In 1935, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a 26-year-old Indian physicist, challenged conventional wisdom by proposing a radical theory that would prove the existence of black holes. He presented his idea to the Royal Astronomical Society in the United Kingdom, whose members had a hard time believing his evidence.
Was it because he was young? Was it because he was from India? Was it because he was challenging set norms? Or was it because some, due to their own inhibitions, failed to admit that good ideas could come from unexpected sources?
It was not until 1983 that he was recognized for his contributions on the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics.
The world is in constant motion. As youth migrate in search of employment, education, and better living standards, the obvious connections between migration, innovation, and social change become more fortified.
What does this mean for the future of innovation?
We will increasingly see global collaboration and two-way flow of ideas and knowledge. More young “developing-country” entrepreneurs will offer their take on global challenges and solutions. If “necessity is the mother of invention,” they are going to be the ones who “think outside the box.” They will lead inclusive practices by generating affordable solutions. They will be frugal innovators by producing simple, maintenance-friendly, reliable products. They will re-use, re-combine, and re-purpose.
Take the information and communications technologies (ICTs) sector. While the debates on bridging the "digital divide" still exist, few can argue with the accelerating pace of global technological change and resulting societal transformations seen within developing-countries. Indeed, whether it is health or environment, the changes we are seeing in the emerging network societies in the so-called “Global South” will have tremendous impacts on the ways in which we live our lives in the “Global North.”
There are many examples of youth using ICTs to solve the challenges around them. Project Zumbido uses group mobile phone communication via SMS to tackle the effects of social isolation and HIV/AIDS among youth in Mexico. Tam su ban tre offers free online counselling on HIV/AIDS, sexuality and reproductive health issues to Vietnamese youth. Ezel Enterprises Limited in Uganda trains rural communities to improve local business operations through the Internet and ICT tools.
The most successful of such projects have highlighted the need for, and interest of, youth to be at the centre of socioeconomic debates. It has also encouraged governments to recognize the power of youth, showcase practices that help connect the global youth populations, and respond to youth issues in a meaningful way.
So, what happens when you have increasing numbers of young, resource-savvy technology gurus around the world who want to create positive change?
You develop a network of empowered civil and economic actors, who are able to share ideas, dream, and work, on a scale never imagined before. Indeed, innovation is no longer taking place in restricted silos of the past. Fostering innovation in emerging markets and then exporting new ideas and fresh approaches has never been easier. Whether it is crowd-sourcing a message to global leaders or undertaking a 24-hour hackathon to tackle the Millennium Development Goals, this generation defines itself as one liberated from the borders of the past — the changed face of human growth and interaction.
After all, great ideas come from everywhere.