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Updates - Global Youth Advancement Summit hosted by MSU
200 participants, 42 mentors, 38 countries, 6 regions, 1 Summit!

Michigan State University, in collaboration with the African Development Bank, Ford Foundation, The Alliance for African Partnership, and other strategic partners is proud to have hosted more than 118 young educators, researchers, artists, scientists and entrepreneurs, who congregated at its beautiful East Lansing campus from June 11-13, 2019 for the first ever Global Youth Advancement Summit!

Focusing on the grand challenge of Global Inequity, Summit delegates, who were between the ages of 18 and 35, exchanged ideas, showcased innovative products and services, pitched their business ventures and built genuine networks that will enable them to collaboratively define their future in a way that is equitable, just and sustainable. The three-day Summit was unique in that it was intentionally youth-designed, youth-focused and youth-led — all presentations were given by young people in the form of case studies, hands-on workshops, inspirational “Big Idea Talks”, panel discussions and poster communities. Delegates actively participated and established meaningful connections during the interactive workshops, at the networking dinner and through lively conversations on Whova, the Summit conference app.

For many of the delegates represented at the Summit, being young means being excluded from decision-making, having limited access to productive resources such as financing and land — and, as a result, being especially vulnerable to unemployment, poverty and sometimes violent acts of extremism. It is for this reason that Michigan State University decided to organize the Global Youth Advancement Summit. We sent out a Call for Proposals asking young innovators to describe in 700 words what they were doing to address a global inequity in their community. We asked them to choose one of five sectors to illustrate their work: arts and culture; education; the environment; healthcare and livelihoods. We received proposals from more than 300 young leaders representing 52 nations, and selected the most innovative authors to attend the Summit.

In preparation to share their innovative ideas, research and initiatives, delegates benefited from extensive coaching and mentoring by our network of 42 hand-selected academic and industry experts. Mentors were meticulously assigned to match their delegates’ needs, and worked with their mentees and other resource persons to strengthen the delegates’ presentations, while supporting their personal and professional development. The Summit offered a platform for young people to contribute meaningfully to the dialogue on emerging global issues and to participate in problem solving in an innovative, inclusive and impactful manner. Delegates, and all Summit participants, left the event feeling inspired, validated and better equipped to continue their work as change-makers for their communities and beyond.

“GYAS has provided such tremendous opportunity for everyone engaged in the Summit. Undoubtedly, the experience has had impact and will refect positively on attendees’ lives in the short and long term.”

Mentor, MSU

“Other summits that I have attended often have a level of cutthroat ambition and competition that makes it diffcult to
make meaningful connections with people. But here at MSU, what you have done through GYAS 2019 is phenomenal and has somehow captured that magical sweet spot between inspirational competition and supportive camaraderie.”

Delegate, Pakistan

“Michigan State University gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people from Africa, Latin America, United States, and Asia who have faced the same diffculties as me and despite that, have persevered. Michigan State University organised a summit that is different from everything I experienced because it gave voice to hundreds of fantastic young people who may not be celebrated in their countries.”

Delegate, Brazil

“The summit may be concluded this year, but the innovative ideas, global connections, boundless inspiration and great friendships we took from it will continue!”

Delegate, Ghana

“The work that you do and have done is amazing and necessary in today’s society. I have never experienced such diversity in
ideas, cultures and projects. This Summit was truly awe-inspiring and something we need in society to help blur the lines between people and allow for a more cohesive community.”

Delegate, US

The Entrepreneurship Competition

One of the highlights of the three-day event was the Entrepreneurship Competition, which was generously funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB). The goal of the competition was to identify innovative ideas, products and services that have a potential to create positive change, break down barriers and provide access and support to communities worldwide, while yielding a profitable return on investment. Six venture capitalists from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the US judged the competition and selected the three most successful pitches to receive seed capital.

In third place was project CAPIO, a technological system that helps improve the quality of life and movement of patients with Parkinson’s Disease. The system stimulates the brain in unique ways, and incorporates Artificial Intelligence to ensure stimulations are appropriate for patients’ diverse needs. Juan Pablo Esquivel, Juan David Figueroa and Julian Valencia are the project’s founders from Colombia, and were awarded $2,000 from the competition.

In second place was company Even Cargo, India’s first women-only e-commerce logistics company designed to economically empower women in a workspace traditionally dominated by men, while also ensuring their safety in the workplace. Only one-out-of-four workers in India are women, and bridging this gender gap has an estimated potential to contribute $2.9 trillion to India’s GDP. Yogesh Kumar, the company’s founder from India, was awarded $3,000 from the competition.

In first place was business venture BidiGreen, which is building sustainable cities in Ghana by creating an ecologically friendly alternative to charcoal using agro-waste. This initiative reduces deforestation and environmental degradation in Ghana, while also providing jobs to former, traditional-coal producers who are now jobless. Barbara Agyapong, the venture’s founder, was awarded $5,000 from the competition.

Transcendence Awards

Another highlight of the Summit was the launch of the GYAN Transcendence Awards. Inspired by Abraham Maslow’s revised Hierarchy of Needs, the idea of self-transcendence represents the truest state of actualization whereby one reaches the height of his/her success, but then returns to the bottom of the pyramid to bring as many people up as they can. According to modern day psychologist, Viktor Frankl, “At the level of self-actualization, the individual works to actualize the individual’s own potential [whereas] at the level of transcendence, the individual’s own needs are put aside, to a great extent, in favor of service to others.” The Summit recognized the following five projects that exemplified this form of transcendent service to humanity:

Recipients of the 2019 Transcendence Awards

Words Heal the World

Words Heal the World is an NGO that empowers young people to challenge different types of extremism, while increasing the visibility of institutions that use words to tackle extremism and radicalization. Since 2017, college students from the UK and Brazil have been using their skills to deconstruct myths used by extremist groups and promote peace on the internet. While producing counter-narratives, the students improve their communication skills, become aware of their potential and inspire communities to lead change. The NGO was founded by Beatriz Buarque, the award recipient, who has more than ten years of experience in the newsroom, previously working as a journalist and a Brazilian Ambassador for Latin American Youth Network for Peace.

Zoo Compost Club

Zoo composting is an innovative and decentralized way to up-cycle organic waste by using the best attribute of each living being. The Zoo Compost Station is where different living beings recycle organic waste: chickens eat food scraps, larvae digest the fat and the hard-to-decompose residues, while the worms happily eat the vegetable leftovers. The end result: fresh bio eggs and high-quality ecological fertilizer in a very short time. The Zoo Compost Club is initiative by Ricardo Beck, the award recipient, who is a social entrepreneur and a researcher for Zoo Compost Club’s experimental Community Composting Station in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.

Food for All Africa

Food for All Africa is a social enterprise that creates efficient and sustainable means of nutrition for low-income and vulnerable communities. As a food recovery organization, Food for All operates West Africa’s first food bank in Ghana by creating an efficient food supply chain through food banking and farming. The organization connects the world of wastage to the world of the needy by rescuing edible surplus food from stakeholders within the food supply chain and supplying to vulnerable beneficiaries. Food for All Africa was founded by Elijah Amoo Addo, the award recipient, who is a chef and the CEO of the organization.

Three Sisters Education Fund

The Three Sisters Education Fund (TSEF) is a grassroots organization that was founded in 2014 by Sandrine Chikou and Marcy Hessling O’Neil, anthropologists who have done research on education for over 15 years. TSEF exists to economically empower individuals in the lowest economic quintile by providing specialized tutoring and literacy programs. The program is sustained through the sale of locally produced artisan items, which also strengthens economic development in the region. The award was received by Sandrine Chikou, executive director and lead anthropologist of Three Sisters Education Fund; as well as Judith Vlafonou, Director of Monitoring and Evaluation; and Anie Gandoto Semassoussi, Director of Artisan Partnerships.

Project DEFY

Project DEFY has a vision to bring education back into the hands of people, breaking the existing factory-model of learning to help communities create their own schools — which they call Nooks. Guided by the idea that learning happens naturally and information is available freely, the Nook is about having a learning environment that has no teachers and no exams; where people of different ages and backgrounds learn together out of curiosity and knowledge sharing. The award was received by Abhijit Sinha, Founder and CEO of Project DEFY; and Megha Bhagat, the Chief Growth Officer.

Thanks to our Mentors

After being invited to attend the Summit, global youth delegates prepared to share their innovative ideas, research and initiatives by undergoing extensive coaching and mentoring by our network of 42 hand-selected academic and industry experts. Mentors were meticulously assigned to match their delegates’ needs, working with them to support their delivery of strong and compelling messages during their presentations. For delegates both new to and familiar with presenting at conferences, the mentorship process ensured their preparedness and confidence for the Summit’s distinctive, global audience.

The mentors also have a passion for working with young leaders, and supported their mentees’ personal and professional development throughout their coaching — which may prove to have a long-term impact. Provided the diverse group of mentors inhabiting various countries, institutions and industries, delegates had a unique opportunity to make long-lasting, multidisciplinary connections, growing their professional and personal networks. We would like to thank all of the mentors for their contribution and dedication to supporting the delegates and ensuring a successful Summit!

Looking Ahead

The inaugural Global Youth Advancement Summit has come to a successful close. However, our work together has just begun! The personal relationships, professional connections, ideas generated and momentum that we have collectively built will continue to drive GYAN’s mission for years to come.

GYAN intends to collaborate with and support as many members of our rapidly growing network as possible. However, with more than 118 delegates and 78 initiatives showcased during the Summit this support will have to be rolled out incrementally. We are therefore in the process of identifying two to three projects from each of the six major regions represented during the summit to start our initial collaboration. The criteria for selecting these projects will include:

  1. Originality of concept
  2. Demonstrated impact of the project
  3. Scalability beyond a single country
  4. Delegates ability to raise counterpart funds for the concept

We have also identified the following three pathways of engagement with members of the GYAN network:

  1. Establishing thought leadership through regional and global conferences
  2. Collaborative research with MSU faculty
  3. Capacity development and joint project implementation

Over the coming years, GYAN will continue to work with network members to create collaborative initiatives and platforms that span multiple regions and industries, fostering cross-regional impact. MSU mentors and researchers will continue to contribute to the development of impactful initiatives and make themselves available to provide their technical expertise, access to broader regional and global networks and resources for the benefit of GYAN member initiatives.

GYAN seeks to establish clusters of motivated and dedicated impact-makers in each major region of the world, and eventually in each country. Current Summit delegates and their networks are the basis of these clusters, and will continue to spread and grow as GYAN extends its network and contributes to global initiatives.

To kick things off, GYAN will remain in contact with 2019 Summit delegates using the conference app Whova — which will serve as a platform for the network for the next two years. Eventually, GYAN will develop and host a more customized platform that will enable members to engage more interactively and in more substantive ways across borders.

As GYAN continues to build up and grow its network of global youth, mentors, change makers and stakeholders, plans for the next international conference are already in motion — so be sure to stay tuned, and look out for upcoming announcements regarding the 2021 Global Youth Advancement Summit!