Inventor and TIME Kid of the Year Gitanjali Rao with Solver and Founder of Timeless Emma Yang at Virtual Solve at MIT 2020
A young boy in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya wakes up at 8am to go to school in the morning, and then walks 45 minutes to meet the rest of his classmates. After today’s lesson, he is planning to meet with an American technology company to discuss their latest developments in the industry. He brainstorms novel ideas around these new concepts, pitches them to the company, and eventually gets the opportunity to mass produce his products and receive real feedback from field testing. This is an example of the world in which we would all love to create and grow up.
We have an opportunity for Gen Z students to approach modern issues more critically and creatively. I believe that Gen Z students can identify and tackle problems differently from previous generations. We are growing up in an era where massive, worldwide problems like climate change are occurring in real time. We’re experiencing them firsthand and viewing them through a student's perspective. Young people have the unique mindset to create solutions with more freedom than adults, but also face specific barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential.
While working with students in refugee camps in Kenya and schools in Ghana, I was inspired to look more broadly at innovation and problem-solving. I recognized that even if partnerships can be formed and connections can be made, the lack of experience with particular skills is what continues to hold youth back, like knowing how to conduct a feasibility study with the latest technologies.
Many of the challenges that students face revolve around a lack of access to resources, a dearth of mentors and experts, and the scrutiny of age versus ability. The processes of design-thinking and problem-solving must be supported by technological resources, funding, and further tools for marketing. K-12 students, who do not have the advantage of higher education and industry experience, lack access to these resources to develop their ideas further, keeping them out of conversations where they could make a difference.
In addition, students do not have access to a network of established tech and business communities, such as experts in the field and mentors that can guide their path with direct feedback.
In order to support the younger generation who is looking to bring its ideas to reality, those with more experience in the workforce can make a lasting impact by mentoring students. Mentorship can come in many forms: encouraging youth to use the tech available to them to solve issues, breaking down barriers to access, or even taking a couple of hours to collaborate on ideas. Guidance and encouragement early on is critical.
Initiatives like MIT Solve, which helps social good tech entrepreneurs scale their solutions and its new program for budding entrepreneurs 24 and under, and Solv[ED] give youth the opportunity to design, build, and elevate their ideas for a chance to create meaningful change. With the support of educators and mentors in the MIT Solve community, youth are able to develop their own ideas from scratch, foster them using the latest technology, receive funding, and gain access to a platform to pitch their ideas to the real world. Investing in new technologies and partnerships for Gen Z will make real change for the future of our society.
Solv[ED] is investing in a unique set of talent, viewpoints, and skill sets and expanding opportunities for Gen Z to solve some of the most pressing issues facing society today. Often the best solutions start small and local. Once proven to work, these solutions can be adapted and scaled to solve similar problems in other parts of the world. That is what the youth are able to do — come up with creative approaches locally that can eventually help solve problems worldwide. I can’t wait to see our young generation realize their full potential as changemakers.