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Five Youth-Led Social Enterprises Recognized at Inaugural Forum to Address Youth Unemployment Challenges in Asia.

Showcasing social enterprise models that aim to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the five winners were felicitated at the inaugural Asia Pacific Youth Co:Lab Summit in Bangkok

Bangkok – Concluding the inaugural Youth Co:Lab Summit 2018, five social enterprises founded by young people across the Asia Pacific region were recognized for their innovative approaches to helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The five winning teams prevailed against 16 other finalists at the Summit’s Regional Social Innovation Challenge, which marked the closing of the event in Bangkok on March 28.  

Launched in 2017 by UNDP with support from the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab* is a regional program that aims to tackle social and employment issues by harnessing youth leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation. The program is also part of Citi and Citi Foundation’sPathways to Progress** initiative to prepare urban youth to thrive in today’s economy.

Over 30 young people representing 21 finalist teams from nine countries battled it out at the challenge following two days of dialogue, capacity-building and mentorship leading up to their final pitches. Finalists were grouped into two categories: 11 in the Start Up track and 10 in the Scale Up track. Two winners were selected from each group and a fifth team was named the most popular having been voted as a favorite on the Youth Co:Lab Facebook page during the course of the event.

The five winners are:

Start-up Track:

    LawKo from the Philippines: LawKo is a social media chatbot that aims to bridge the knowledge gap between a legal system shrouded with complicated terms and processes and a general public that needs to understand the law. It aims to be a one-stop shop to address questions about legal and government processes.

     Arooga Health from the Philippines: Arooga Health aims to provide users with convenient access to trusted care providers for their emotional and mental wellness. The start-up is currently applying for incubator programs in the Philippines and is aiming to launch a pilot of their platform within a private company for use by its employees.


Scale-up Track:

     Phinix from the Philippines: Phinix is a textile recycling center that collects textile waste and transforms them into higher value products such as footwear, fashion accessories and lifestyle pieces. It is a fashion social enterprise that aims for the triple bottom line – planet, people, and profit.


     Hands On from China: Hands On utilizes 3-D printing technology to produce affordable prosthetics for children and young amputees in China. In the past year, the social enterprise has made over 50 robotic hands for beneficiaries in over 14 provinces in China.


Popular Award:

     Blue Hearts from the Maldives:  Amassing over 900 Likes on Facebook, Blue Hearts is an online platform designed to provide young people in the Maldives with access to psychological care by connecting them to psychology graduates who are also seeking work experience. The graduate volunteers will be supervised by registered professionals in the Maldives. Once formally launched, the platform will also be used to raise awareness about mental health and wellness.


Presenting to a panel of esteemed judges, the finalists were evaluated based on a number of criteria which included contribution to relevant Sustainable Development Goal(s), viability and potential to scale social enterprise models, team capability and innovation including potential to pioneer impactful change.

Judges included David Galipeau, Chief Impact Officer, UNDP SDG Impact Finance; Brandee McHale, President of the Citi Foundation and Director of Corporate Citizenship at Citi; Chinawut Chinaprayoon, Director of New Venture and Entrepreneurship at National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office, Thailand; Elsie Tsui, Project Director, Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge; Sujiva Dewaraja, Former Executive Vice President, John Keells Holdings, Sri Lanka; and Chiratas Nivatpumin, Assistant Chief Operating Officer, Newspaper Business, Bangkok Post.

“We are really ecstatic and excited. This gives us validation that even at the regional level, issues on mental health are really something to look at and innovations that address these issues are really important as well,” said Samantha Sanchez, Co-founder of Arooga Health.

Hanyao Gu, Co-founder of Hands On said, “I believe that one does not need a reason to do something meaningful to help those with disabilities. All of us need to work together so that no one is left behind and to achieve the SDGs.”

The winning teams will be given the opportunity to participate in a youth entrepreneurship forum in China in August 2018.

The Regional Social Innovation Challenge, part of the inaugural Asia Pacific Youth Co:Lab 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.

Building on these milestones, the scope of the Youth Co:Lab program will be widened to include 16 countries over 2018 and 2019.

"We are here to support young people. While we do not doubt the ability of young people to lead innovation, we know that the systems that have been conceived for their economic or social empowerment often fall short […] We will only be able to work for the good of the region's social entrepreneurs if we solidify our partnerships. We have to realize that driving this from the regional scale, leveraging the benefits of country level networks, including the new partnership between Citi Foundation and UNDP, and connecting with ongoing national level initiatives will be crucial to this success." said Haoliang Xu, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Director of the United Nations Development Programme for Asia Pacific.


"Youth Co:Lab is enabling young entrepreneurs to be at the center of efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Brandee McHale. "Congratulations to all of the youth who participated in the Regional Summit, your social start up ideas and passion are helping build a better world. The Citi Foundation is looking forward to continue our work with the UNDP to help more young people across the Asia Pacific region achieve their full potential."


For ongoing updates on the Youth Co:Lab program, follow #YouthCoLab  and the Youth Co:Lab page on Facebook.