YTF Is There as Sci-Fi Becomes a Reality
In Africa, there is a vibrant culture of young people creating things. Having worked in this field extensively over the last 15 years, we at Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) know innovation often comes from the unavailability of resources and pure necessity. There simply aren’t enough jobs to go around, so innovation is born from constraints. For many young people growing up in Africa today, there are a few options: improvise, adapt or overcome.
This culture has bred a generation of problem solvers and innovators. A generation of young people who are faced with challenges, but still find solutions that work. To help support this mentality, there is often a merger of private and public sector partnerships in developing countries that have created an ecosystem that enables entrepreneurs.
Hacking our way to innovation
Learning and adapting is part of our lifeblood at YTF. We are always thirsty to understand what models work and how we can adapt to the environments we work in.
Take GE’s First Build outfit in Louisville, Kentucky, where our U.S. offices are located and where we implement STEM-based programs in disadvantaged areas like Louisville’s West End. First Build is an open community space for makers, students and engineers to co-create smart products for the future.
YTF was invited to attend First Build’s very first hackathon in early April. Makers, techies, engineers and artists worked overnight to come up with the home of the future. The focus was on hacking existing appliances and making new appliances to improve the overall customer experience. They had access to any tool you can think of – 3D printers, laser cutters, water jets, CNC mills, welding and hand power tools, soldering stations, woodworking equipment and more. Teams worked around the clock to create cool products with actual utility – a sensor-enabled water faucet that detects the length of time for hand washing, a kitchen cabinet greenhouse and a wifi-enabled crock pot were some of our favorites.
Lifting up ideas
We believe the best way to learn about a problem is to build a solution. Open innovation allows people who have a passion for a certain problem to come together to create a workable solution. YTF knows that open innovation can work mostly because you are tapping into a very different group of people, those who normally don’t think about engineering challenges.
Solutions from open innovation stem from asking the right questions. Ten-year-old Jazmine had the opportunity to suggest two of her project ideas, including taking apart Neocomimi cat ears, robotic cat ears that respond to brainwaves, just to understand how they work.
Another key component to taking innovation into action is using micro-factories. Micro-factories place emphasis on localization, giving companies an opportunity to move certain products to larger scale production with less risk since they are tested on a small and localized platform first. Micro-factories allow companies to innovate faster and introduce products consumers want when they want them.
YTF had an incredible time learning and sharing our work at the First Build hackathon too. We imagine a place like this, not just in Louisville, but anywhere, especially in developing countries. A place where people can come to learn, innovate and share. A place where girls feel safe and where “making” is cool. We know it will take all hands on deck to make this work and help incentivize this as the future of technology, but we know it’s worth it to help bring about the innovation we yearn for.