Wednesday, 9 November 2016

A Billion (Brilliant) Brains - The Asia Pacific Youth Innovation Challenge

By: Vania Santoso – Innovations Adolescent and Youth Engagement Officer

Sherley Sandiori pitched her idea “1,000 for 1,000”, a youth volunteer corps to help Indonesia reach universal health coverage. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2016/Vania Santoso.

“The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are unrealistic!” exclaimed Sherley Sandiori, a 22-year-old student at the University of Indonesia, in her project pitch to leaders from 28 Asia-Pacific nations at the Third High Level Meeting (HLM3) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It’s safe to say the remark got their attention.

By the night’s end, Sherley’s project -- a youth volunteer programme, enlisting 1,000 volunteers to help outlying islands in Greater Jakarta, also known as Pulau Seribu, or 1,000 Islands, realize universal health care coverage – had proven persuasive.

Entitled “1,000 for 1,000”, the project was selected as one of three winners of the HLM3 Asia Pacific Youth Innovation Challenge.  She received USD 5,000 in seed funding to develop her idea. It was pitched as a means of helping Indonesia realize SDG Goal 3 on universal health coverage.

The Innovation Challenge was organised by UNICEF in partnership with the Government of Malaysia. Young people from the 28 Asia-Pacific nations were asked to propose creative ways of improving health, reducing violence, and increasing social protection for children. From 660 submissions, 65 were invited to participate in a two-week online mentoring led by Malaysian social change consultancy Tandemic. Fifty-five completed the training, which was was followed by a five-day ‘Innovation Bootcamp’ in Malaysia attended by 45 participants from 17 countries.

A full 456 of the 660 submissions were sent from Indonesia and UNICEF Indonesia was able to help six Indonesian finalists attend the bootcamp. They hailed from the provinces of South Sulawesi, East Kalimantan, East Java, Yogyakarta (2), and Jakarta.

Eris Sofyan Tri Saputra (centre) and Arindah Arimoerti (right) from Yogyakarta discuss their social business model with Kal Joffres (second from right), a mentor from Tandemic. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2016/Vania Santoso

“I didn’t even get sleepy because this camp was so engaging! They kept giving us tasks to really understand the theory they explained,” said Dhian Gowinda Luh Safitri, a finalist from Surabaya, East Java. Her project, “Keep Me Safe”, is a digital storybook for educating children in a non-threatening manner about taboo topics such as sexual harassment and violence.

After an intensive two-day workshop, the finalists went “speed-dating” to persuade judges that their idea was worth pursuing. Participants went to one of two tables and had five minutes to make their pitch before moving to the next table of judges. When it was all over, one could feel the whole room relax, with participants satisfied they had given their best. To close the event finalists and judges got together to sing and beatbox.

Delegates, judges, and committees got together after the semi-final pitch. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2016/Vania Santoso

The next day, the committee named the six finalists. They included projects from Bhutan (2), Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, and … Indonesia! Each was then asked to pitch their ideas to ‘Super Judges’ from the Microsoft Innovation Center, Maya Bangladesh Social Enterprise, and Sime Darby Berhad.  Later that afternoon, they pitched in front of HLM3 Government officials as an opportunity to showcase their ideas to world leaders.

Projects from Indonesia, Nepal, and Thailand were finally named the three winners. In addition to the Indonesian “1,000 for 1,000” project described above, a Nepal team proposed “NutriBeads”, a project that mobilises youth to educate mothers about nutrition using a handy bracelet; each bead serving as a reminder to eat nutritious food.

The third winner came from Thailand. The project, called “CyberSmart”, uses an online platform to educate children and youth about bullying on social media. The website will provide lessons, games and online discussion boards to help young people talk about the issue.

The three winners, joined on stage by their respective country head of delegation, were given a standing ovation by the HLM3 participants and each received USD 5,000 in seed capital to realize their ideas.

Standing Ovation from senior leaders at the end of Top 3 announcement for Asia Pacific Youth Innovation Challenge. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2016/Vania Santoso

In a surprise turn of events, the UNICEF Country offices from Bhutan and Bangladesh announced they would fund runner-up projects from their own countries, too, bringing the total number of funded projects to six.

Despite this naming of victors, it is safe to say that everyone came out on top, as all participants had the opportunity to learn, grow and network. With more than a billion youngsters in the Asia-Pacific region, it is clear that solving the challenges of tomorrow will require the participation of youth today. 

“We need to work more with young people,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Omar Abdi, adding that events like the Asia-Pacific Innovation Challenge were an excellent place to start. 
For Sherley, the key to a sustainable idea is asking the hard questions. “SDG 3 talks about universal healthcare coverage. But in a country like Indonesia, how do we really reach those people living in rural areas? Those who are on remote islands?” she said, adding that she hopes that “1,000 for 1,000” will empower the residents of Pulau Seribu to manage the healthcare programme on their own.

“If in the future, the locals in Pulau Seribu are no longer blind to accessing their health and rights, it will be a success!”