The Impact of Young Minds Driven by Purpose

“Let’s get to work, let’s make it happen.”

The sentence above is the final message in a video about United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The goals were agreed upon by 193 nations in an historic event. The message was probably also heard by a small group of Norwegian youngsters who got inspired to create their own conference; a place to bring together the greatest young entrepreneurs from all over the world.

And they did it! Last year they started out by gathering 20 entrepreneurs younger than 20. Now, less than one year later, more than 10.000 ambitious youth have applied to join their new innovation program “25 under 25.”

Their purpose: To create, prototype and implement real solutions to the 17 UN sustainable development goals.

Yes, we know. This might seem like a hefty ambition, given that those invited was people who hadn’t event turned 20. But, a mutual purpose is an engine with the power to put things in motion. [Sidetrack: Knowing and articulating your purpose as a group or organization is the next big trend. In a recent talk at Katapult Future Fest in Oslo, social entrepreneur and co-founder of Fifty Years, Seth Bannon, said that purpose will be for organizations what mobile devices was for Apple, and internet was for Google. Bannon and co-founder Ela Madej also use the UN Sustainable Goals as a guide to find which star-ups to invest in.]

The 17 goals expressed by the United Nations is a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. These goals have specific targets to be achieved within 2030, and are based on a new sustainable development agenda. And to do this, everyone must do their part; both the corporate world and the public sector, and individuals like you and me. And a small team of Norwegian students.

It all started with a chat about the newly launched UN Sustainable Development Goals, which inspired Maiuran Loganathan (at that time only 17 years old), to ask the questions: “What will happen if we put some of the world's most brilliant young minds together for a week and say: Now we have these goals - let´s do this!

From idea to action

Young Sustainable Impact, YSI, was soon founded, and last summer they gathered “20 under 20” from 16 nations. After seven days of hard work in Oslo, they had four solid concepts to help solve some of the greatest challenges of our time. The ideas: Water-purification and energy, agri-tech for poor farmers, “Tinder” for plants, and a platform for bio-gas logistics. And things move fast, two of the companies are already prototyping their solutions.

This was just the beginning. This year, 25 carefully selected young minds have already started their work in online teams. From April to August they will gain insight into our greatest challenges. And then, the 3rd week of August, they will gather in Oslo to prototype and set up their start-up. This time guided by some of the best mentors within their field. The grand finale is a pitch, where their solutions and strategies are shared with a panel of investors and leading executives.

It is easy to wonder if anyone at the age of 20 create anything that makes a difference?

Well, one who did make a difference was Steve Jobs. He founded Apple when he was 21. Mark Zuckerberg was 20 when he launched Facebook. Malala Yousafzai was 18 when she got the precious Nobel Peace Prize. There’s also Boyan Slat, the youngest recipient of the UN's highest environmental award and winner of the greatest invention of the year 2015, he was only 17 when he founded The Ocean Cleanup.

We asked Amund Grytting, Managing Director and Co-founder of YSI: “10.000 applicants from 170 nations less than a year after you started - how is this even possible?

“I have been asked this question so many times the last weeks, and I believe that the best answer to it is all summed up in our purpose and three founding principles:

  • We believe that every challenge we have in the world can be solved through entrepreneurship
  • The youth is the ones best suited to find solutions for the future
  • If we combine the naivety and drive of the youth with all the experience and knowledge within business and science - we will create a sustainable world

After reaching out with this online and through our networks we are now about 40 volunteers from 20 nations. Now volunteers consisting of NASA medalists, YouTube stars, TEDx hosts and so on are all working with us in YSI. Since we are based all over the world, Facebook for Work has become our office and video systems our meeting rooms. I’m currently in San Francisco to meet half the team for the first time after working together for seven months, and I am so excited!”

We totally understand that. In times of tech and exponential growth, we should probably not even be surprised by YSI’s reach, but it is comforting to know that young people are really committed to help change the world and drive innovation with real impact!

The Power of Many

We wanted to share this story, because we think this is a good reminder that we need each other. The young generations are capable of changing minds and business as we speak. Instead of being critical to their ideas, reach out and use this as an opportunity to collaborate to create our common future.

Kristin Skogen Lund, CEO of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), said that “Youth are central in finding good solutions for the global challenges that we are facing. We dearly appreciate YSI’s impatience when pursuing new solutions through entrepreneurship and innovation within business”.

So, what are we waiting for. Let’s get to work, let’s make it happen!

2016 Team YSI
2016 Team YSI

This blog post is written with love by Kristine Maudal and Even Fossen, founders of Brainwells. When people spend their time at work making a positive difference for people or planet, things really start happening. The intention with this blog is to share insight and inspiration. At work we help leaders and their teams move from being ‘just another company’ to becoming an extraordinary organization. It starts with involving your team to define and articulate your purpose. Purpose isn’t everything, but it for sure trumps everything else.

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All photos © YSI/Brainwells

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