On Sunday March 18th, while the rest of the world was in bed recovering from St. Pattyâ€™s Day partying, 50 students were in a lecture theatre at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, talking about social development.Â The Build-a-Change Symposium, an initiative developed by Smart Solutions Inc., challenged students to brainstorm ideas to real-world problems faced in the development sector, and pitch their ideas to a panel of judges.Â As one of the judges, it was a joy to see passionate youth from different disciplines take the knowledge they have learned in the classroom and apply it towards challenges faced on the ground.Â In many ways, the symposium was a source of immense hope.
My love affair with the development sector began as a wide-eyed youth who had every intention of wanting to â€˜save the worldâ€™.Â There were inequities that existed; I was privileged to be born into a life of opportunity; I felt like I needed to do something about.Â It was as simple as that.
During my first few weeks living and working in Coastal Kenya, I was enamoured by the new cultures, the languages, the freedom to explore, the opportunity to make a difference.Â I was hopelessly idealistic that if I worked hard enough, that if I spent day and night understanding the problems of Africa, I could find a way to make everything better.Â I could make all the inequities disappear and transform these communities into places of opportunity for all those living within.Â But once the honeymoon period passed, the challenges of this transformation became abundantly clear.Â As a sector, weâ€™re constantly challenged by limited resources â€“ funding seems to be dwindling each year, meaning there are fewer dollars available to serve an ever-growing population.Â The structure of project grants, varying from 3-5 years, compromises the long-term sustainability of an initiative.Â The involvement of communities throughout the duration of a project cycle â€“ from the needs assessment to implementation to evaluation â€“ is limited.Â Silo mentalities persist in spite of the clear need for multi-sector input approaches to community development.Â Collaboration amongst stakeholders in a given area is limited equating to inefficiencies in resources and overburdening existing community structures such as Community Health Workers.Â Measuring impact in a cost-effective, reliable way seems to be the million dollar question that we have yet to answer.
But in all of these challenges lay glimmers of hope.Â And my experience at the Build-a-Change Symposium was a major source of hope.Â Â To see youth who are passionate about social development, who have a restless desire to make a difference.Â University students who are less concerned about salaries and benefits, and are instead contemplating careers that have the potential to make a meaningful impact.Â Â Tech-savvy youth who understand the role technology can play in facilitating change.
This is the next generation of young social entrepreneurs that are ready to hit the stage. Â Theyâ€™re innovative, passionate, global-minded and addicted to achievement.Â Â If given the opportunity and guidance, there is no telling the impact this generation could have.