Discussing youth, technology and innovation

Danial Norjidi

The topic of technology and innovation took the spotlight as the third episode of the Commonwealth Youth Action Series took place on September 17.

The monthly webinar series, which first started in July and will continue until December, is hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat and aims to offer a forum for “young people from the 54 member countries of the Commonwealth to discuss pressing issues and agree tangible solutions to be presented to Commonwealth leaders at the now postponed Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)”.

This most recent episode featured a panel of game-changing innovators and focussed on effective youth-led approaches that could strengthen the quality of information and communications technology as well as innovation across the Commonwealth.

On hand to moderate the webinar was Toni Thorne, an award-winning entrepreneur from Barbados.

One of the speakers on the panel was Chairman Bradley Mitri of Dracorp Ltd, a multinational company focussed on intellectual property, esports, motorsports and corporate finance.

Speaking on how young people can embrace being innovative in this era, Mitri said, “Aside from the expression ‘carpe diem’, which is to seize the moment, and to really have the will to succeed first and foremost, accessibility needs to be lined up with finding your passion. You need to know what you want to do and do it really well.”

Mitri was also asked what initiatives he would advise corporations can take to foster innovation among millennials.

He shared that he is involved in a number of industries, and that each one is tech-centric in some way. “I had to solve the problems of what I thought was a good idea and had to decide if it was a good idea. I also needed to find the money for that good idea and then make sure it is actually a good idea.”

“That whole growth cycle had to be pooled together. Many other millennials that I know are like that as well, and the reason is because they weren’t correctly fostered at their corporations. So what ends up happening is that they have a great idea but have no way to take that idea further within the corporation. So they leave to start up their own business, look for capital and innovate outside of the company, which in turn cause them to end up becoming a potentially competitor.”

“I think corporations should provide the space and support and the steady hand that guides the youth within their organisations to the upper management and at the same time keeps them in that competitive, flexible culture that allows for creativity and doesn’t silo them completely into one function, and I think that that’s a big thing for millennials.”

He added that most millennials generally don’t want to be sitting doing one thing every single day. “They want to be able to do a number of different things and flex their muscle and their creativity.”

Another speaker was Digital and Innovation Lead and General Manager at global technology firm Daimler South East Asia Franco Chiam.

He touched on boosting innovation, highlighting that failure is always a good stepping stone to success.

“In the company itself, what we say is, let’s throw ideas. There is no wrong or right answer,” he said. “Let’s just put all these thoughts in place. Given the short period of time, how do we make the best of it?”

“Personally, if you look at how things are driving ahead in terms of technology, I would say that, for the young generation itself, do not be afraid to attempt to try, because the new or fastest tech doesn’t come from military base or high tech R&D environment. It comes from school campuses, from the garages of university graduates who have the right concept and right mindset to change and adapt to this world.”

He affirmed that it’s more about what young people want today. “What do you see yourself bringing value to, not just for yourself but also the ecosystem around you?”

The panel also featured, the co-founder and CEO of African smart transport solutions technology firm AC Group Patrick Buchana Nsenga who is also the Chairman of KLab & Fablab – Rwanda’s biggest innovation lab.

Asked about the outreach they have done to get young people to go to the innovation lab, he shared that while it has for a long time been centred in the capital of Rwanda, they are now extending it to the major districts across the country.

He said they want young people to know that “an idea is enough for you to have an innovation”.

“So once you have the idea, we then create the space for you.” One section is KLab, which is mainly focussed on software, and the other is Fablab, which creates an environment for people to innovate within hardware.

“Most importantly we also spend a lot of time sharing success stories of startups and innovators who have managed to succeed so that we can have champions that people can relate to.”

Sharing his vision for young people in a more innovative world, he said, “Youth needs to dare to think big. There is so much opportunity and technology has created a level ground, be it access to information, be it access to membership, be it access to new markets. So a lot of things are falling in place.”

“I also think different stakeholders should also step in to be very deliberate about enabling youth to develop, encouraging diversity and gender equality when it comes to innovation spaces and innovations at work so that we can see equal opportunity access to everyone in both the remote, rural areas and urban areas,” he added.

Another speaker was a technology innovation expert who works at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Headquarters in the Philippines as the principal IT specialist Marc Lepage.

He said, “I work with many different innovation hubs, and now pretty much each and every country around the world has an innovation hub in its capital city, but now, and it’s been going on for a couple of years, there’s a push to go beyond the capital cities.”

“Youth has a very central role to play, and the innovation space is still one that needs a lot of support but also has to be left to some extent,” he said, adding that organisations “have to be very careful when engaging with innovators because it’s a fragile ecosystem, and so it can be easily disturbed, and one has to be careful on who you support and who you don’t support, and which direction you want to give”.

He also touched on the importance of having balance between various demographies in terms of support and engagement, as diversity spurs creativity and innovation.

Fellow panellist Chief Human Resources Officer for Global Functions at Prudential Apoorva Chandra expanded on the discussion of diversity leading to innovation, saying, “I think there’s enough research to back that the different backgrounds, different voices, different perspectives and the ability to include them in the conversation and not necessarily look for conformity but look at differences is what drives innovation to such a degree.”

He also underlined the importance of a cause.

“So much of innovation that we see, especially innovation in an unconstrained environment, comes from people wanting to solve a problem, not from wanting to just use cool technology.”

“There is an element of cause, caring about something and being passionate about it and sticking to it and then the courage and conviction,” he affirmed. “Human brains are not geared for change, and every time you talk about innovation, you’re disrupting something, a way of doing things, someone is getting impacted.”

“We talk a lot about all the success stories, but must also remember that behind each one of them there is a lot of heartache and pain and trial and reasons why people want to give up, but sticking with it, drawing inspiration and sticking with something that you care about is a big part of making innovation happen – not just having the idea but the perseverance to stick with it.”