By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director of Global Community Affairs at Microsoft
Over the last month our team at Microsoft has undertaken four Innovate4Good@Microsoft events, each of which had more than 100 youth leaders and change-makers participating. We started in Seattle and then moved to Cairo, Singapore and Brussels. The energy in the room for each of these events was incredible with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. For me, it has been both inspiring and humbling to be in the presence of such energy.
The current economic climate, which has hit youth the hardest of all in terms of unemployment, gives us a lot to be concerned about. Yet there was a tremendous amount of optimism through all the events, and most of the participants felt they can shape their own future. Many youth attending the events who have already become successful in their efforts to create a business or start a social enterprise were able to shed light on how they have succeeded, not only to help themselves, but to do so in a way that also helps others.
There were four consistent themes:
1) The path to success requires perseverance and being unreasonable helps because you do not take no for an answer and you will find ways to move forward by overcoming obstacles.
2) However, if you are unreasonable then you also have to be a learner. Lifelong learning therefore is another key to becoming successful.
3) Coping with failure was another consistent theme. People will fail but is it how one reacts to failure will eventually pave the way for success.
4) Finally one has to be compassionate – without thinking of the larger impact of your work on society you will not succeed as a change-maker.
Participants at the recent Innovate4Good@Microsoft event in Singapore
The Innovate4Good@Microsoft (I4G@Microsoft) event in Brussels, which was my last stop, had youth leaders from 30 countries working in teams to come up with innovate projects that they were committed to implement. Their ideas ranged from using the Xbox Kinect sensor to provide simulated eyesight for the blind, to using the Kinect to turn sign language into text for the deaf; and creating a portal for young people to become politically active and vote. What was interesting is that across the four regions where we held the I4G@Microsoft events, the issues that youth were tackling were very similar. They ranged from education, to environment, health, women’s empowerment, and poverty alleviation.
We now have a small but active community of youth leaders from four regions in the world that are engaging with each other on our online platform at Innovate4Good. In the months ahead, we expect this community to grow and become a marketplace for ideas, a place for exchange of resources, a platform to access training materials, and a place where ideas can be exposed.
The opportunity divide, between those youth who have the access, skills and resources to succeed and those who don’t, is real. We need new and innovative ways to bridge this divide. Creating a movement of youth change-makers is part of our commitment to bridge this divide and create an opportunity dividend. We have challenged these young leaders to learn something new, listen to novel ideas and be open to things they don’t understand. One of the participants summed up the sentiments of many in his tweet “Innovate4 good was so much better than what I was expecting! Wouldn't have missed it for anything in the world!” Another said that he learnt to “recognize and accept other’s ideas when they are better than your own”.
I am inspired by the young people that I met and humbled by their life stories in equal measure. We have much to do to ensure that future generations are not lost as we struggle to come out of a major economic downturn that has gripped many nations and regions of the world.
Technology has a role to play in how we can level the playing field and how we can provide access to youth in underprivileged communities. But technology has to be connected with empowering youth by building their skills, by inspiring them to innovate and become change-makers. Finally we have to invest in them through time, talent and treasure so we can support them to realize their potential and that they create a world that they can thrive in.
Innovate4Good@Microsoft is one step in this process where youth have the space to dream it, learn it, and live it. At Microsoft we are honored to be part of this process.