by David Sengeh
When GMin was conceived in my high school bedroom seven years ago, if someone had predicted that we would flourish into an international youth organization, I might have believed them. However, I wouldn’t have imagined that our work would lead us to receive the 2013 Rockefeller Foundation’s Next Century Innovators Award, a centennial distinction awarded to only three organizations. While there a number of incredible NGO’s working in the international development space, our Innovation Challenges initiative places youth at the center of development by providing them with the platform to solve local challenges and the tools to learn through the process.
Our experience at the Rockefeller Foundation made me realize that GMin has stumbled upon something truly special. We have the potential to impact international development and civic participation by supporting youth innovation, a practice uncommonly found in the field. We are rapidly but carefully, expanding our innovation challenges geographically and philosophically, by incorporating a maker ethos which encourages youth in Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa to learn from making and making to learn. Our Innovation Challenges have produced problem-solvers, youth who have demonstrated that they can tackle challenges in their communities and create prototypes which successfully address critical issues, and even potentially scale.
Through our Innovation Challenges, it has become clear that youth are not given the space, freedom and opportunity to use critical thinking skills to grapple with the challenges affecting their lives. Many have never been asked to use local resources to solve local challenges and thus lack the creative thinking skills necessary for anyone to prosper in the 21st Century. These observations have manifested into our newest initiative, InLabs (Innovation Labs), which we’ll be piloting in three secondary schools and one community center in Sierra Leone. InLabs are physical maker spaces, where youth will have access to various tools and workshops on design thinking, engineering, programming, crafts, writing, arts, etc. More importantly, InLabs will serve as a point of entry for youth to gain the skills they need, or build upon the skills they already have to be the designers of their futures.
Our goal is to evoke confidence and encourage more youth to apply to the national Innovation Challenge. On a larger scale, GMin’s goal is to act as a platform generating global youth changemakers. We are confident that when we incorporate learning for youth within a culture of service, our communities will prosper.