Youth and Technology: A Formula for Leading Change
Taxis are good places to discover new ideas -- motorized cocoons traveling through distant places, a lens on what's around us.
A decade or so ago, I found myself in a taxi in New York City, traveling back from a UN meeting where we had grappled with the persistent issues of technology adoption, the new economy and the growing youth bulge. My mind was focused on the excess capacity and talent that under and unemployed youth represent throughout the world -- the fact that youth "get it" with technology; the huge demand from communities to "get on board".
I had seen youth at the forefront of change when their excess capacity was matched with demand in conventional North-to-South volunteer programmes.
And then it hit me, my personal moment of inspiration -- we had to turn the model upside down. We had to build the capacity of youth to lead change in their own countries, mold the role models in their own communities, embed the change-makers in their societies. We had to move off the old model of importing the leaders of change - eureka!
Match the ideas, energies and creativity of local youth with the enabling power of global technology. Create youth-led learning environments in their communities. This will be the new model.
Ecco DOT (Digital Opportunity Trust)! DOT works with its partners in-country. We create a local social enterprise that recruits university and college graduates who are typically graduating into unemployment. Our blended learning programs transform them to become confident, young, local role models who go into their communities and train, coach and encourage their out-of-school, out-of-work women and men to become productive users of technology who are able to take charge of their personal development and livelihoods.
DOT serves as a bridge to the workforce, providing people with market-relevant skills and the self-confidence and motivation to apply these skills to find jobs, start businesses or go back to school. Youth themselves drive our programming.
Today, we have a network of 4,000 inspirational young leaders of change who have coached and inspired over 800,000 of their colleagues.
I sit with Monica, a young Kenyan who has used her action research skills to solve the problem that so many young girls in her community were missing school due to their monthly cycle. She has developed affordable personal products for women using recycled materials. Not only that, but she has created a social enterprise and has tapped the DOT network to distribute the products, creating jobs for a host of young women, throughout Kenya -- and young girls are no longer missing school.
I reflect on the iHubs in Africa, full of young people redefining the world of work, using smart phones, mobile payment systems, eagerly developing apps, using technology in ways that North Americans still await. The developed world will continue to show them how? I don't think so.
Violette describes the youth-led cooperatives that are being formed to take ideas to market in new partnerships in Rwanda. It is encouraging to see DOT's core principle of partnership reflected at the grassroots.
Banchi in Addis Ababa tells me that the effect goes way beyond the 500 people whom she has trained and coached. She tells me that they are taking their learning home to their families, running their own informal sessions with their friends, reaching hundreds more, social learning in action.
I talk with Cesar in Aguascalientes, Mexico, proud that his government is investing in DOT and trusting him and his DOT colleagues to help the next generation of Mexican teachers adopt technology and bring student centered innovation into the classroom.
I listen to young women tell me how their new technology skills are providing them with new opportunities for income, freeing them from cultural restrictions. I see them using our technology to create their professional networks, to build collective self-confidence.
And, yes, when you reach hundreds of thousands, there are those whose success is not immediate. But with their confidence in technology, new understanding of the workforce and belief that they "fit," I know they will work it out.
Youth and technology -- the formula for leading change. As we taxi down the tarmac, ready to take off, I sense a tipping point.
Janet Longmore is the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT). She is a Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year for 2013.