Two Sri Lankan teams at the Youth Co:Lab Summit

Two university student teams recently represented Sri Lanka at the recently concluded Asia Pacific Youth Co:Lab Summit in Bangkok, Thailand.Youth Co:Lab is an initiative led by UNDP and Citi to empower youth on social innovation and entrepreneurship for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development recognizes the important role of youth in achieving the agenda, and calls for action against the challenges faced by young people.

Today, young people are more connected, creative, informed and more persuasive than any previous generation. Young people are responding to the challenges of the day with innovative approaches, contributing fresh ideas, creating the world they want.At the same time, approximately 300 million young people are either unemployed or underemployed. In other words, nearly half of the 700 million young people in the region face economic insecurity. In addition, many young people are left out of decision-making processes.To address these challenges, UNDP and its partners developed what is called the 'Youth Co:Lab', in Asia and the Pacific.

Introduced in 2017, Youth Co:Lab comprises National Dialogues and Social Innovation Challenges held in multiple Asia Pacific countries to promote youth leadership by harnessing youth entrepreneurship and social innovation.

In Sri Lanka, the National Dialogue was held in 2017 bringing together 300 youth delegates. This event also showcased the 9 winners of the Social innovation challenge which took place across the island, giving them an opportunity to receive funding and technical support from UNDP and other stakeholders in Sri Lanka.

Two of these winning teams represented Sri Lanka at the recently concluded Asia Pacific Youth Co:Lab Summit that was held from 25 - 28 March 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand providing a great opportunity to present their solutions to development challenges on an international platform.

This Summit marks the first year of partnership between UNDP and the Citi Foundation. The program has reached out to over 1,700 young people and led to the launch and further development of over 140 social enterprises across a total of 11 countries. These countries include Thailand, the Philippines, China, the Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Pakistan and Vietnam.

Speaking on how UNDP Sri Lanka's efforts around young people and social innovation, UNDP Sri Lanka Country Director Mr. Jorn Sorensen stated "Youth Co:Lab is enabling young entrepreneurs to be at the center of efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. UNDP is pleased to partner with Citi in Sri Lanka to provide avenues for the youth of this country to contribute to challenges that affect all communities."

Commenting on the recently held regional summit, Mr. Ravin Basnayake, Citi Country Officer said, "Youth:CoLab Summit encourages to tap the entrepreneurial spirit of young people giving them the opportunity to assist in tackling the region's biggest economic and social challenges. We are glad to partner with UNDP on this regional initiative which also demonstrates the need for cross-sector approach to fulfil the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals by 2030".

Two of the teams representing Sri Lanka were, 'Psycoders' and 'Strangers'. 'Team Psycoders', a team from the University of Jaffna, is building an app that aims to tackle mental health issues in Sri Lanka. Speaking about this opportunity Janaka Sampath, of Team Psycoders stated "This experience was amazing. At the Summit we were mentored and guided to ensure that we receive support to market our idea as a product. Participants from other countries brought in different expertise to the summit and it was great to learn from some of them".

Team Stranger, the other team from Sri Lanka are students of Rajarata University. They aim to make clean water more accessible through an app that tracks water distribution vehicles. Speaking about this experience, Suresh Madushan from Team Stranger stated, "the Youth Co:Lab Summit recognized our talents and gave us the space to improve our idea. It was also great to hear from other teams and startups on their journey. We would like to extend our gratitude to UNDP Sri Lanka, Citi and other partners of Youth Co:Lab for giving us this opportunity."

This year, the National Youth Social Innovation Challenge, which is a joint initiative between UNDP and Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure supported by Information and Communication and Technology Agency of Sri Lanka and the National Youth Services Council, has been scaled up to provide more opportunities for young innovators across the country together with Citi.