we should maintain our 0.7% commitment, in a time where the NHS and the state education system are fighting for every penny? Absolutely. However, should we commit money to a foreign aid budget that serves those most in need, rather than for countries which would “serve the political and commercial interests of the UK”? Absolutely.

The foreign aid budget needs reform, but as one of the strongest economies in the world with a bloody history of exploiting and colonising others, we need to own up to that past and make reparations through investing in projects which offer long-term sustainability, rather than serving political interests or offering short-term solutions to ongoing issues. With the UK already facing a turbulent time ahead with a no-deal Brexit on the cards, losing its status as a ‘world leader’ in development aid threatens to weaken the UK’s standing and power on global issues.

Inarguably, we need to reform the way we do aid. Aid-scepticism is rising, and before long, we’ll be fighting about sending across 10p to a humanitarian crisis because of a distrust in where it will end up. On leaving his role as Foreign Secretary, the now Prime Minister told the Financial Times that if ‘Global Britain’ wants to achieve its full potential, then DfID must be brought back in-house to the Foreign Office, rather than operating independently.

The proposed expansion of the definition of aid from poverty reduction to include the “nations overall strategic goals” runs the risk of perpetuating the existing idea that the aid budget is used to bribe countries to be our friend. Under our current government with a Brexiteer leader and cabinet, the expansion of aid and in-housing of the budget could mean a total reduction in aid effectiveness and transparency, and an even further decline in it reaching those who need it the most.

If we want to maintain our position as a development superpower, we need to seriously reconsider the reforms currently being delivered by our government. If we’re not investing our ODA in bottoms-up approaches to poverty reduction, we aren’t using the taxpayer’s money in the most effective or impactful ways.

Published by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs

Three Practical Ways to Help Refugees Build Resilience

When a million refugees arrived on the shores of Europe in 2016, we all stopped and finally realised the scale of a problem that had been steadily growing before our eyes. In 2006, 38 million people has been displaced from their home due to conflict or persecution, and in 2016, that number sat at over 65 million – equivalent to the population of the UK. A lack of unified response and a subsequent growth in populist parties has exacerbated the problem, with people either welcoming or shunning the incoming persons. Whilst many people are pushing for values of tolerance and openness, many others are full of fear, afraid of the arrival of many people from different cultures, faiths and continents. Despite this, there are many people asking what they can do to help, one tiny person in a sea of humans, in their everyday life. Whilst it’s not plausible for everybody to potter down to Calais to help at the camps, or head over to Lesbos to hand out clothing and food, there are organisations and projects you can support at home that help build the resilience and improve the livelihoods of many refugees across the world.
Learn a Language
One of the most common New Year’s Resolutions (besides losing weight, saving money and travelling more) is to learn a new skill, such as a new language. We all want to increase our employability, our cultural capital and impress our friends with the skills we accumulate, and in a more globalised world, languages are one of the most impressive skills to make you stand out from the crowd. Whilst we know of all the common language learning courses such as Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, how about one with a human touch? Programs such as Chatterbox and NaTakallam connect you with an expert refugee coach who can deliver tailored language learning, from common languages such as French, Spanish and Arabic, to more localised languages such as Bengali, Somali, Persian and Swahili.
Thoughtful Tourism
Each year, more and more Brits make the choice to travel more, book more flights and see more cities. There has been a growth in organisations concentrating specifically on involving refugees and displaced persons in their supply chain, to both aid in the integration of refugees in society and create opportunities for refugees to showcase their experiences and culture. Locally in Oxford, the Pitts River Museum has launched the Multaka-Oxford project, which creates volunteer opportunities for refugees to work in the museum and host multi-lingual events, tours, blogs and displays. If you’re headed to Brazil, Migraflix is a growing organisation that supports activities for refugees to teach and share their culture through cooking classes, music, dance, art, cultural fairs and themed evenings. Or if you’re heading somewhere closer to home, such as Berlin or Copenhagen, you can explore the city through the eyes and voices of refugees in the city with Refugee Voices Tours.
Hiring Refugee Talent
If you’re in the fortunate position to be seeking new talent for your company or organisation, why not tap into the huge talent and skills that refugees can provide? Finding employment is not only essential for building economic resilience for refugees, but it also helps improve language skills, increases cultural awareness and builds local and social networks. Platforms such as Seek or Transitions London are a great way to find hidden talent, whilst also being socially responsible. Many refugees, even after being granted the right to work are struggling to find employment in the UK due to unconscious bias, lack of access to opportunities or information or inability to provide documentation of qualifications despite being highly skilled.

Published by the Oxford Human Rights Festival 2020