Young innovators are coming together in Singapore with UNICEF and ASEAN officials this week to share ideas on how young people can shape the region’s future.
We caught up with some of the talented young leaders to find out how they were motivated to help build better futures for adolescents in ASEAN.
Amanda Simandjuntak, MARKODING, Indonesia
“Do you really think they can do it?”
This question came up a lot after sharing the idea of teaching coding to marginalised youth in Jakarta’s slums. I suppose it was a natural first response – I too had doubts this idea would work.
I was a volunteer maths and English teacher to 6th graders at a shelter in Cilincing, a slum area in Jakarta in early 2017. I noticed that almost all my students had smartphones and there was an internet shop full of children on nearly every street corner.
Intrigued, I did a little survey and found that children spent around 2-3 hours a day surfing the internet. I started thinking: what if they used this time to learn to code instead?
Highschool graduates make up a significant portion of unemployed workforce in Indonesia. Meanwhile, demands for workers in the IT/computing field are at an all-time high. When I managed my own IT solutions firm, I often had to outsource clients’ projects to programmers overseas.
I saw a clear opportunity.
In August 2017, I kickstarted MARKODING (“Mari kita coding!” or “Let’s learn coding!”) by teaching coding to 20 high school students in Cilincing. The project is quite simple: students must develop a simple website to address the needs or problem in their community.
Coding is more than creating a program/application: it’s the logic of thinking. It encourages youth to be analytical and efficient in their thinking process, and it triggers curiosity and creativity and makes people better decision-makers and problem solvers.
One-year later, MARKODING has 20 professional programmers working in some of the leading start-ups in Indonesia volunteering as mentors. We have also trained 120 marginalized kids from four schools located in underprivileged communities in Jakarta.
I believe that disadvantaged youth has potential. What we can do is unlock their potential by educating and equipping them with relevant skills so they can change their lives in this digital era.
Tu Ngo, Yola Education, Viet Nam
My father has been working for his for many years to repay the loan he needed for my mother’s surgery when I was 6. The surgery did not help my mother; my sister and I then grew up with only my father. He used to keep cash in his steel locker at home, like most Vietnamese people of his generation, due to mistrust in the banking and political system.
“At times, it felt like there would be no way out” — he told me — “but I kept my faith.” More than just optimism or determination, my father found his inner strength from a resilient faith in life. His inner strength built mine: I clicked my computer mouse for hours every day, looking for ways to apply for a scholarship to college overseas to fulfil my dream of exploring the world.
My father reminded me not to overcome challenges with bitterness and frustration, but with the poise and faith in life. The power of a strong inner-strength has had such a profound impact on my life that I believed it could also change others’ lives.
I visited the poor family of Dara, my SEALNet mentee in Cambodia, to encourage his study abroad plan; he gained the confidence and is now at Grinnell College. When I met Dai, a student at Yola, she mentioned suicide to rebel against her parents. I guided her to solve the conflicts by pursuing her true passions.
More importantly, I am not alone but joined by a team of business and education leaders who also believe in the long-lasting impact of nurturing inner-strength.
I founded Yola with that mission: the specific lessons and knowledge matter; yet, the spirit of believing in oneself, one’s passions, or on the wonders of life is what I hope to embed in my students so they will be able to go through the dark moments of their life in the future, like my dad, with poise and faith.
Khairul Rusydi, Reactor, Singapore
School teaches a type of thinking called Causal Reasoning, where 1+1=_. But when students graduate into the real world, they will be called upon to use a different type of thinking, called Affectual Reasoning. This represents a paradigm shift in the way of thinking, wherein _+_=1.
In a case like this, you know where you want to be, and there are laws and frameworks you must follow, but suddenly there are multiple ways to get to the end goal. There is no one right answer, and most students struggle with adopting this change in mindset.
In 2012, I took part in the Junior World Entrepreneurship Forum as an undergraduate, and wrote a white paper outlining why Entrepreneurship Education (EntreEd) was increasingly necessary as the world evolves. The judges commented that was I on to something, and encouraged me to take my ideas further.
So, in 2013, I started Reactor, one of the earliest EntreEd schools in Asia. We set out with the mission of Cultivating the Galaxy’s Best Young Founders, and since then we’ve had the privilege of training more than 6,000 students, from Bangkok to Jakarta, Dubai to Perth.
Can entrepreneurship be taught? As an optimist, I believe in the human capacity to achieve great things, especially when diverse people work together.
The ethos behind Reactor and EntreEd was to help students to be entrepreneurial, so that they may constantly reinvent themselves and stay employable, as well as to expose students to start-ups so that they may use technology as a force for good.
One Reactor Alumni has built a volunteer management platform called Bantu. Another one of the start-ups that we are currently incubating is building a video communication tool for the deaf and mute. It is amazing what students can accomplish when equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills.
Reactor is still very much in its early days, but we are confident that by partnering with our teachers, our alumni and the tech industry, we will be able to build a collective community that pays it forward. It takes village to raise a child, and an ecosystem to cultivate the galaxy’s best young founders.
Carmina Bayombong, InvestEd, Philippines
My InvestEd journey began back in college. It was when I first became aware of the challenges faced by students from low-income families. Due to the lack of financing options, a lot of my peers had to work part-time jobs on top of the heavy academic workload to sustain college expenses. In the process, I witnessed many of them fail to reach their potential or even drop out of college.
Back in college, I also managed three scholarship funds for my youth organizations. There I was exposed to the gaps in our financial aid system from both sides of the spectrum. For the capital source, there was a lot of donor fatigue. For the students, those who never had money for quality education could not compete for scholarships.
After graduation, I started my development career by handing the fundraising of education non-profits across US, Nigeria, and Southeast Asia. There I experienced that the problem of college financing was not just local, but also global.
The problem became even more personal when I served as an elected government official while working on anti-corruption initiatives from 2010-2013. At the time, my life was put in danger many times but the calling to focus on education also became stronger. I realized that the only sure solution to most of our society’s problems was education. It was the advocacy that held the highest return on investment.
These experiences amount to over eight years of exposure, frustration and learning about the different problems in education. In time, it is what made me fully commit to and start my InvestEd journey last year.
Since our founding, the InvestEd team has been working hard to get our product and impact to where it is now. I believe that we are in a pivotal stage, wherein global exposure is imperative for us to move InvestEd in the right direction. Being part of the UNICEF-ASEAN Conference this November 2018 will be an amazing opportunity for InvestEd to speak about our mission and educate people about the Philippines’ challenges at the same time. With your help, we can graduate more dreamers for a stronger nation and in effect, a stronger ASEAN.