Beaming Bright in Brussels – Innovate4Good sparked by European Youth

By Sylvie Laffarge, Europe Director of Citizenship & Public Affairs

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas!” is how the saying goes. That is precisely the enthused response that Innovate4Good drew in Brussels where I just spent the day with 150 amazing young people from around Europe . Powered by the thinking of these individuals from 30 countries from the Aegean in the south all the way up to the North Sea, Innovate4Good generated an incredible 165 ideas tackling some of the toughest issues we face today. Considering that many  had been on the road since 4am the previous day to get to Innovate4Good – I can tell you that this was a pretty exceptional group of people!

It was clear to me early on what really made this group come alive. Whether it was the entrepreneur from the Czech Republic working on an app to help NGOs during humanitarian crises, the IT students from Germany that had developed technology for improved water access and distribution in developing countries, the youth group from Slovenia that had driven a national skills training campaign in their country or simply the young guy from the UK whose life had been literally transformed by the world opened up to him by a career in IT – these folks were certainly not only here to identify the issues but also to drive and participate in the solution with Microsoft.

This was further driven by a call to arms from Akhtar Badshah of Microsoft  to be unreasonable, compassionate,  open not just to learning but also failure  as they pursued these goals and dreams to become change makers in Europe. He engaged with  a panel of accomplished youths who shared their thoughts on pursuing bold,  innovative ideas, career goals and the omnipresent fear of failure. Michalis Tolkas, a Science & Technology Masters student from Greece,  championed the cause for seizing every small opportunity, with NGOs or elsewhere, which would lead to bigger opportunities. Jasmer Dhingra, a youth leader, that runs a Generation Y development program at the Telecommunications company where she is interning in Belgium, emphasized the importance of building and using your network when pursuing ideas and options. Ivan Borko, from Croatia that developed a solution for remote therapy for children using Kinect,  talked about the central role technology and teamwork needs to play.


The attendees at the Innovate4Good event in Brussels

Inspired by the interaction, 15 teams worked on projects as diverse as growing voting participation among youth, to more technology specific ventures such as helping the visually impaired ‘see’ with Kinect, a phone app alert system for missing children,  or driving greater high speed connectivity in remote regions, to skills and education oriented initiatives like creating a free business school in the cloud for young people in developing countries or providing training solutions for disadvantaged children or career mentoring for youth. Education,  social innovation, employment and entrepreneurship all featured prominently among the topics covered.

In the context of high youth unemployment, It is not an easy time for young people in Europe right now as they think about their future opportunities and trade-offs while pursuing dreams and careers. Having experienced today at Innovate4Good Europe, the tremendous energy and innovative thinking of so many motivated young people,  I am personally extremely  confident about the future of Europe. “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”  referring to the Winston Churchill quote shared today. These change makers are already clearly well on their way to making a difference in society and I am thrilled that Microsoft can be part of that journey.

Jean Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International welcomes the participants to Innovation4Good Europe which took place in Brussels.