Rwandan Young Social Innovators

Oct 11, 2013

Social Good Summit Meet-up at the National Library Services in Kigali (Photo credit: UNDP-Rwanda)

Monday, September 23 was all about ideas and connecting young people from all over Rwanda in order to exchange these ideas. The reason? The Social Good Summit 2013.  Taking place as the UN General Assembly started convening for its annual meeting, the Social Good Summit was kicked off at the 92nd Street Y in New York and continued for three days with an unprecedented number of meet-ups around the world. In all, the Social Good Summit brought together over 20,000 people and extended the conversation to over 103 million people worldwide through social media. For the second year in a row, Rwanda was one of the global hubs of this important event. The meetup showcased that Rwanda is truly a forerunner in the area of ICT. Serving as the main hub, the National Library in Kigali was connected with four leading universities across Rwanda via google hangout, enabling the students to watch and interact with the panelists in Kigali.

Under the overarching theme #2030NOW theme - how new technology, innovation and social media can address the greatest challenges the world will face over the next generation - the Kigali event focused on empowering the youth and harnessing their idealism, dynamism and creativity for the development of their societies. As the Millennium Development Goals are expiring in 2015 and a global discussion around the new development agenda is thoroughly underway, the world’s attention and discussion shifts to the needs of the largest generation of youth the world has ever seen, and the question of who will lead the development initiatives around the world.

The emerging information society driven by new technologies is an area where young people have an edge. Young people are often the leading innovators in the use and spread of information and communications technologies. In Rwanda, we have many bright young minds, who are already pioneering social efforts that have left lasting impact”, stated UN Rwanda Resident Coordinator Lamin Manneh in his opening remarks. This was reverberated by Hon. Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the minister for Youth and ICT, who also stressed that “there needs to be a shift from ICT development to ICT for development (ICT4D)”and the question how to “link ICT systems to socio-economic transformation”.

This year’s panel was made up of young social innovators with different areas of expertise ranging from mHealth (mobile health) and technologies to promote Maternal and Child health, to providing access to high speed internet connection and free computer training to youth in remote areas.

The panelists pointed out that young people need to be empowered in order to create solutions for the problems they and their communities are facing. Some of the guiding themes of the discussion were education and youth employment and how skills development for young people is vital in an increasingly digitalized world with fewer job opportunities than in previous generations.

The panelists discussed that emerging innovations need to benefit those living in poverty. In a successful attempt to bridge the digital divide, Gilbert Munyemana of Plan International manages a project, which delivers the digital teacher learning content through easy-to-use digital hand-held devices (Ipod touch) that house a library of instructional videos and other educational applications that can be used without internet access. Programs such as the One Laptop per Child are beneficial for future job prospect of the youth. Akaliza Kesa Gara, the founder of Shaking Sun Ltd. added that it was important to sensitize young people to computer and how to use them. “If we can address that at a very young age across an entire generation… that’s just one step towards encouraging future innovation”, she said.

When faced with the question on what needs to be done in order to promote new and inclusive innovation that also benefits the poor, Claude Mugisha K. of kLab highlighted the necessity for a partnership between academia, private sector and the government. All panelists agreed that access to technology needs to be a priority going forward, in order to move towards a future, in which technology will improve the world we live in.

To keep the momentum going, UNDP Rwanda plans to partner with the Ministry of Youth and ICT to create Youth Konnekt, a platform which will serve as a channel for Youth, ICT players or anyone interested in both sectors to contribute to the country developmental agenda through debates. Stay tuned for more for updates!

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