The role of youth in Latvia's development

  • 2000-12-07
  • Marcus M. Dapp
As a German studying in Switzerland who has had the unique opportunity to experience one year in Latvia, I would like to share some thoughts on Mr. Merlino's insightful article "The Four Corners of Latvian Society" (issue Nov. 30 - Dec. 6).

I share the opinion that the current generation of leaders in Latvia might be "confused" and challenged as the politicians have to build up a social system which ensures basic help for everybody, business is facing the transition into a market economy while carrying the heritage of the past, and the whole society finds it difficult to reconcile the Latvian and Russian speaking parts.

The result of this struggling is that the leaders in society have difficulties in giving the younger generation a clear vision and direction for the future of Latvia.

Every young generation, consciously or not, is orienting toward the behavior of the elderly, the VIPs in society - the ones who are supposed to know. But they somewhat recognize that many people don't care as much about the country's future as they do about their own personal benefits. This is of course understandable looking in the past but it does not help an independent Latvia to grow and prosper in the future. Today's leaders act with attitudes they learned during Soviet times, according to Merlino, because it is extremely hard to fundamentally change one's attitude in a short time.

This leads to a few questions: Is Latvia's youth being prepared for the role they ought to take in the future? Who is going to prepare them? And what is good preparation?

Students are telling me that their education is not really preparing them for their future business lives: the curriculum is too far from reality, management knowledge is not up to date and is missing incentives for professors to contribute to good lectures.

The educational institutions not being effective, many students decide to go to work after some semesters. The two strongest reasons being that you get real experience in a real world and you can earn money. Who wonders that the goal for many students at universities is just to get the certificate at the end.

According to the U.N.'s 1999 Human Development Report on Latvia, the second largest amount spent by the government is on education (6.5 percent of GDP in 1998). Why not ask some students how this money could be spent most effectively?

What do "future leaders of society" need to be prepared ?

Of course, you need certain skills and knowledge to perform your job: How to develop strategies for your organization (not only in companies!), how to manage finances in a transparent way (this is what future investors from abroad will require), how to handle employees in a successful way (besides money there are things like motivation, personal development or feeling proud to belong to one organization) and, last but not least, how to develop and offer competitive products and services in a market economy.

But even if you know all this you may still be the Ôboss' as described by Mr. Merlino. The second equally important part of the learning must be in attitudes and values: What is the role of my business in the future besides making profit? Why did I choose this place to work? How do I lead and not compromise my ethical standards? Can I develop corporate values in my organization?

Left to their own devices, students are looking for jobs and/or engaging in NGOs like AIESEC and others. Whereas business usually provides them with money as the most direct benefit, many NGOs with strong missions can give these young people a sense of purpose, facilitate their personal development and help them define their role in society.

We see that no single institution is able to provide or teach all these skills, knowledge, attitudes and values. But each of them - government, universities, businesses and NGOs - have their peculiar strengths and can contribute their share to the development of the younger generation in Latvia.

And the current leaders of society can nourish and support all three areas and combine them, help them to work together and complement each other. Universities can acknowledge and enrich the practical work of students. Business can use its strong financial background to support NGOs in their work of personal and societal development, and NGOs can continue following their missions and make the important social aspect of business visible to society and its youngsters.

In that way today's leaders can offer their young people everything needed to be prepared for the future, and Latvia will have a very modern (business) approach already practiced in Western Europe - a new attitude to be learned called "partnership."