BT searches for Young Pioneer as part of AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards

BT sponsors Young Pioneer Award category as part of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards to hear from young people who want to improve lives by using tech

The Young Pioneer Award category at this year’s AbilityNet Tech4Good awards will be sponsored by BT, as the firm aims to find young people across the UK who are aiming to make lives better by using technology.

Nominations are now open for the BT Young Pioneer Award, which is aimed at people aged nine to 18 who have ideas about how to use technology to solve a real-world issue that is important to them.

“The BT Young Pioneer Award is a way of opening up the potential of young people – you might have an idea that no one else in the world has ever ever thought of, and we want to spark that innovation and support that curiosity. The wonderful thing about young people is their imagination is limitless, and that’s what so exciting about it,” said Kerensa Jennings, director of digital impact at BT.

While teaching young people about technology is important to ensure they have the skills needed for an increasingly digital future, many experts have said that a mix of soft and technical skills, as well as a focus on creativity, may be equally as important for the future generation of tech workers.

Commenting on the BT Young Pioneers Award, Jennings added: “What we’re trying to do is spark the excitement for technology and using tech as an enabler to help make the world a better place.

“By focusing on the young pioneer, it gives it a kind of age span and invites that whole cohort [to participate]. It doesn’t matter if you’re quite little or if you’re a teenager, you can participate, and it’s about the quality of the idea.”

The AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards are open to UK-based individuals or organisations, and aim to highlight different ideas and initiatives geared towards making the world a better place using technology.

The awards, which are now in their tenth year, have nine categories, including: Tech4Good Accessibility Award, sponsored by Google; Tech4Good for Africa Award, sponsored by Comic Relief; Tech4Good Arts & Culture Award, supported by Arts Council England and iDiversity Consulting; the BT Young Pioneer Award; Community Impact Award, supported by Good Things Foundation; Tech4Good Digital Health Award; Tech4Good Digital Volunteer Award, sponsored by Do IT; Tech4Good Education Award sponsored by Lenovo; and the Tech4Good Workplace Inclusion Award, sponsored by Microsoft.

The Young Pioneer Award is part of the BT Skills for Tomorrow initiative, a programme which aims to help 10 million people develop the digital skills needed to navigate life.

Entries for the award should explain what makes theirs an original idea which could be a “differentiator in the marketplace” and how it could be developed, with a clear target audience.

The submissions do not have to be already developed or prototyped – submissions can be made in various formats as long as they describe how the idea can be implemented, who for and for what purpose.

The winner of the BT Young Pioneer Award will have access to up to £10,000 of funding and mentoring from experts at BT to help them make their idea a reality.

Pointing out how the coronavirus pandemic has forced some companies to digitally adapt in a “nanosecond” to carry on operating, Jennings said she fully expected this year’s Young Pioneer Award entries to be “some of the most exciting [because] people will have really been thinking about the impact on society”.

Predicting entries focused around combating loneliness, keeping people connected and “simple tech” to improve life at home, Jennings added: “There’s so many different ways the world could be made a better place that some people may never have thought of before.” This is especially since people have increasingly become aware of problems those in different communities face.

“It’s been a very troubling and challenging time for all of us, but it has given us the opportunity to think differently, and thinking differently is the heart of innovation – that’s what I’m expecting to see as part of the Young Pioneer award,” she said.

Last year’s winner, Mihika Sharma, submitted an idea for a digital stick, called the Smart Stick to help blind and visually impaired people navigate day-to-day life after a blind person, assisted by Sharma’s mother, nearly tripped because of a step when crossing the road.

“I designed the smart stick for blind people and it has an ultra-sonic sensor to detect any obstacle,” Sharma said. “It will vibrate if there’s an obstacle or puddle, and it has LED lights to glow in the dark to show that there’s a blind person. The design is 3D-printed.”  

Sharma is currently working with BT experts and the Royal Institute for the Blind to do user testing and create a prototype of the Smart Stick.

As highlighted by BT’s Kerensa Jennings, the BT Young Pioneer Awards aims to ignite the spark of excitement for technology in young people – while the technology skills gap grows wider and the impact Brexit is felt, the UK has become increasingly focused on developing its home grown technology talent to fill skills shortages.

When asked if she would consider a career in technology, Sharma said: “Yeah, technology is really interesting and fun.”

Nominations for the BT Young Pioneer Award, as well as the other categories, can be submitted via the Tech4Good awards website, and close at 5pm on 30 June 2020.

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