For the past two years, Eric Barritault (E14) has been working for the NGO Life Project 4 Youth, which helps young people excluded from the labor market to find jobs. He tells ESSEC Alumni about his experience before returning to France.
ESSEC Alumni: Why did you choose to work for Life Project 4 Youth?
Eric Barritault: Life Project 4 Youth supports the professional and social integration of 600 young adults between the ages of 17 and 24, who are in especially vulnerable situations of exclusion (e.g. young mothers, young homeless people, the disabled, prisoners and out-of-school children). The charity provides them with a 12-month training course that includes English, IT and business studies, which they then apply by managing a micro business activity. This gives them a first positive experience of the professional world, as well as helping them regain confidence and increasing their independence.
With my ESSEC degree and my corporate experience, I felt equipped to help with this pedagogical approach – and I was obviously convinced of its importance.
EA: What specific projects have you carried out?
E. Barritault: In total Life Project 4 Youth manages 23 centers and incubators near slum areas in 4 Asian countries: The Philippines, India, Vietnam and Indonesia. I spent the first 18 months in New Delhi, working as a coach to help a team of 15 excluded young women to find work. I then worked on a transversal project, as coordinator with partner companies. After that I spent 6 months setting up a center in Chennai, which involved obtaining administrative permits, overseeing the construction, creating an ecosystem for integration (including companies, partner NGOs and institutions) and launching the program with the young people we were helping.
EA: What’s your most difficult memory?
E. Barritault: You sometimes get the impression that reality surpasses fiction – that fate is against these young people. They’re plagued by violence (often domestic) and at risk of all sorts of criminal activity. The most frustrating thing is when someone gives up the program, in the grip of their old demons – drugs, trafficking, family tragedy. Fortunately, there are many more successes than failures, which gives hope for the future.
EA: What about your most emotional moment?
E. Barritault: That’s a difficult one! The transformation you see in the young people on the Life Project 4 Youth program is incredibly moving. When they arrive, some of them seem like desperate cases. Despite their young age you wonder whether life hasn’t already dealt them too many blows, if a metamorphosis is still possible. Then you see them again after several months and discover a new woman, a new man – a person who holds their head up high, looks you straight in the eye and gives you a firm handshake. Regaining their dignity and self-esteem is a major step towards social integration. And it’s amazing to see. I’m fascinated by the extraordinary capacity for resilience in these young people. It’s an opportunity. And you have to make the most of it.
EA: Did your management training and previous experience help you with your projects?
E. Barritault: Definitely. To encourage these young people to want to find work, it helps to have a taste for the business world, for managing projects and working in a team. I have countless memories at ESSEC of group projects that prepared us both in terms of knowledge and life skills – which is at the heart of Life Project 4 Youth’s educational approach.
My knowledge of the way companies work also helped me enormously in finding corporate partners, and convincing them that taking on young people excluded from the job market could be part of their CSR objectives. Working for an NGO also means managing teams, budgets and projects. It’s similar to an entrepreneurial adventure, in a more challenging environment and where the human factor is predominant. The skills base acquired at ESSEC is a real asset when it comes to making decisions in a complex context.