‘My generation isn’t perfect, but we’re conscientious and caring’
Mursal Hedayat is founder of Chatterbox, an online language learning platform that trains and employs displaced people to teach their native languages. “Saying that people deserve to be cared for shouldn't be controversial,” she says
Baby boomers may still run the world, but what can we expect from the next generations? Young western adults today are stereotyped by some as ‘snowflakes’ – a group of entitled, politically correct, selfie-taking, free speech-suppressing and emotionally vulnerable souls with no grip on the realities of the world.
But this misses the new world they are creating. We meet five young people from the UK who are changing society for the better. They say that many in their generation stand for compassion, diversity, social entrepreneurship, true freedom of expression and opportunity for all. No snowflakes, just an avalanche of change.
“My generation really genuinely cares, especially about people who don’t look and sound like us.” Mursal Hedayat is in a good position to judge. The 28-year-old came to the UK from Afghanistan as a child, part of a refugee community that was full of talented people who couldn’t find jobs. Among them was her mum, “a kick ass civil engineer”.
Hedayat’s sense of annoyance – “that people didn’t see refugees the way I saw them, as talented people who wanted to work” – stuck, and led to her founding Chatterbox. The online language learning platform trains and employs displaced people to teach their native languages. It currently works mainly in universities and organisations around the world, teaching more than a dozen languages through conversation practice and online tuition.
But Hedayat has big plans to expand, beginning with a fundraiser early in 2019. “There’s a whole wealth of knowledge and human capital locked away in the refugee community that we hope to bring out,” she says, “cookery and craft from people’s native countries, for example, as well as professional skill.”
The ultimate goal is for the refugees on the platform to advise charities and humanitarian aid organisations who want to rebuild in the countries that they hail from. Data will be collected at every stage to support refugees’ integration: “Basically, every single time a refugee on our platform turns up for a lesson on time, gets a good review for their teaching, every time they communicate well in English, it will validate their skill, so they can demonstrate it to employers, financial services companies, or to any other body,” says Hedayat. “We hope to build a sort of digital CV for refugees.”
She has noticed a trend towards more internationalist, humanitarian thinking among young people, but notes there is real anxiety too. “The world could soon end because of global warming, we have mass human displacement and an insane person is running the world’s biggest economy and its most powerful military,” she says.
“There’s a whole wealth of knowledge and human capital locked away in the refugee community”
A UK education system that is designed to create “factory workers” doesn’t help, she believes. “Creativity and innovative thinking are the skills needed in today’s workplace. We need to empower young people to think of themselves as entrepreneurial problem-solvers, not as victims.”
Young people are far from perfect, she acknowledges. Hedayat is, for example, concerned by no-platforming in universities (where a person or organisation is denied a platform to speak). “If you don’t allow disturbing views to be aired then they fester underground, become toxic and infect the people who don’t have the energy to inform themselves,” she says.
That said, Hedayat’s generation and the next could be among the most educated in history, she believes, given the wealth of information at their fingertips on the internet. Colonialism’s dark legacy, for example, is now much more widely spoken about rather than being brushed under the cultural carpet. The foundation for a more confident, modern UK, built on multiculturalism perhaps? “Education has been a powerful tool for seeing the world in its complex light and dark ways,” she agrees.
“Young people need to think of themselves as problem-solvers”
But diversity, Hedayat thinks, is perhaps too much of a focus among young people. “Things like positive discrimination should happen to a point, but after that, we need different tactics,” she says. Some of the most deprived and underperforming people in the UK are, after all, working-class white men.
And as for the snowflake tag: “Saying that people deserve to be cared for and to have their human rights respected shouldn’t be controversial,” says Hedayat. “I’m a snowflake and proud. We need to take the huge amounts of empathy, care and sensitivity and transform them into something useful.”
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