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The journey to launch the Young ICT Leaders Forum 2019

Posted by Chloe Khoury Apr 12, 2019 Posted in YILF

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The Young ICT Leaders’ Forum (YILF), an annual event co-organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Busan Metropolitan city, has proven to be a “cool event”, attracting a diverse young talent pool with every new edition. The 6th edition of the Young ICT Leader’s forum will take place, once again this year, in Busan in the Republic of Korea. I am excited to share with you the journey that led to this edition and what we anticipate in this coming edition.

 “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” -- Lao Tzu

The YILF is not a regular competition for young innovators. It offers a space where youth change-makers in ICTs can network, connect and enhance their innovative ideas to transform their communities into smart communities. Previous winners went on to improve their solutions or use the recognition to gain access to more resources. Without access to new resources, many of these great ideas would have died in the ‘valley of death,’ cutting their entrepreneurial journey short.

It all started a few years ago with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the city of Busan and ITU. In previous editions of this event, we launched open calls for proposals to explore solutions to build Smart Cities. ITU defines a Smart City as “an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects”.  

We received many applications from innovators around the world, all working towards making their cities smarter. From Innovators proposing education solutions using Augmented Reality (AR) technology, to those with tsunami early warning solutions using Internet of Things (IoT), all wanted to make their cities smarter. These open calls were always followed with a selection and gathering of the winners in a well-orchestrated event in Busan.

There are many competitions and youth events out there.  What is quite unique with YILF is the policy and enabling environment dimension that ITU, as the lead United Nations agency for ICTs, can offer through its network of public and private sector decision makers and experts. In addition, the commitment to empowering the global ICT community, demonstrated by the Metropolitan City of Busan as a global Smart City leader, makes it the perfect partner to host the Young ICT Leaders Forum.

Learning, unlearning, and relearning is the key to innovation

Over the years, we decided to transform this Forum to fulfil its potential. The Forum was originally intended to bring together young ICT leaders aged 18 to 35, to promote their participation in the digital economy. The forum aims to achieve three strategic objectives:

  • Promoting the engagement of youth in the field of ICTs,
  • Decreasing the digital divide,
  • Promoting research on emerging ICTs particularly Internet of Things (IoT), among others.

 I participated in some of the previous editions of the forum as a judge, a mentor and an ITU expert, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment. I always felt we could do more with this great gathering of young minds.

Last year, it was requested that I lead from the ITU side the organization of the Fifth Edition of the YILF. I took advantage of this opportunity to do what I love most: hacking, flipping, and experimenting. To get more Smart Cities solutions in any community, there is a need for a better enabling environment that nurtures more inspiring success stories and encourages innovators. We thought a new experiment could start with a learning journey about achieving sustainable smart communities. With the blessing from our host partner, we changed the format and made an open call for ‘Smart Cities Ecosystem Builders,’ instead of the usual call for ‘Smart Cities Solutions.’ 

"We need to re-work, re-think, re-learn.” -- YILF 2018 participant

Building a culture of innovation can be considered as a numbers game. This means experimenting with new initiatives, many of which might fail, but, hopefully some of them will succeed.

Some forum participants were disappointed with our new experiment. They assumed that, as with the previous editions, they were going to pitch their new startup ideas with the community. I must admit it was a selfish experiment to try to turn these young innovators into ecosystem builders.

One of my jobs is about ecosystem building to create sustainable enabling environments. I refer to this as “putting sustainable back” in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address the opportunities of digital transformation. It is a passionate personal appeal to those working with new SDG goals to think about sustainability carefully.

After a rough start, it did not take long before most participants of the 5th edition of the YILF understood why ecosystem building will be instrumental in making their cities sustainably smarter. During last year's event, it became obvious that ecosystem building was already happening in some regions of the world with previous YILF participants.

There are many more YILF graduates who transformed with their experiences with the progamme.

Nelson Milla, a 2016 YILF participant from Honduras, is the classic example. He saw the necessity of it and the opportunities it offered to navigate a challenging environment in his home community. Another alumni of YILF is Victoria Masso, a 2018 participant, was already active as a mentor and entrepreneur in her community in Birmingham, but now has also become a great ecosystem builder.

After the first day of the event, I had dinner with Victoria and some participants. I was lamenting how difficult it was to tell stories (with my engineering background) and shared my quest for a story telling tool for the workshop. She sprang into action, and in less than 24 hours, she was leading a session on story telling during the second day. We have improved this story telling tool since and it has become one of the hottest tools within our toolbox that change-makers worldwide are falling in love with.

They came to Busan, they connected, networked and built their capabilities

Throughout YILF 2018, participants were actively engaged in collaboration, networking, capacity building, and co-creation in this four-day event. The first two days were dedicated to a boot camp workshop on ecosystem building, while the 3rd was dedicated to the Forum. The 3rd day of the event ended with a celebratory dinner party, a night that will be remembered for networking in the heart of Busan city. The last day was reserved to a study tour of the Busan smart ecosystem. All participants felt transformed with the experience. In the words of one of them: “I have been inspired by two considerable situations. The first is the method of learning, learning by doing. The second aspect is thinking outside the box, going further than what I have been taught.” Another participant said, “This collective experience will prepare us for the future.”

Through structured feedback during and after the event, we sought ideas on how to improve the experience of participants for the 6th edition. We learned a lot from this process.

One key lesson learned is that participants want to be part of a community prior to the event, but they also want to stay in touch as a community afterwards.

As a result, one immediate change we are making in this year YILF is to accommodate in our community three complementary profiles of innovators: the change markers with ideas, ecosystem builders, and entrepreneurs with solutions.  Another key change is the use of participatory tools (a social crowd ideation tool) to better engage this community before and after the event. We will also continue to come-up with new human centric tools as a core of our approaches to produce transformation with participants.

We will experiment with new tools at this year YILF to help innovators scale their solutions. We hope you will take the opportunity to lead and invite others to join us in this learning journey, in our reinvigorated community.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” -- Mahatma Gandhi

Please join us in making the 6th Edition of the Young ICT Leaders’ Forum a success. Take  ITU innovation challenges to be part of a great community. Help us spread the word.


About the Author

Moe BaMoe Ba leads the Innovation Programme for the Development Sector at the International Telecommunication Union, the UN specialized agency for ICT/Telecommunication.

His role is to help strengthen ITU Membership capacity to accelerate digital transformation. His passion is to help communities unlock their potentials through stakeholder empowerment and connecting opportunities to resources.

Prior to joining ITU, Mr. Ba spent several years in the private sector including working in Silicon Valley and internationally. He is an expert on innovation policy and the development of platforms focused on innovation, ICT and telecommunication.

This post was edited on May 1, 2020 by Moe Ba


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