In retrospect, it was a rather intimidating and unnerving room for the youths to be in – a stuffy four-walled conference room that served as an ‘idea prison’, filled with unnamed older strangers more than ready to shoot their ideas down. Some of them were visibly trembling; shaky voices betrayed their nervousness as they tried to sell their idea of how they can make the world a better place. Welcome to the Rotary Youth Social Entrepreneurship Challenge (RYSEC) 2010, where I had the honor and privilege – as one of those strangers – of judging the social entrepreneurship ideas of some two-score teams of youths aged 16 to 35.
Organized by the Rotary Club of Singapore and SYINC, the business plan competition is looking for new youth-driven ideas on socially responsible businesses, with the aim of empowering youth by providing a platform to discuss business ideas that also tackles social challenges. And many of the ideas were thought-provoking, such as:
- InnovaChip, a GPS-enabled wristband with a heartbeat sensor that tracks the movement and well-being of the elderly or the disabled,
- Spectrum Visions, which proposes to employ physically-disabled workers to produce customizable eyewear with interchangeable slide-on temple covers,
- Project Node, a physical learning maze – an obstacle course, if you like – that teaches teenagers how to make the right choices in life,
- JariJemari, which employs lepers from an Indonesian village to produce customizable sandals with interchangeable straps, and
- GoLah, which provides tour packages to villages in rural Jiangxi province of China to generate tourism dollars to help in their development.
A Great Hope
Some of the ideas – to be brutally honest – were untenable, and were not very well thought-through. A few made unrealistic assumptions – one team reckoned that the creation and maintenance of a sports academy for the poor in India would cost less than US$200,000, another tried to take on the role of what an entire well-funded government department would have trouble to achieve. But one cannot deny the earnestness, passion and the desire they possessed in wanting to make a difference in the world in which they lived in. If these young people are in any way representative of the youths of our new generations, perhaps it is safe to say that the world’s future are in good hands.
If you were part of any of the teams who participated in the Rotary Youth Social Entrepreneurship Challenge (RYSEC) finals on October 23, you are the hope of our future. I thank you for the honor and privilege of sharing your ideas with me, and I wish you all the best.