Last month New York Time's Magazine contributor (and graduate student in computer science) Yiren Yu, argued that Silicon Valley's Youth Problem "makes for a lot of cool apps. But great technology? Not so much." I'm willing to wager that if we trust young people to drive change through their innovations, we'll be amazed by how much more impactful, sustainable and inclusive digital and mobile health interventions will become.
This week, the Skoll Foundation released their Social Progress Index, ranking 132 countries on their social and environmental performance. For me, the most gripping outcome of the research is that contrary to popular belief, GDP does not equal social progress. Remarkably, the US ranks fairly poorly (16th) despite having the world's 2nd largest GDP per capita.
The Skoll Foundation's findings revealed that we're losing a lot of information and resources that can improve lives by judging countries and their potential for impacting progress by their financial wealth.
As the Executive Director of YTH, whose mission is to advance technology for youth, health and wellness, this study begged the question -- what are we missing when our society and culture assesses young people's potential to ignite social progress by their access to wealth and privilege?
TED Prize winner and education researcher Sugata Mitra declared last year that youth possess an innate sense of wisdom that is heightened when supported and encouraged through youth-driven collaborative learning and engagement.
Though Mitra's research was conducted with youth across social, cultural and socio-economic lines, one pattern remained consistent -- young people can and will teach themselves (and each other) when motivated by the fire of curiosity, and building community with their peers.
How does this relate to health technology? As the health technology marketplace becomes increasingly lucrative, low-income and underserved youth lack access to the billions of dollars flowing into the health tech workforce. While there's an abundance of government and corporate health hackathon challenges, the participants and winners that emerge from these opportunities are primarily white, and/or well-resourced youth who have engineering and computer science curricula on their high schools. Skoll's findings coupled with Mitra's research compels me to imagine what we could achieve if we invested those billions in youth from underserved communities.
The time has come for young people to be treated as designers and developers for health technology solutions that serve them and their communities on their own terms. That's why YTH is collaborating with The Level Playing Field Institute and REACH Ashland Youth Center to convene our premiere Health Hackathon on April 5-6th.
The YTH Health Hackathon will challenge about 100 young people from Alameda County to create an app or game related to youth, health and wellness that address real-life issues that impact their communities like teen pregnancy, HIV, substance abuse, obesity, bullying and more. The winners will showcase their innovations at YTH Live, the premiere conference for cutting-edge technology that is advancing the health and wellness of youth, young adults, and other underserved populations on April 6th in San Francisco.
The Health Hackathon is one step towards bridging the gap in health tech innovation to narrow the chasm between groups with abundant access to digital and information technology and communities like youth of color who are at a perilous disadvantage. By arming youth from communities that historically lack access to computer science and STEM education with exposure to valuable skills that allow them to compete in a more highly-skilled global workforce, we're also advancing towards diversifying the pipeline of power and influence in the health technology industry.
Instead of regarding the "#selfie generation" as apathetic consumers who only use technology to play and procrastinate, it's time for adult allies to provide our support and resources to equip youth (especially those who lack access) with the tools, capacity and resources they need to make a deep impact.