As countries brace themselves for the economic fallout of COVID-19, youth employability, already a pressing issue, is set to be more urgent than ever. The ILO and WEF have warned that youth are likely to be disproportionately affected, mostly as a result of working in jobs with lower protections and pay.
Only time will tell as to how severe the upheaval will be, and what measures governments will take to manage the economic repercussions. One thing, however, seems certain - social purpose organisations (SPOs) and funders will remain crucial to reach the most vulnerable youths.
We previously highlighted Credit Suisse as an example of a funder playing a critical role in mobilising and directing resources to help SPOs working on youth employability to maximise their impact. We caught up with Laetitia Lienart, Vice President of APAC Corporate Citizenship and Foundations at Credit Suisse, to understand how they are meeting the new challenge.
First things first: How are you doing?
It feels as though the world has stopped, but there’s still so much to get done, particularly when the work we fund is more crucial than ever! We’ve been doing our best on 3 fronts - a) supporting our existing grantees to manage the impact of COVID-19, b) mobilising employees to donate to non-profit organisations that support healthcare workers and communities affected by COVID-19, and c) continuing with our regular business-as-usual work such as continuing to identify and support new grant partners.
Tell us more about the first. How have you been supporting your grantees in these extraordinary times?
We’ve kept in regular, open contact with all our grantees amidst the fluid situation. At the very beginning of the pandemic, we did a first check-in with all grantees - first to understand the impact of COVID-19 on their operations and beneficiaries, and secondly to let them know of our intention to be flexible about previously agreed project milestones, timeline, and reporting deadlines.
At the time, not too many had begun to feel the pinch and programmes were still running without much disruption. Recently, however, things have escalated everywhere. Training centres have closed one by one, and our grantees are having to adapt their response.
We did a second check-in to reassure them once again that we will be fully understanding of any difficulties they might have in meeting KPIs. We also enquired if they needed any emergency financial help, particularly with daily operational costs such as staff salaries, and informed them that we were open to reallocation of budget lines within our grant disbursed in 2019.
Interesting, only a small portion of grantees came back saying that they needed immediate help at this time - for example, grantees who had been badly hit by some other shock in recent years and were running low on rainy day funds.
That could be a positive sign of resilience, particularly since we know that Credit Suisse takes a strategic, long-term approach to choosing and working with grantees.
Yes, we actively choose to focus on building long-term partnerships with our grantees as opposed to funding ad-hoc programmes. We think of this partnership building in two parts: financial support and capacity building.
The financial aspect is particularly important in times such as this. The vast majority of our grants include core capacity funding to support grantees with staff and operational expenses. This contributes to organisational resilience, so they don’t have to worry about laying employees off during hard times and can continue to focus on their core work.
But it’s not just the money, we also strongly emphasise capacity building in ways such as the following:
Meaningful metrics: We understand that KPIs can be more of a hindrance than help when they are not used correctly, which is why we proactively made sure that our grantees knew that our support was not dependent on this in light of the exceptional circumstances. One of our partners shared with us that they were so worried about not meeting KPIs and having funders withdraw their support next year that they were considering setting aside half of their funding for this year as a result. In general, we try to empower grantees to take a meaningful approach to monitoring and evaluation, for example by co-funding learning circles on the topic (see next point).
Learning exchange: Since 2018, we have facilitated a learning exchange with EMpower, one of our key partners in Asia, for a network of Future Skills organisations funded by us and/or EMpower. The workshop, webinars and consulting work provided by EMpower have been tailored to meet each organisation’s specific strengths and needs and covered topics such as trainee recruitment, building alumni networks, monitoring and evaluation and developing life-skills curricula.
Employee engagement: We enable the transfer of expertise to our partners by having our staff volunteer their time and professional skills with them in various ways. For example, through our flagship Global Citizens program, Credit Suisse staff with relevant skills are matched to in-person assignments that meet a partner organisation’s specific need.
How have your partner organisations been adapting to COVID?
There is significant uncertainty. Understandably, most have no idea what’s lying around the corner but they are doing the best they can to adapt.
In the short term, many are trying to adapt their existing initiatives by moving programmes and training materials online.
Some are actively trying to plan ahead rather than just react. One of our partners anticipated that they would have to close their training centres, and so back in February they proactively approached employment partners and asked them to host training directly in offices.
We know that it’s early days yet, but how do you think this will change the landscape for youth employability and future skills?
We are definitely just at the beginning, but what we hear from our grantees is that the target groups they work with - the disadvantaged youths - are going to be at even greater risk as a result of COVID-19.
These youths were already vulnerable in the first place, and typically have needs that are greater and more challenging to meet. So they are more susceptible of being ‘tipped’ over the edge in various ways - for example, losing precarious employment, suffering from exacerbated self-esteem or mental health issues, having education disrupted due to not being able to attend home-based learning, and so on. It’s also very likely that overall their numbers will expand as more families and youths suffer unemployment or reduced income.
Overall, we think that Future Skills programmes are likely to be more in demand. Many will also have to adjust their offerings to meet some of the changing needs of their target youths. For example, we know that a large portion of youths claim that they prefer part-time jobs without training as they just want, or need, to get cash quickly. That need is likely to expand and we may see programmes putting greater emphasis on practical, on-the-job training.
In times of crisis, thinking beyond responding to immediate needs can be difficult. But you’ve shown how taking a flexible, long-term view of partnerships has built resilience for grantees to weather storms and get to work on tackling youth employability post-COVID-19.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us!