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This International Youth Day, the world celebrates young people’s contributions to inclusion, social justice and peace – and these six digital natives from across Asia are doing more than their share. From Pakistan to Malaysia, they’re using technology to build refuges for refugees, bring education to all, make communities healthier, help war-ravaged families rebuild and create new platforms for innovators.
Heidy Quah, 23, Malaysia
Founder and Director at Refuge for the Refugees and recipient of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award 2017
Life is short, says Heidy Quah. We only have 24 hours in a day, and we can either waste them or make them count. Heidy chooses to make hers count, believing that she has the power to change lives if she lives every day purposefully.
Heidy is a refugee activist, a youth advocate and the Founder and Director of Refugee for the Refugees and attributes the desire to drive positive change to her attitude of gratitude. Her lifelong access to shelter, education and opportunities has inspired Heidy to give back.
Giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering the youth of Malaysia are issues close to Heidy’s heart. She aims to engage more with the Malaysian government in order to inspire social change for the better in her homeland.
She believes technology is intrinsic to achieving progress and peace. It makes it possible for people all over the world to empower and educate others by openly sharing their cultures, values, beliefs and principles.
Heidy says that youth have a role to play in building peace in our world. She urges young people to live their days with purpose and intent, and get involved in activities that promote change and unity.
Haroon Yasin, 25, Pakistan
Founder, Orenda Project
Growing up in Pakistan, Haroon attended private schools and was on the track for a degree in Engineering. Although fortunate enough to have a good education, he didn’t think the national system was properly serving Pakistan’s millions of youth. So he quit his engineering program three months into college and went on to pursue a new passion – making his country’s education system more engaging and inclusive.
Visiting slums and poorer areas in Pakistan, Haroon always noticed that while there were shortages of schools, most families owned mobile phones. Then he had an idea. This was the birth of Orenda, an organization that designs virtual curricula, including video and game-based translations of government curricula, and monitors its performance using mobile internet.
After piloting with 1,300 students over the past two years, participating schools have seen substantial improvements in performance and reductions in drop-out rates. His ambitions for Orenda are as strong as ever, and his vision for the next 2-5 years is it becoming truly national by serving children all over Pakistan.
Pakistan’s education system is at capacity, Haroon says, and he sees mobile phones and internet as perfect tools to alleviate this. For Haroon, ensuring youth access to education is essential. He says that peace is disturbed when people don’t have their basic needs met. Begin to meet their basic needs, and you build peace.
Asma Naksewee, 26, Thailand
Founder of WO-MANIS
Coming from Pattani, a war-torn corner of Thailand’s south, Asma says she’s always had what matters – an education, the will to improve herself and the opportunities to follow her dreams. That’s all you need, she says, in order to give back to your community.
Asma does this through WO-MANIS, an organization she founded which helps women in the conflict zones of southern Thailand who have lost their husbands and families. WO-MANIS helps women build sustainable sources of income by training them and providing them with an online platform to sell their handicrafts.
The internet and, by extension, Thailand’s social media scene helps Asma’s organization promote and connect women’s strengths with far-reaching marketplaces. Tech helps connect people, she says, and that connection is the first step you need in building peace and improving lives.
Her passions are what saw her awarded a ticket to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo two years ago as part of the Telenor Youth Forum Thailand delegation. When people think of her organization, she wants them to picture beautiful, smart and inspiring women, role model moms, sisters and daughters, all working together to make their community a happier, more peaceful place. To Asma, one’s actions in life are based on opening opportunities and building communities, and she wants the world’s youth to see through similar lenses.
Yong Wei Shian, 24, Malaysia
Founder of FoodNinja, Malaysia Global Innovation and Creativity Centre Top 25 Social Entrepreneur
A food efficiency advocate and professional pharmacist, Yong Wei Shian sees how inefficient the food supply and healthcare systems can be. While technology and innovation have enabled other industries like commerce, banking etc to focus more on efficiency and customer experiences, he says healthcare has been left behind. He wants to change that.
He’s already won Digi’s Challenge for Change program in Malaysia for building FoodNinja, an award-winning system that allowed excess food supplies to be distributed to charities, (Wei Shian was just 22 at the time). And now, this former Telenor Youth Forum delegate from Kuala Lumpur is moving on to develop a healthcare platform that will personalize preventative health solutions at an individual level – empowering all to live healthier lives.
He’s discovered a passion for using technology and Big Data to maximize healthcare professionals’ capacities, optimizing patient care and making his community a healthier place.
This International Youth Day, he says that youth need to discard inherited prejudices from older generations, go out into the world and start making connections. Technology allows us to do this. With technology, we can build on cultural exchanges and shared understanding of each other, which Wei Shian says, are the keys to peace.
Sharad Vivek Sagar, 25, India
Founder and CEO of Dexterity Global Inc., Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs
Sharad Sagar is on a mission. This mission began nearly 10 years ago, when Sharad was only 16 years of age. He witnessed a gap in his country, a gap in terms of access to education, opportunities and resources. So he set out to do something about it.
Today Sharad Sagar is a leader in every sense of the word. He’s been recognized by esteemed institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Forbes and the United Nations as a major force for social entrepreneurship and impact.
His goal is simple: democratize education and create opportunities for the kids of Southeast Asia. By building up this generation and giving them access to the world, Sharad believes that he will create a generation capable of tackling 21st century challenges.
Technology plays a key role in Sharad’s mission. It is the platform on which he is empowering future leaders and connecting them with people and information, no matter how remotely they live. By educating millions of children across Asia, he is encouraging greater cultural understanding, a key ingredient in a more peaceful world.
Without education, you don’t have understanding. And without understanding, it’s nearly impossible to achieve peace. Sharad Sagar’s mission has taken him all over the world, but the heart of it remains in Southeast Asia. With every year that passes, Sharad’s impact is felt by millions of children in India and beyond.
Fatima Rizwan, 27, Pakistan
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, TechJuice
Technology has been a constant source of excitement and passion for Fatima, who was hooked from the moment she first saw her father using a computer. Today she’s still blown away by the applications and opportunities that technology presents us all. A computer science major, she went on to become the first woman in her extended family to own a business.
She founded TechJuice, which is now Pakistan’s leading media platform for startups and entrepreneurs. TechJuice’s content reaches over 10 million people per month – in Pakistan alone, and is now playing a big role in the country’s tech scene. Fatima pitched the platform at Telenor Youth Forum 2015, from which her learnings have helped her grow TechJuice’s revenue, readership and reach.
Though Fatima admits that she eats, sleeps and drinks TechJuice, she’s also an advocate for breaking down barriers of any kind and for giving people a voice. Though technology is fast-paced, lucrative and exciting, Fatima also sees it as a tool that can add to the peace process across the world, when leveraged properly. Technology levels the playing field for all, regardless of their races, genders, nationalities or religions, she says, and access to it can help the voiceless be heard.