NOTE: A few weeks ago, we announced our Spring 2011 Grants, pledging over $4 million to help fund six organizations that use invention to solve social issues around the globe. Each week we’re featuring guest blog posts about each grant, beginning last week with a post on our grant and PRI to Root Capital.
Today, Gretchen Zucker, Executive Director of Ashoka’s Youth Venture talks about the Foundation’s $270,000 grant over the next three years to support their program that identifies and mentors young technology entrepreneurs around the world.
Ashoka and The Lemelson Foundation both believe that changing the world begins with the next generation of inventors and innovators, which is why we’ve partnered to encourage young people to innovate in science and technology to address social needs. These young people are not just your average budding scientists; they are “changemakers” who turn their innovations into real-life organizations and businesses that solve social issues.
Through our previous partnership on the “Invent Your World” campaign to build a global pipeline of youth-led technology social entrepreneurs, we’ve seen student innovations ranging from “video glasses” that enable the visually impaired to see, to composting toilets that solve both environmental and energy issues. Another technology we saw was from then-15-year-old Eden Full who developed a new system for solar panels (described in the video below) that tracks the sun to optimize energy collection. Eden – who’s now 19 – just received $100,000 to fund her startup from the Peter Thiel Foundation.
It’s this kind of success that drives us. Young people like Eden are everywhere – from Nigeria to Vanuatu, to Texas and Singapore – and they all have in common a deep desire to design low-cost technologies that improve the health or income of those “other 90 percent” of the world living on $4 or less a day.
Based on our previous success in bringing social entrepreneurship to youth-led innovation, Ashoka Youth Venture – with this grant from The Lemelson Foundation and support from other funders – is undertaking a new project to accelerate young tech social entrepreneurs to reach greater impact and scale. We will be building upon the “Invent Your World” campaign and similar Ashoka Youth Venture initiatives to create a permanent “Technology for Change” platform to help young inventors turn their innovations into viable ventures through access to a technology solutions library, mentor network, and venture financing among other initiatives. Additionally we’ll be launching another global competition to find and support top youth-led technology ventures and will produce a documentary profiling the winners.
Having witnessed firsthand the impact these changemakers have when given the tools to succeed I see this program continuing to address very important challenges in societies across the globe. These young people will continue to make technology accessible to people everywhere by creating more affordable and sustainable devices. Beyond that, the more changemakers we have leading the way in creating these accessible technologies, the more inspired other young people will be to participate in these programs and respond to pressing social issues. The more changemakers we have in every community – the better off that community can lead the way through innovative new technologies!
This grant from The Lemelson Foundation is a perfect fit with Ashoka’s global vision that everyone can be a changemaker if we create an enabling environment and equip a generation of young people with the tools to invent, innovate, and solve critical problems. There is no greater contribution to society that Ashoka can make than to increase the proportion of changemakers in the world, and there is no better way to do this than by supporting and encouraging young technology entreprenuers to turn their great ideas into life-changing technologies.