09 Oct What is the Youth Innovation Fund?

Canadian volunteers teamed up with a global network of partners to introduce the EQWIP HUBs Youth Innovation Fund. Launched in 2017 across 6 developing countries, the Youth Innovation Fund will support youth entrepreneurs to turn their business ideas into reality. Canadian volunteer, Helen Gao, collaborated to create a series of interactive, global workshops to help young women and men prepare competitive applications for the fund. Piloted at EQWIP HUBs Tamale, Ghana and spread around the world, her creativity has built a foundation for the Youth Innovation Fund and the participants and helped strengthen her international project management skills.

Youth Challenge International has come together with a global network of collaborators to create the EQWIP HUBs project. This innovative approach allows young women and men to take control of their futures by transforming their talents, skills and abilities and to grow into their full potential. Entrepreneurship, especially for young women, allows youth to discover their own solutions to sustainable development and help create a better future for all. The Youth Innovation Fund offers graduates of the EQWIP HUBs entrepreneurship program the opportunity to launch their business ideas through access to seed grants, accelerator workshops and mentorship from business leaders in their communities. Young people will benefit from the fund globally, but the process is competitive and they must first submit a business plan that demonstrates innovation, scalability and the potential for positive social and environmental impact.

The launch of the Youth Innovation Fund has been highly anticipated at each of the EQWIP HUBs around the world, and Canadian volunteers have been critical to the design, development, and implementation along the way. Invested in the success of the young women and men at EQWIP HUBs Tamale, Ghana, international volunteer Helen Gao saw a need to support potential applicants to develop the skills to create a competitive application and business plan that would meet the judging criteria.

“[When working on the Youth Innovation Fund materials] I noticed a disconnect between the Innovation Fund framework requirements and what was currently provided in the curriculum. Although the curriculum addressed the innovation and creativity well, there was an opportunity to provide more detailed support on the financial requirements. The workshop series was designed to specifically address the gaps,” Helen explained.

By collaborating with the EQWIP HUBs global network and international volunteer teams, Helen created an interactive 4-day preparation program for potential applicants. The program focused on 4 key requirements of the competition through a series of workshops: business planning, financial planning, eco-entrepreneurship, and gender and entrepreneurship. Canadian volunteers promoted the program to potential applicants through mass text messages, emails, posters and Facebook. Leading up to the launch, each workshop prepared 30 participants to create and refine their applications to the fund.

Helen and the international volunteer teams also collaborated to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and capture insight into  how it could be improved. Key Youth Innovation Fund application criteria such as positive social or environmental impacts were challenging for participants to apply to their everyday lives and these workshops helped to overcome this obstacle.

“The culture of business in Tamale is not one that inspires innovation, particularly when it comes to having a positive environmental or social impact. To resolve this, we try to show that practices that are positive for the environment can be economically beneficial for the businesses as well,” Helen explained.

The workshops were further evolved to work with the local community challenges and participating youth significantly improved their financial planning skills while ensuring to incorporate social and environmental responsibility into their business plans. By taking the initiative and managing the preparation program from ideation to implementation, Helen notes that her capacity as a young professional also expanded.

“I was able to apply my research skills gained through my academic career path to examine and consolidate best practices into a successful program for the participants. In addition to learning about curriculum development, the program allowed me to develop my own [program] design and management skills, quality control, and knowledge sharing capabilities, which will be very useful in my planned future endeavours to lead projects in the humanitarian sector.”

By seeing a need and taking the initiative to address it, the preparation program was a successful first step towards finding bold and innovative ideas to kickstart the first year of the Youth Innovation Fund. The program was shared with the global EQWIP HUBs network through a webinar and is now being implemented and tested at EQWIP HUBs around the world.

It is these volunteer stories of collaboration and innovation that define the spirit of EQWIP HUBs. Together, Canadian volunteers and the determined young women and men who participate in EQWIP HUBs programs are expanding their international job skills and preparing themselves for fulfilling future careers.

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