YouthSpark – Engaging Youth, Empowering Minds, Enriching Lives

Through our YouthSpark initiative, Microsoft is committed to empowering 300 million young people with opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship. This post is part of a series spotlighting Asia Pacific nonprofit organisations that have incorporated a thorough understanding of technology and education into their learning programmes for youth. These organisations attended Microsoft’s Tech4Good Summit (12-13 February 2014) in Singapore.

In Hong Kong, you can get the world’s best technological infrastructure, however, there is a considerable number of disadvantaged and deprived people who remain on the sidelines. Digitally excluded groups are mired in a vicious cycle as they continue to be socially and financially disadvantaged, and closing the gap has become a priority for the Hong Kong government and civil society.

One such nonprofit is The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong (BCGA), which has been promoting the well-being of children and youth since 1936, through direct services, advocacy and research on issues such as the mental well-being, special needs and resource needs of vulnerable families, children and youth.

 Children trying out sound recording.

Ida Lim, Assistant Supervisor at BGCA, said, “We’re constantly following changes in society. For instance, the new government cabinet, new secondary qualifications and widening income inequality all affect the young people we work with. We have seen technology help vulnerable groups in certain ways, but we are also seeing low-income families finding it harder and harder to catch up.”

BGCA is now spearheading a chain of educational programmes on digital technologies that aim to do more than simply impart awareness and basic knowledge. These new courses have a heavy focus on coaching participants to solve problems, collaborate and create, effectively training young people to go beyond being mere consumers of technology to being content producers.

One programme, the Digital Creativity Project (DC@7), has monthly workshops to provide hands-on experience with the latest technology such as animation, programming, photo-editing and QR code generation. Children have an avenue to express and explore their creativity through trial and error. This approach not only empowers them with digital literacy, it also drives them to innovate, as well as reinforce their critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills.

A boy tries his hand at drawing with a stylus during DC@7.

Hard and soft skills empowerment is only the first step, as underprivileged youth still need support in accessing opportunities. BGCA and Microsoft have partnered on the ‘Excelling Microsoft Training Programme for Youth’ project to provide 640 underprivileged youth participants with computer skills training, and more importantly, career guidance and entrepreneurship referrals to BizSpark, a Microsoft programme that provides free software, support and visibility to help startups succeed.

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