We are living in times of rapid and unprecedented change driven by frontier technologies and cutting-edge innovation. For many of us it would be unthinkable to imagine living in a world without access to the internet or having a mobile device in our pocket – not to forget all the services built upon this new digital infrastructure that we now take for granted. But is technology serving the interests of children and young people in the best way possible?
We know that many innovations are created in silos, often catalysed by market-driven concerns and developed without young people’s inputs from the outset. Furthermore, the intersection between health needs and innovation raises important questions. At Fondation Botnar we want to find the answers.
The recent youth-focused issue of MIT Technology Review sheds important light on how young people negotiate the complexities of the digital-social landscape across different countries. Understanding the critical role of technology in children and young people’s lives is crucial when designing interventions that engage with them for their wellbeing. Therefore, if we want to be successful in efforts that harness technology to positively and sustainably impact health and wellbeing in society, we have to focus on young people today. Despite making up a majority of urban populations in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), their vital inputs are currently being missed, while their wellbeing continues to be overlooked. Investing in young people and their health and wellbeing has been shown to yield high economic and social return, particularly investments that focus on addressing the causes that lead to preventable non communicable diseases (NCDs).
The UNICEF and Arm initiative, Tech Bets for an Urban World is a good example of this. It shows how tech-enabled solutions that directly tackle challenges children and families are facing, can have a combined social and financial impact in low-resource settings.
To further seize this opportunity, we are launching a funding call for innovative projects that aim to leverage frontier technologies to create rapid impact for and with young people in LMICs. As of 17th February 2020, we are inviting proposals on projects that address one of two carefully selected themes: 1) data-driven preventative interventions, addressing the social, environmental, and behavioral determinants of young people’s health and wellbeing, and 2) support young people’s wellbeing with access to quality education, ensuring they have the right skills for the 21st century.
Sitting on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, children and young people will be growing up and living in societies driven by algorithms, the internet of things, and most importantly, in a world fuelled by data. It is our responsibility to ensure that solutions and services using AI, big data, and associated smart digital platforms are co-created with them to have a positive impact on how they experience the world.
Traditional approaches are simply not keeping pace with the urgency we have to serve this population, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Young people must not be made to wait for their right to wellbeing and safe and healthy futures. At this moment in time we have an incredible opportunity to harness the power of technology, together with collaborative partnerships, and youth engagement to address critical gaps in the fairest and fastest possible way.
It is our sincere hope that projects selected from this call will go on to create groundbreaking evidence that show how data, digital platforms and AI, together with the involvement of young people, can meaningfully impact their future wellbeing.