Entrepreneurial activities can help young people gain respect, says Madeleine White

All of us crave respect. Most adults spend much of their life building a reputation based on positive recognition of who they are, what they earn and what they do. In a world where success is based on the amount of money accrued, much of the reputation and respect integral to the adult world is based on how much you have.

This mindset means that other aspects of human interaction often become irrelevant. The driving force is the individual, removed from any meaningful community involvement, working within an aggressive dog-eat-dog environment, ever more determined to climb the corporate ladder. This mentality of course is beautifully reflected in our media culture, where programmes such as Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice have become compulsive viewing.

Is it then such a surprise, given the desperate emotional and spiritual poverty of our teens (recently deemed to be among the most miserable in the western world), that the need to build reputation and respect has come to mean something far more sinister than merely climbing the corporate or business ladder? Without the support of a functioning community, without an understanding of basic moral or spiritual values and in the absence of a positive and attainable vision for a future, can we wonder that building reputation and respect have become skewed towards a gang culture which creates recognition through acts of violence?

‘(Gangs are) a cloud towards the horizon that is coming. Unless we do something about the situation, it will get very difficult.’ – Sir Ian Blair, Metropolitan police commissioner

‘My fear is that there is a generation who alsmost believe that to be a victim of crime is a rite of passage.’ – Richard Barnes, Conservative London Assembly member

Positive steps

Key to change is finding a way to create a vision for a positive future in which young people’s voices can be heard and where their opinions count. Working towards a new way of measuring performance within a vocational setting is obviously a great start, albeit with the caveat that we must steer clear of academic measures of success and failure. Ultimately, in order to enable a future generation of workers, parents, entrepreneurs and creators to find their own personal vision we must work with young people within an affirmative framework that builds respect and reputation. We must align ourselves to the values and belief system of our teens in order to help them create the urgently needed positive vision of their future.

The challenge for schools and educationalists everywhere must then be this – to create a framework that allows our young people to discover who they are and what they believe in. The next step is to create a mutual goal allowing peers to influence each other and inspire one and all with enthusiasm and energy. This communal goal can then become a personal vision which allows young people to self-motivate to the extent that they are able to accept that the ‘pieces of paper’ we throw at them can work within their personal life ladders.

Finally we need to understand that if we can connect to the factors which underlie burgeoning teen gang problems, both in inner cities and suburbia, we can in fact plot a positive blueprint to implement the necessary framework. This map will show adults how to help young people by: 

  • using their need to see and be seen 
  • making them part of a strong community 
  • helping them develop a positive identity l having rites of passage that are understood by people they respect.

Developing entrepreneurial abilities and vocation skills can help provide a firm base on which young people can build.

Local talent

In East Kent, some students have been involved in Oi! magazine (read about it here). This colourful publication goes out to schools, libraries and youth clubs across the county. It is written, researched and compiled by teenagers for teenagers, but frame-worked and polished to make it a commercial product by professionals. Oi! has had over 100 text messages in the last couple of weeks from teens who, like Habib, our features’ editor, believe it’s time to say STOP.

‘This is why we need to say STOP (to gangs) We can’t pretend that it’s not happening because it’s uncomfortable to think of a seven-year-old with a crow bar. I said STOP just after I was in court for GBH. I was on about respect, but the way I was living showed I had none for myself. While I was doing my community service and working with people in real need I saw that there was a way of being respected that had nothing to do with fear… I didn’t want to be an individual tragedy, an individual statistic of a wasted life. So our music is about a future that we all deserve to have. I want to be here when I’m 25 – not locked away or dead.’ – (Habib Abdalla, aged 16, Gangs Deadly Serious, Oi! 4)

Another project set in a world that our teens understand, respect and need is concerned with music. Well-known national music promoter Eli Thomson, has recently created the Sugar Complex in Margate. He bought it to make money – however his under-18s nights are built on an ethos that is also central to Oi!

Thomson says, ‘I let the kids who want to DJ and MC for me do just that. The difference between us and other people working with kids and music is that we don’t just train them, we allow them to get up and try their stuff within a commercial setting.’

This unique approach has seen the emergence of strong urban voices like MR E and the creation of teen-led Amagama productions. ‘This is our voice, work with us, hear us, listen to us. You might just find that our vision and idealism could create a different way of doing things, not just in our world but also in yours.’ (Gary Knipe, aged 16)


Goleman, D (2002) The New Leaders, London: Little, Brown

Handy, C (1998) The Hungry Spirit, London: Arrow

Madeleine White is managing director of creativeuk solutions.

This article was first published in Learning for Life, May 2007