Youth, Innovation, Social Governance and China

Prizes for the first person to correctly guess the connection!  Well, as there would be no blog post if I didn’t reveal the link; what ties all the words in the title of this blog together is the 2nd Youth International Innovation Conference where I was asked to speak earlier this month in Shenzhen.  The topic I was asked to address was the role of youth  in social governance and innovation.

A vast topic which I decided to hone down by sharing examples of initiatives which seem to me to bridge both areas.  One of these is clearly the role of games. In 2011 I came across the book ‘Reality is broken,  Why Games Make Us Better and How Games will Change the World’ by Jane McGonigal and what started as an attempt by my late husband to get me involved in Gaming, got me really interested in the power of gaming for positive change (but I still never got into gaming).  Once the door was opened, I seemed to come across example after example of innovative projects utilising games for social and educational purposes.  I find the possibilities fascinating and encouraging.  One of the examples I used in the talk I gave in Shenzhen was the work of ‘Games for Change‘. For a number of years, they have been holding a ‘Students Challenge’ in a number of cities in the US.  This is not just another competition, but a year long programme of training and development for teachers as well as students.  Themes for the games cover: Connected Cities, Kindness and Empathy, News Literacy and Wildlife Conservation.  A glance at some of the finalists for this year’s competition supports the optimistic ambition of the title of  Jane McGonigal’s book.

Shenzhen is an appropriate city to host a conference on youth and innovation, often billed as ‘China’s Silicon Valley’, Shenzhen not only has a young, energetic and aspiring population, but also acres of Hi-Tech Innovation Parks with student-like accommodation blocks where young entrepreneurs pay 1/3 of the cost of local rent, to take up residence and share co-working and incubation space.  Companies such as Galaxy, host hundreds of students working on startup projects and provide world class tuition.  Shenzhen also has an admired culture of volunteerism, and this was very much in evidence during the conference where we had hundreds of student volunteers guiding us to each session, helping those of us who were speakers and generally providing an excellent ‘nanny service’ to the 77 plus speaker team.  The participants themselves came mostly from colleges in China and were perfectly behaved and friendly.  I got a glimpse of the ‘paparazzi experience’ by being interviewed by 2 Chinese TV companies, and being repeatedly asked if I would mind having a selfie taken with one of the students, (my 15 minutes of fame used up now obviously)!  With such a well behaved and polite young audience, it seem in congruent to talk about youth in other continents disrupting culture and agitating for social, political and economic change, but hopefully if I am asked back next year I will notice a few more ‘rule breakers’.  After all, we talk about ‘disruption’ as a key factor for innovation.


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