Innovation is both a primary source of systemic environmental and sustainability challenges and an essential element in society’s response to such challenges. Technological innovation, which is a core pillar of global youth empowerment, is being increasingly embraced as a major ‘driver of change’ for society and the ecosphere. Discover the Global STEMxSDG Hackathon through this article, co-authored by Kenneth Kwok (Global Citizen Capital), Jason Cohen (KIDsforSDGs) and Justin Kim (CISxIdeas).

The Global STEMxSDG Hackathon co-organized by KIDsforSDGs and CISxIdeas aims to place the power of decision making into the hands of youth through an innovation system – one that promotes governance that balances experimentation and precaution and addresses the unpredictable outcomes and impacts of innovation.

The Way Forward

A society-wide innovation system needs to serve a collective, social purpose — promoting all-round sustainability rather than generating private returns and externalising social and environmental costs. The Global STEMxSDG Hackathon played its part in accelerating this system for youth (including teenagers). For 2022, KIDsforSDGs looks forward to continuing and growing its partnerships within the LearningPlanet ecosystem to empower youth to become the primary actors in delivering systemic change to sustainability issues. For CISxIdeas, the organisation plans to host two STEMxSDG hackathons in 2022, one in May and one in November. All in all, it is our collective hope that hackathon participants continue to create sustainable solutions and change on both a grassroots and global level.

Sustainable innovation, through shared usage of ideas, concepts, practices and products which contribute to the ecological environment, social cohesion and economic viability, holds the key to a sustainable future.

About the Global STEMxSDG Hackathon

The STEMxSDG design of the hackathon allowed participants to produce specific and practical ways to tackle SDGs, combining both soft and hard skills to make an impact. Moreover, the STEMxSDG design encouraged participants to embrace and take advantage of modern technologies to create efficient and accessible solutions. The Hackathon’s primary purposes are to empower youth to think big and to help them magnify the impact of their ideas by connecting them with other passionate young pioneers, allowing them to better address prevalent global problems and create a better tomorrow.

The Hackathon received over 75 submissions from 18 countries and attracted more than 250 students across the training sessions and networking events. A post-event survey of the participants indicated that:

  • 78% believe that the opportunity to learn about systemic change is what makes the Hackathon a meaningful experience
  • 71% say that the Hackathon help them better frame their problem statement to match with local community needs
  • 62% identify that human behavioural change is what is required most to save the planet

From the submissions, participants can be categorized into five key roles, all pursuing collective action.

  1. Pioneer: Youth have the power to act innovatively and mobilise others. Youth activism is on the rise the world over, bolstered by broader connectivity.
  2. Critical Thinker:  Youth have the capacity to identify and challenge existing power structures and barriers to change, and to expose contradictions and biases
  3. Innovator: In addition to bringing fresh perspectives, young people often have direct knowledge of and insights into issues that are not accessible to adults. 
  4. Communicator: Youth can be partners in communicating the development agenda to their peers and communities at the local level, as well as across countries.
  5. Leader: When youth are empowered with the knowledge of their rights and equipped with leadership skills, they can drive change in their communities

Through the networking sessions, it was clear that youth recognize the importance of building a multi-faceted team, and most of the highest-ranked submissions feature teams that check a majority of these five roles.

About KIDsforSDGs, Co-Organizer

KIDsforSDG’s and its mission for this Hackathon is to provide youth globally to experience and experiment with ideating on sustainable innovation through integrating digital technologies (e.g. big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and blockchains) with physical (e.g. nanotechnology) and biological (e.g. biotechnology) fields, all of which constitute the core of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. 

Our team leaders consist of youth from around the world with defined impact areas:

  • Ms. Dana Bao (algal polysaccharides research and sustainable agriculture)
  • Mr. Nathan Chan (international law tied to humanitarian aid deployment)
  • Ms. Vera Chuang (social inequalities through content creation)
  • Ms. Alice Hu (microplastics pollution and filtration technology)
  • Mr. David Ma (social inequalities through the lens of climate change)
  • Ms. Rio Tanabe (women’s rights and equity in health and well-being)

They came together to design the programming for this Hackathon, including three training sessions for all participants on the three aforementioned areas of technologies. 

About CISxIdeas, Co-Organizer

CISxIdeas’s primary objective in co-hosting the LearningPlanet STEMxSDG Hackathon is to  provide the youth with the opportunity to effectively connect their passions in STEM and entrepreneurship with SDG issues. Adhering to our mission and philosophy of making all of our events free and accessible, our goal is to democratize this hackathon to all students, regardless of their ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and educational background, to empower a culture of inclusive, youth-led innovation. 

CISxIdeas’s core leadership team consists of youth from Chinese International School with diverse areas of expertise:

  • Mr. Justin Kim (Project Manager) 
  • Ms. Evelyn Kwan (Head of Logistics)
  • Mr. Isaac Lam (Head of Technology)
  • Ms. Helen Liang (Head of Marketing and Communications)
  • Ms. Myriam Lynch (Head of Documentation)
  • Mr. Julian Schiavo (Head of Technology)
  • Ms. Mirjana Vujovich (Head of Marketing and Communications) 

In addition to co-hosting the LearningPlanet STEMxSDG Hackathon, CISxIdeas has hosted two global STEMxSDG hackathons, garnering more than 300 active student participants worldwide, in partnership with other global leaders in advancing the SDGs through STEM, such as Microsoft, COBO Academy, and Teach for Hong Kong. Through engaging and showcasing in international United Nations events like the UNITAR APAC Day 2021, CISxIdeas has been a crucial ambassador of the STEMxSDG movement.

Congratulations to the Hackathon Winners!

The hosting organizations would like to congratulate the following teams, voted by an international panel of event hosts at the LearningPlanet Festival 2022.

First Prize
·       Project Sort Out Foundation
·       Project StudyHall
·       Project ScratchforSDGs

Second Prize
·       Project Mind of Arts
·       Project LiteBox
·       Project Talentopedia

Third Prize
·       Project ActPact
·       Project Green Walls
·       Project Saving Sea Life