By SAMANTHA CHOW
EVERYTHING that can be said about Generation Y, we’ve heard it all, right? They’re easily bored, highly ambitious, always seeking social validation (‘like’ my photo, please!), and overly confident.
But a handful of enterprising young people at the recent GREAT Ideas Forum hosted by the British High Commission proved that it is possible to convert those qualities into strengths.
The forum gave four bright young minds the chance to present their social-entrepreneurial projects to a panel which included Sajid Javid, the UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. He was in the country in conjunction with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s working visit to Malaysia.
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates was also on the panel, and he agreed that what defines this generation is also what makes it thrive.
“Their remarkable sense of confidence is what I like most about Gen Y. It is their strength, not weakness. In fact, confidence is exactly what you need in entrepreneurship,” he said.
And that’s probably even more true with social entrepreneurship, where you need to be ambitious and persistent in order to find innovative ways to solve social problems – perhaps that’s what truly defines the young people of Malaysia today.
The four young social entrepreneurs at GREAT Ideas each had two minutes to present their projects and engage in a Q&A with the panel.
The panel was completed by Astro CEO Datuk Rohana Rozhan, UK Trade Envoy to the Asean Economic Community Richard Graham, and British High Commissioner Her Excellency Vicki Treadell, who left mid-way through the forum to welcome Cameron at the airport.
Social worker Katrina Arokiam, 28, wanted to focus on the neglected urban poor in the city. Her work through community centre Yayasan Chow Kit led her to envision a plan for rehabilitating street children with drug addictions.
“The majority of street kids are undocumented, stateless children or those with family problems. They survive by selling drugs, and this may lead them to develop a drug addiction. Some of them are also living with HIV,” she said.
Katrina found a rehabilitation centre at Batu Arang which has agreed to take on these children and help them through their addiction. At the centre, the children are also taught to develop useful skills that can help them earn a living.
Another presenter, Reeve Yew, 21, of Thriving Talents, proposed a programme to get young people to organise CSR projects for SMEs which may not have the required workforce.
“On one hand, you have companies who want to hop on the CSR bandwagon, but don’t have enough internal staff to run it. And on the other hand, there are young people looking for opportunities to showcase their ideas and energy. So, we connect these two parties,” he said.
Other projects include a programme to improve graduate employability, and another to promote sustainable living among the underprivileged. All ideas presented that day involve the local youth population, directly or indirectly.
The four social-entrepreneurial projects were some of the best examples of Malaysian youth innovations in social business selected through the British High Commissioner’s Successor Generation Initiative (SGI), based on their potential to scale, generate income, build skills and be self-sustaining.
As part of the initiative, the High Commission also set up Indiegogo pages for each project to call for crowdfunding. The money raised from the crowdfunding will be used to start up and sustain the projects.
Treadell hoped these examples would inspire other young people to think of their own “GREAT Idea” and do their part to improve the social conditions of the community around them.
Echoing Treadell’s sentiments, Yew said they won’t forget long-term sustainability when it comes to any project, not just social entrepreneurship. “Ultimately, we want more youths to come together to help not only the society, but also themselves,” he said.
The young entrepreneurs received a lot of helpful feedback from the panelists, who seemed genuinely impressed by the ideas presented.
“I love seeing their passion,” said Graham, who is personally involved in charitable work, and has previously served as a director of the Care for Children foundation.
Javid concurred that it was exciting to see how an enterprising nature, when combined with new technology, brings good to society.
“It is fantastic to see these young people. It’s important to learn from the next generation and draw on their talents, regardless of gender, race and sexual orientation,” he said.
Javid ended the forum on a high by praising the projects’ innovation and viability.
“All ideas presented today have huge potential to help hundreds of thousands of people. Malaysia’s future is safe in your hands,” he said.
Want to do your part to help the community? You can, by donating to any of these social projects.
1. CHANGE, Engineered
Presented by Wan Djawad, 26, Director
An employability training programme for fresh grads and pre-college students. Many graduates do not have a clear idea of what they want to do, and choosing unsuitable careers results in high turnover rates. The Empowerment Camp provides a tailor-made programme based on their career goals, interest and skills, and connects them to mentors and professionals in their fields. “We want to help students be more certain about what they are pursuing and fix their expectations about what kind of job they want to do,” said Djawad.
2. TalentLinkz by Thriving Talents
Presented by Reeve Yew, 21, tech lead
Companies who want to run CSR projects but don’t have enough staff will be connected to young talents who can use the platform to showcase their CSR projects and run them on behalf of the companies. Thriving Talents founder Michael Teoh has pitched the idea to various companies and received positive feedback. “Microsoft, Maybank and the British High Commission have expressed their interest in coming onboard for this project,” said Yew.
3. Yayasan Chow Kit Drug Rehab for Children
Presented by Katrina Arokiam, 28, child protection & advocacy manager
Katrina proposed a homegrown tea enterprise for young drug addicts to help financially sustain their drug rehab programme at Yayasan Chow Kit. The youths will be growing the tea and living at Positive Living Community, Selangor, a self-sustaining shelter that provides care and rehab for drug users and those with HIV. “We do everything and anything that a mother does for her child,” said Katrina.
4. Ecocentric Transitions
Presented by Firdaus Nisha, 34, founder and facilitator
This programme connects underprivileged communities and companies to build sustainable edible gardens together. The programme also shows the underprivileged communities how to maintain their edible gardens and live sustainably. “The keyword here is sustainability, and the most tangible way of doing that is by managing waste and food,” said Nisha.
The Indiegogo campaigns for TalentLinkz and Yayasan Chow Kit Drug Rehab for Children have expired, but you can still donate to the other campaigns.