By Christophe Bahuet, Country Director of UNDP Indonesia and Batara Sianturi, CEO of Citi Indonesia

In the disruptive era we live in, with radical changes happening at an unprecedented pace, creativity is one of the keys for the future. Creativity will definitely be needed to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We could see the extraordinary power of creativity at a recent start-up boot camp by the Youth Co: Lab in Bali with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Indonesia and the Citi Foundation together with the Creative Economy Agency (BEKRAF). The start-up boot camp aims at supporting  the youth in social entrepreneurship and digital technology. From reducing plastic waste by introducing edible straws to addressing malnutrition with moringa leaf, the group of young people,  from east Indonesia who join the Co Lab are never short on innovation.

These young innovators are expected to master the fundamental skills required to be successful  inventors and entrepreneurs, ranging from creating lean business operations to identifying empathy maps. Selected out of more than 200 applicants, the 15 young innovators are part of a regional project initiative, co-created by UNDP and the Citi Foundation. The main objective of Youth Co: Lab is to harness the potential of young people in Asia-Pacific, to fast-track the implementation of SDGs.

Youth Co: Lab is about creating a mini environment that attracts top young talents, promotes collaboration and enables inspiration and creativity. By focussing on the youth in east Indonesia, mainly from rural, underserved areas, the Youth Co: Lab also contributes to Leaving No One Behind philosophy of the SDGs.

Indonesia is home to 63 million young people, with the majority of them coming from educated and middle class background. An initiative like the Youth Co:Lab cultivates an enabling environment where young change-makers can  access the space and resources they need to drive social change in their communities and the society as a whole. The Youth Co:Lab is also about connecting the young entrepreneurs with the existing ecosystem of innovators—leading startups and socio-entrepreneurs.

However, creativity can only blossom in an open business environment that doesn’t stifle new ideas, particularly from underserved population and with national policies that encourage an innovation culture. To contribute to an enabling environment, the Youth Co:Lab  issued policy recommendations—within a framework of 5 different vectors; Culture, Capital, Density, Regulatory Environment, and Talent.

The policy recommendations contain a set of concrete and realistic call for actions such as increasing  national investments for research and development (R&D) and youth development as well introducing entrepreneurship into the education curriculum. One notable sobering fact is that the proportion of investment for R&D – the backbone of technological innovation - has remained unchanged for the past decade in Indonesia, at around one percent out from the national budget.  Without higher R&D and higher investment in the quality  of education, , Indonesian youth will not be able to play its full role to transform the country’s economy into a knowledge and service based high value-added one that can compete globally. BEKRAF’s active involvement in the Youth Co Lab has indicated the strong commitment of the Government of Indonesia to support creativity for the youth and enhance the policy environment. And with strong expertise in financial literacy, Citi Foundation – represented in Indonesia  by Citi Peka (Peduli dan Berkarya) provides - much-needed skills in business methodology for the youth to make investment on the fast changing technology.

These calls of actions  also respond to issues faced by the Indonesian youth today. According to the 2017 report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), the unemployment rate among Indonesia youth was at 19.4 percent and the proportion of young people who are neither employed, in education or training was at 23.2 percent – one of the highest rates in Asia. It is therefore time to scale up initiatives like the Youth Co:Lab to give the youth a better future.

Part of being great innovators are the ability for turning empathy into solutions. The top winner of the Youth Co: Lab is a 21- year old engineering student Yudha Abdul Ghani who developed an app called KantungDarah that can match blood donors with those who need blood supply within a short time. The student of Pattimura University in Ambon city said he was inspired to develop the app after he received urgent messages in his WhatsApp group, asking for blood supply to a mother who lost significant amount of blood after delivering her first baby. Moved by the situation, he decided to build a solution that can help other people in similar situation. The result is a simple app that can save many lives in his hometown, Ambon, a seaside town in Maluku. His creativity illustrates what the Chairman of BEKFRAF, Triawan Munaf, said in support of the Youth Co: Lab, "Our youths are the main source of creative energy that continues to ignite disruptive power to make the world a better place”


This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.

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