Bill Gates has no doubt transformed our world.
Through his company Microsoft, in which he forever stamped his mark on the way we use computers, he became the wealthiest person on the planet. He’s since dropped down to second place in the rich-list, but this is arguably due to his ferocious philanthropy.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded by Bill and his wife Melinda and launched in 2000, was forged to improve global health and reduce extreme poverty. As of last year, the Foundation had donated a staggering $41 billion to improving the lives of people in poor countries.
The British Science Association (BSA) have, luckily and humbly, become part of this effort to improve the wellbeing of people around the globe. Thanks to a generous grant from the Foundation, in 2016 we announced a brand-new initiative calling on young people to come up with their own innovative solutions to change the world: The Youth Grand Challenges.
This exciting partnership is a STEM competition that asks 11-19-year olds to develop their own research, inventions, education programmes, and projects to tackle the torment of infectious diseases globally.
Historically, both the BSA and the Foundation have championed the talent, creativity and promise of young people. The BSA has run the CREST Awards for the past three decades, rewarding youngsters for undertaking hands-on and enquiry-based STEM project work, and Bill Gates addressed young people everywhere last year when he said: “Your generation is one of the most globally minded in history, adept at looking at our world’s problems beyond national borders. This will be a valuable asset as we work on global solutions in the decades ahead.”
By bringing these two mindsets together in the form of a new nationwide challenge, we received hundreds of ingenious projects from children across the country. Over the past few weeks, the applications were painstakingly whittled down to a shortlist of the top 20 entries.
It was hard to believe when studying each project, that most were devised by people who were born post-millennium. The ingenuity, resourcefulness and insight shown in their work is beyond their years.
The demographics of our competitors also tell an interesting story: 80% of the finalists are female, much higher than for most science-themed competitions, and over four-fifths of shortlisted projects were created by students from state schools, which again, is much higher than usual. Groups that are traditionally underrepresented in science have put their best foot forwards and have proved to us all that they shouldn’t be overlooked; that given the chance and the right environment, anyone can succeed and make a difference.
The talented students behind these projects have been invited to the grand finals event in London on 7 December, where we will announce the winners. It will be a tough decision – to give you an idea, some of the imaginative and creative final projects that our judges have to choose between include: an education plan to reduce the stigma of period sanitation in the developing world, which would give empowerment to thousands of women; a specially-designed, 3D printed insect trap to reduce the chances of contracting malaria; an innovative game to encourage children to wash their hands; and portable devices to transport vaccines safely and securely to rural communities.
Famous and influential judges from across the media, science, business and charity sectors will pick their favourite entries from each category. Those who are victorious will be rewarded with weekend adventure trips to experience what it’s like to be a field scientist, a £1500 travel bursary for an expedition abroad, visits to research centres across the country, and science shows at their school.
These are amazing, money-can’t-buy prizes. But the winners and finalists will also take away something that’s much more long-lasting: the pride and knowledge that they’ve made the world a better place, and that they have the power to do so for the rest of their lives.
The problems and challenges we face in humanity cannot be solved by just scientists, or successful business men, alone. We need the collective effort from the whole of society. This is what the Youth Grand Challenges celebrates and highlights so successfully – it gives people, no matter what age, background, or path in life, the chance to make a difference.