‘We’re here to solve the world’s biggest problems’
By A. Asohan October 9, 2013
- 250 Malaysians team up with 250 youngsters from 105 countries to help solve ‘world’s biggest problems’
- Four key areas to be pursued: Education, the Environment, Female Empowerment and Health
That was certainly the case on the first day of the inaugural Global Startup Youth (GSY) ‘idea accelerator’ that began on Oct 8 and ends on Oct 11, one of the numerous technology and entrepreneurship events taking place in Kuala Lumpur that will culminate in the Fourth Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2013) from Oct 11-12.
Despite many of the international participants having travelled over the last two days from halfway across the world, the energy and enthusiasm was nearly palpable.
“I had to be here; it’s just awesome,” Heislyc Loh, director of the Malaysian chapter of the Founder Institute accelerator and founder of StartupMamak.org community of local entrepreneurs, told Digital News Asia (DNA) as he took in the scene at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.
“About 90% of the foreign participants have never been to Malaysia before,” he said, adding that many misconceptions about the country were going to be swept away.
GSY is gathering coders, hustlers, domain experts and youth leaders aged between 18 and 25 and putting them together with international mentors and facilitators over three days to develop technology applications that can help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Sure, there was a lot of Kool-Aid being dispensed that first day and many fun activities, everything from impromptu talent shows to ‘the world’s longest massage train’ – these were youth, after all – but there was also a number of important pep talks and some sound advice.
It was not such much a mini-UN as a real-world rendition of Peter Gabriel’s Games Without Frontiers, updated for the 21st century.
“In less than three days, you’re going to have to build an app that would help solve some of the world’s biggest problems,” said Rebeca Hwang, cofounder of StartupMalaysia.org, which is organising GSY with the support of Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance, the main organiser of GES 2013.
She explained how the four main themes for GSY were chosen from the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals: Education, the Environment, Female Empowerment and Health.
One of the facilitators, Sanjeev Khagram, Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership at Occidental College in Los Angeles and formerly of Harvard and Stanford, stepped up to the stage with some sobering thoughts.
“I want you all to think deeply about why you’re here; why you’re doing this; the problems you’re trying to solve, and the people you’re doing it for,” he said.
“When the UN thought up the Millennium Development Goals 15 years ago, we didn’t have such things as mobile apps – you have a fantastic opportunity with today’s technology to take this to the next level,” he told the participants.
To help focus their thoughts, teams of facilitators then took to the stage to present the four goals and their challenges, as well as examples of successful innovations already out there.
But it was obvious that many of the youth had already been thinking deeply about these issues, with some going up on stage to pitch their ideas: Creating a marketplace for farmers to sell their produce directly to the community; a way for citizens to track corruption (cited as a major factor in education) and hold government accountable for how funds are disbursed; and even harnessing gamification theory to get children to eat their vegetables!
Some straddled two themes: A young lady from Kenya spoke poignantly about the issues faced by females in her country – everything from being considered less valuable than male children and being denied access to anything further than a primary education, to the traditions of female genital mutilation and child marriages.
She suggested creating a mentorship platform that would connect successful women to young girls to help educate them and also guide them through life.
Another participant with a passion for education, Kathleen Yu from the Philippines, has had experience starting up a company, RumaRocket, which she formed with a few college friends to look into the issue of training young Filipinos on coding skills.
“The Philippines has this issue of producing many IT graduates who don’t have skills that match industry needs, so we worked with schools to provide programming training,” she told DNA. “We first started with coding on the Android platform, and have now also included training in what we call the ‘Digital Arts,’ for which there is great demand.”
The site has since graduated into a platform for matching programmers with companies which need specific tech skills. An important aspect is assessing these skills.
“We work with the schools, which have the experience necessary to properly assess skills, so that industry can be assured of what they’re getting,” said Yu. “It’s also an excellent way for these schools to monetise their experience and knowledge in assessing students.”
The ideas are just the first step, of course. The 500 participants were formed into teams of about 10 people each, matched with a mentor and have to come up with a working prototype within 24 hours. The winners get to pitch in in front of the expected 3,000 participants at the main GES event on Oct 11.
‘We don’t intend to leave it hanging there,” said StartupMalaysia.org founder Dhakshinamoorthy ‘Dash’ Balakrishnan. “We’ll be tracking your progress for six months after this event, and you can call on us for help.”
“Wherever and whenever it is going to be held, at GSY 2014, we hope to bring some of you back as success stories,” he added.
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