One of the most striking themes running throughout ITU Telecom World 2012 in Dubai this October was the importance of youth, both for the future of the ICT sector and in driving socio-economic development globally.
The 12 finalists of the Young Innovators Competition, selected from nearly 400 entries from all parts of the world, were the most obvious manifestation of this, of course. The Young Innovator pavilion on the showfloor saw plenty of passing traffic and attracted interest from heads of state, ministers, UN organizations, CEOs and digital consultants alike. Besides a busy schedule of mentoring and pitching sessions, the innovators discussed the factors enabling – and inhibiting – innovation in a Youth and Leaders Debate and were formally awarded their prizes as part of the Forum Closing Conversation.
The Young Innovators were also referenced throughout the forum debate, where the role of young people in general in stimulating growth in the industry was a recurrent topic. Young people are the future leaders of government, business and digital thought – but they are also the source of ground-roots innovation today. These are the digital natives, born into a world where touchscreens, video on demand and instant messaging are as natural as the (fixed-line) telephone was to a previous generation. Technology is an intrinsic part of their world, not a disruptive factor, and the ever-accelerating pace of change in the ICT sector is in part due to applications, services and content developed for, and by, today’s digital natives.
This is why it is so important to engage with and listen to young people. Digital natives are the current user base and the future sector leaders; they connect with each other and the world in ways that are not immediately obvious to the digital immigrants of older generations presently at the helm of many ICT enterprises. The new services and business models discussed in Dubai and throughout the industry must address digital natives as natural consumers – and can be informed and invigorated by the innovative thinking of the younger generation.
The Young Innovators Competition at ITU Telecom World, and the ongoing mentoring and growing community platform it offers between events, is very much part of this process. At ITU Telecom World 2013 in Bangkok next November, we aim to include more young people, whether competition finalists or prominent digital natives, in panels, workshops and roundtables throughout the event, to highlight their role and draw inspiration from their ideas and energy.
Until then, I would urge you to check in regularly to the blog updates on the World 2012 Competition Winners page, where you can follow the progress of these bright young people and their burgeoning projects and business plans over the course of the year. For real-life initiative, innovation and a taste of the future, there is nowhere more inspirational.