By Midia Shikh Hassan
Last week, I had the privilege of representing uOttawa and the Faculty of Engineering at the four-day One Young World summit. This annual gathering brings together young leaders from around the world, and aims to empower them to make a lasting impact on social issues. Ottawa hosted this year’s event, which drew 1,300 delegates from 194 countries.
Sessions covered a diverse range of topics, including gender equality, climate justice, global and social business, education systems, and efforts to counter extremism. And we heard from many inspiring speakers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, microfinance pioneer Mohammad Yunus, actress-activist Emma Watson and former Olympian Mark Tewksbury.
The summit also presented me with an incredible opportunity: to take part in a Resolution Social Venture Challenge. For almost 10 years, these challenges have been launched at large youth gatherings to inspire university students to dream up and implement socially responsible solutions to pressing problems.
The idea I presented will use the uOttawa Richard L’Abbé Makerspace facility to create a business called Talent-3D that empowers autistic youth and draws on their genius. The venture will not only provide these young people with opportunities for income, independence and social integration, but also raise public awareness of the talents of autistic youth.
After presenting my idea at a networking lunch, I was selected to move on to the next round. As a finalist, I was asked to make a formal 15-minute presentation to outline my business plan. I used skills developed in entrepreneurial training at uOttawa to create this plan and present it to the three judges.
I described the pilot project in which 10 autistic teenagers will be matched with 10 other youth. Together, each pair will design sculptures and receive training in how to use 3D printers and laser cutters to produce the sculptures. The creations will be sold online, with 90% of the proceeds going to the youth and the rest covering expenses.
During the closing ceremony, I received one of the five Resolution Fellowships awarded at the summit. This will provide me with the seed funding, mentoring, connections and coaching required to take the venture forward.
Earlier, during breakout sessions, I shared my experience of uOttawa with delegates from around the world. Many were impressed by the support that the University and my faculty provide to help students become difference makers in the community. I told them about the faculty’s refugee outreach program, the Women’s Startup Network and the Cross Lake Aboriginal youth empowerment initiative using Maker Mobile.
Several delegates from Haiti, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Sudan and the U.K. wanted to learn more. After the summit, I gave them a tour of the University, with visits to the Makerspace, Sandbox and Advanced Research Complex.
The One Young World summit was a life-changing experience. I not only met many inspiring and influential people, but also had the chance to share my experience of being a student who has started social ventures with her University’s full support.
Chemical engineering student Midia Shikh Hassan coordinates the Difference Makers program at uOttawa.