[This article is part of the YourStory series Startup Hatch, about incubators, accelerators and makerspaces in the startup ecosystem. See earlier profiles of initiatives at IIT Bombay, IIM Bangalore, BITS Pilani, NCL, Tata Elxsi, Axilor, NID, IIIT-Bangalore, IIIT-Hyderabad, Vellore Institute of Technology, PSG Coimbatore, Workbench Projects, Makers Asylum, Appy Hours, and Turning Ideas.]
An estimated 120 million Indians are unemployed, and a number of initiatives are emerging to provide startup and social entrepreneurship skills to youth. Ashoka India’s Youth Venture acceleration and mentorship programme, for example, has recently selected a cohort of 15 young social innovators and entrepreneurs in the age group of 12 to 24. Yashveer Singh, Director, Youth Venture, Ashoka Innovators for the Public, South Asia, offers us a range of insights into this programme.
Ashoka is the largest association of social entrepreneurs in the world – over the past 30 years, since its founding, it has built a global network of almost 3,000 social entrepreneurs in more than 70 countries. Its vision of ‘Everyone A Changemaker’ is aimed at providing each young individual the freedom, confidence, and social support to drive positive change.
Prior to Ashoka, Yashveer founded a youth non-profit to address talent inequity in the development sector and inspire university students to pursue social entrepreneurship. Yashveer has been awarded the Youth Action Net 2012 Fellowship by International Youth Foundation and was recognised as Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs in Asia. He was also awarded a BITSAA (Birla Institute of Technology and Science Alumni Association) 30 under 30 Award in 2012.
When was Youth Venture in India launched? How many changemakers have graduated from this programme so far?
The Youth Venture programme was launched in September 2015. 31 young social innovators have been selected to be Youth Venturers so far, of whom 16 were selected in December 2015, and 15 were selected in May 2016.
The purpose of the Youth Ventures programme is to develop the leadership skills of selected young social innovators. We achieve this through curating different experiences. The Youth Venture programme allows youth to leverage their ideas, collaborate, and enhance their innovations to achieve wider impact. Ashoka accelerates Youth Venturers’ progress as individuals, leaders of organisations, and participants in collaborative initiatives by providing them access to the Ashoka network, mentorship, and training.
What are the key opportunities for youth change makers in India today?
In January 2016, the Prime Minister of India heralded a new era in the history of Indian startups through the ‘Startup India, Standup India’ plan, which aimed to boost innovation and entrepreneurship. Since then, several new NGOS have been dedicated to give training, support, and seed funding to youth entrepreneurs, and more schools are developing degrees in social entrepreneurship and incubation centres.
Although these are signs of a slow framework change in the current eco-system of youth in India, youth must learn to embody the important values of empathy, creativity, leadership, and teamwork skills to really make a difference. Indian youth changemakers are positioned at the crucial crossroads of impending unemployment, and a constant exposure to new technologies and research initiatives.
These changemakers have the unique opportunity to change preconceived notions regarding the role of youth, create the jobs they want to see, and generate visible change through their individual actions. Opportunities for youth changemakers today are continuously increasing with the development of their ability to collaborate in teams, build cross-sector partnerships, value empathy, and think critically and creatively about the issues that India faces today.
What are the key challenges facing youth changemakers in India today?
A major challenge that young changemakers face in India today is the fact that a large segment of Indian society has the mindset that youth are always beneficiaries of and not contributors to changemaking. Because of this, support systems for exceptional young innovators in schools and colleges are lacking.
In addition, many of the courses, curricula, and platforms to learn in these educational institutions do not provide youth with the information and skills they need most for creative innovation. For these reasons, Indian youth struggle to find peer networks of young changemakers to understand, learn, and support one another.
Along with these challenges, India is still a developing country in which the success of a young person is evaluated most by the generation of wealth rather than the generation of ideas, networks, and innovation. These are the challenges that the Youth Ventures programme aims to address by inspiring youth to develop and foster changemaking attitudes in their own communities.
What are the selection criteria for Youth Ventures?
Candidates are selected through a procedure of nomination, evaluation, and pitch. A call for applications is opened for young social innovators to apply through our online application form. Individuals can directly apply if they meet the criteria and key organisations/people working with young people can nominate individuals within their networks to apply.
All applications are screened and evaluated by the Youth Venture team based on the criteria stipulated below:
Candidates who meet the criteria are then invited to pitch their ideas to a selection panel of high calibre leaders in their respective fields of work. These panelists are Ashoka Fellows, Youth Venture alumni, development experts, media leaders, and educational experts. The panel session comprises a project presentation by candidates, followed by a question and answer session.
After presenting their ventures, panelists select candidates they believe to meet the criteria to become Youth Venturers. The selected candidates become Youth Venturers and are absorbed into our network and exposed to a variety of opportunities within the Youth Venture programme.
What activities were held at this year’s workshop?
At the panel workshop, candidates were exposed to different sessions that were conducted by the Ashoka staff with the aim of pushing and encouraging their thinking at a framework-change level. The sessions helped push their thinking, writing, communication and collaboration. Three more workshops will be held this year for selected Venturers. These will explore themes like designing effective organisations, storytelling, fundraising, resource mobilisation, team-building, and leveraging networks.
Most Youth Venturers have an adult ally who supports them in various efforts. Additionally, during the panel discussion, these adult supervisors were encouraged to observe the activities as well. The aim is to also influence the thinking of parents and teachers because it is critical for the growth of these young innovators.
What follow-up activity is there after the workshop?
Our next workshop for incoming and current Youth Venturers will take place from 24-26 June. The goal of the workshop is to provide Youth Venturers a platform to network and share with one another the experiences and knowledge from the different projects they are working on. In addition, this workshop will specifically focus on developing the storytelling, fundraising, and resource mobilisation skills of the Venturers.
Are there similar Youth Venture programmes in other countries as well?
The Youth Ventures programme is a global programme operating in different countries that are part of the Ashoka network. Although the goal is the same for all country offices, the articulation of the programme and activities varies depending on the local context.
What are the categories of for-profit and nonprofit initiatives taken up by the current batch?
When choosing Youth Venturers, Ashoka looks at the uniqueness of the method of addressing the problem rather than the organisation of the project itself. The current batch of Youth Venturers is solving problems in a multitude of sectors through a variety of innovative strategies.
Recently selected candidates are using aquaponics for supply-chain efficiency, bridge-building between slum communities and service organisations, solving pollution through carpooling and waste through campaigning, and advocating social justice for disabled athletes and acid survivors.