Dr Vincent Ogutu is the vice chancellor designate of Strathmore University. He spoke to Hashtag about why it is important for the youth to commit to something they are passionate in.
What are the highlights of your journey so far?
I have an MSc in Financial Economics from the University of London and a BA in Economics from the University of Nairobi.
When Strathmore Business School started, I helped found the MBA programme. I was the MBA Director for three years and then it became clear that I needed to get a PhD.
Through the Fulbright Scholarship, I was able to spend several years at Rutgers University in New Jersey and also to live in New York, both of which were hugely transformative experiences for me.
When I came back to Kenya, everything moved like a whirlwind, and last year I was offered the chance to lead the university as its next vice chancellor, currently getting coached by Prof John Odhiambo our VC.
How is Strathmore equipping its students for the future?
I encourage our youth to discover their talents or potential first, and then to engage in activities that can help them turn those talents into what I call mad skills. At Strathmore, we not only invest in good classroom engagement - we also encourage students to hone their skills through what they do outside of class.
There’s so much that they can learn from the industrial internships that we get for them, and from the community service that they do.
Apart from those compulsory internships and volunteer hours, we also encourage them to take on more activities and join any of the many clubs they have on campus, like the Strathmore Chorale, the Toastmasters Club, AIESEC and Karate, not to mention the sports teams like hockey, basketball, football, rugby, handball, volleyball and athletics.
They could also start a business and incubate it in any of the three incubators we have on campus like iBizAfrica, SERC and KCIC.
Last December, at a reunion, one of our alumni thanked us for all the interesting activities he had participated in on campus because that’s where he acquired the qualities that have made him a successful entrepreneur.
How can companies ensure that they retain millennial employees with the tendency of hopping from one job to another?
I recommend that employers create a talent pipeline where any newcomers can see for themselves the opportunities for growth that exist in that company. They’ll have to convince new talent that they have a clear plan in place for their training at different levels, and that people actually do move up in that company.
And don’t be too possessive - if at some point they’ve reached the top of the ladder and there can only be one CEO, allow for them to leave for greener pastures.
When they see that you do not fear developing them and that being with you could help launch their career, you will be an attractive place for new talent to come to.
If they do eventually leave, they will always be your ambassadors and will keep bringing you business or recommending young talent to go to you.
Your Ted talk on ‘people should commit to a cause that has their name written on it’ is quite inspiring. What are some of the ways that young people can find such causes and stick to them?
In most cases, people embrace a cause that surrounds them, which they see and feel everyday if they will just open their eyes to the problems around them.
In some cases, like mine, the problem you weren’t looking to solve finds you. I was more interested in solving the poverty question because of my upbringing, but when I was invited to speak at a prison in New York, I got inspired to start helping people find meaning and purpose in their work and in their lives (especially those who seem least likely to find meaning like prisoners and, terminally ill patients).
You will know you’ve found the right cause if it is a problem you truly care about and which your talents, skills and past experience uniquely position you to do something about.
As Frederick Buechner said: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
You’ve been studying the Psychology of Meaningful Work for six years. What discovery did you make about work and what mindset do young people need to have for there to be a transformation?
Robert Bellah and his sociologists colleagues, found that there are three meanings people tend to get from their work. Some people see their work as a source of money (job orientation), some see it as a way to gain status and compete (career orientation) whereas others see their work as a source of fulfillment and a way of making the world a better place (calling orientation).
I sought to discover whether work callings only occur to the lucky few who are born with it, or whether they can be acquired, and if so under what circumstances.
I found that there there were three trajectories to a calling: always, sudden and gradual. Yes, a very small minority of people affirm that they always had a sense of calling, but most people discovered their calling later on in life, some in their twenties, others later.
Of those who discovered it later, a very small minority discovered it all of a sudden, through an epiphany-like experience where they realised in a flash that their lives from that moment on would never be the same again.
For most people, however, it was the result of a lot of experimentation, going through experiences that they didn’t like or that they didn’t like as much until they gradually discovered what they considered to finally be their calling.
I would encourage young people to expose themselves to many possibilities so as to truly know themselves. There’s the temptation of path dependence, of immediately doing a master’s in what you did in your undergrad, and then doing a PhD in the same thing.
Sometimes taking a break and working for a while gives you time to test the hypothesis that you do like and are good at what you first studied. And it allows you to discover other possibilities you may never have dreamed of. Being too hung up on the advice “this is what is marketable now” might force you into a career you’re not talented in and that you will, therefore, not excel in.
While it might seem self-contradictory, going deeper into an area you are clearly talented in is a surer way to get to the top, and those at the top in almost any field are considered successful, are usually handsomely paid, and are generally happier.
What would you say is the reason that we have so many unemployed young people and what is the remedy?
Unemployment is a broad and complex problem. You could talk about a bad start in life for those youth born into broken or abusive families and how that experience interrupts their education or dents their self-confidence. You could also talk about those folks who actually did get an education, but the system simply taught them to cram for exams then forget what they’d crammed after the exams, and left them with no skills to boast of, thus making them unemployable.
There are also jobs being lost as technology takes over and of course structural problems are also responsible. As we wait for the new competence-based curriculum to take effect (I’m a big fan), I would advise all youths out there to start taking action today. Don’t wait for things to happen.
Give yourselves the education you never had or could never have afforded. Yego became a world champion in the javelin by watching YouTube videos. You could do the same, and take up free courses on EdX, Coursera, Udemy, Udacity and the like to teach yourself valuable knowledge and skills.
Train yourself by offering free services to companies and people you want to learn from.
Then turn that internship into a full blown apprenticeship by constantly seeking feedback from your supervisor and improving with every successive assignment.
Don’t wait for handouts from politicians or wait for political saviours you think will bail you out.
Bail yourself out, on your own, now. Hang out with like-minded people who are ready to start working now.
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