Helping kids believe in themselves

January 15, 2019

by LIOR ZOREF @lior

When I was 40 years old, almost a decade ago, I had my mid-life crisis. It led me to retire from Microsoft and start my PhD in a new field: the wisdom of crowds. This year I’ll turn 49 and I’m already feeling my 50-year-old crisis knocking on the door.

As I reflect, I am happily married and have three amazing children, I was fortunate to find the field I love so much – the wisdom of crowds. I earned a PhD, wrote a book on the subject, give keynotes worldwide, and help organizations used it to become more successful. Overall, it looks like I’ve done quite well.

But nothing in my childhood or adolescence could mark future success. In fact, the situation was exactly the opposite.

When I was a child, I thought that I was not smart and that nothing would come of me. I was the nerd, who did not like soccer and spent breaks alone, weak and vulnerable. I was boycotted for many years. I had low grades and private lessons did not help much. Most of the time I was alone, in front of the computer. My mother did not understand why, and kept asking me, “Why don’t you meet up with friends?” I was ashamed to tell her that most of them just did not want to see me. My matriculation results were very disappointing. When I told one of the teachers that my dream was to study computer science at the Technion, he said to me, “No chance, it’s not for you.”

Still… it was my dream… so I enrolled in a private school and improved my matriculation. Only then, after I got an A in math and physics, did I realize that I was not stupid. I graduated with honors from the Technion, have a wonderful family, published a book… yet the feeling that “nothing will come of me” never left.

In recent years, I have volunteered with youth with difficulties and at risk. Unlike lectures in organizations, with youth, the goal is different: making them believe in themselves. They hear about how I was ostracized, about the low grades, about the teacher who told me “you have no chance of success”, and more. It’s a story about dealing with being sent to Coventry, about great fear, determination, hard work and how important it is to believe in yourself. They hear that no one is allowed to tell them “you have no chance” or “you will not succeed”.

I decided to expand this activity and establish a nonprofit venture called Yesh Matsav (“Yes You Can”) that will help young people believe in themselves. It will focus on youth with difficulties and at risk. In the first stage, the target audience will be students in classes and boarding schools for youth at risk.

The project will carefully gather inspiring adults who have achieved impressive achievements despite having to cope with great difficulties in their youth.

Those successful role models who can lecture to youth will give voluntarily lectures in schools and boarding schools. This venture will use the wisdom of crowds to help as many young people realize their dreams. In addition, lectures will be recorded and published on a special YouTube channel to expand the reach to more students.

There are many associations and non-profits that help youth at risk, as well as, of course, the Ministries of Education and Welfare. In recent years, I have met many of them and have been impressed that they are doing important work. They all work under difficult conditions. Most organizations try to prevent kids from dropping out of school, assist in their studies, and try to raise their grades.

Yet I think that the missing link is the emotional aspect, the sense of ability, creating an image of future success, letting them hear from role models for success who will inspire them not only dream big but also to believe in their ability to realize the big dreams. It is not enough to know how to solve a math equation.

Paradoxically, while outstanding and gifted students receive many enrichment programs, students with difficulties rarely receive any. They do receive academic help with their studies, but are rarely exposed to successful people who have achieved their success despite hardships they experienced.

What do these young people hear? Many people tell them “nothing will come of you.”

In the past 7 years I have been privileged to be part of the executive committee of a wonderful non-profit organization called Round-Up and have worked with many other NGOs. I feel that now is the time to dedicate myself to something important and this is the goal I have chosen. I decided not to set up another nonprofit organization. There are enough NGOs in this field and the project will strive to cooperate with them and offer them lecturers. In addition, I think it is not wise to invest so much time and effort in fundraising. This venture does not require much money, so there is no need to raise funds. Everything will be done on a voluntary basis.

If you wish to help in any way, let me know.


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