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Blogs and Op-Eds by the Youth Co:lab team and contributors from our extensive network of changemakers. 

  • Ashlyn Seow and Sonia Teo

5 Lessons Learnt from Social Entrepreneurs at Asia-Pacific's largest Youth Summit!

Youth Co:Lab Summit 2022, jointly organized by UNDP and Citi Foundation in partnership with the National Youth Council (NYC) of Singapore, was held from 4 - 7 July 2022 with over 250 participants representing 20 countries and territories gathering in Singapore and with thousands of people joining online. Ashlyn Seow and Sonia Teo, youth volunteers who supported the Summit, share their experiences and what they learnt.

At the Youth Co:Lab Summit 2022, we met many entrepreneurs who shared their entrepreneurial journey – the successes and challenges. The four days were special, with more than two hundred participants gathering face-to-face in Singapore. They were united by the desire to sustainably build a better world. After restrictions and periods of isolation, we went through during the last two years - it was uplifting to share a warm handshake and a smile, exchange stories, and connect. The Summit revolved around two timely themes: Youth in Climate Action and Leaving No Youth Behind.

There is no need to feel FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) if you missed the event, for we have gone in your place! Here are five lessons we took away from the Summit:

1. You can lead change.

“We are all responsible for speaking up and leading change, if not for ourselves, then for others around us.”

Although we had already been aware of gender discrimination in the workplace, hearing speakers’ personal stories during the Summit helped us better understand what it might look like and how problematic it can be.

Panellist Amra Naidoo from Accelerating Asia Ventures recounted a professional event where a man had made an inappropriate remark about the clothes she was wearing. She said that for a while, she had changed the way she dressed in order to blend in. With time, however, she learnt to ignore such judgements and be comfortable wearing what she wanted, having “come to a point where [she] just really embraces who she is.”

ASEAN and Singapore Head for Citi Commercial Bank Hsiu-Yi Lin pointed out that when we witness inappropriate behaviour, we are all responsible for speaking up and leading change, if not for ourselves and others around us.

She shared strides that her own company, Citi has made. Job vacancies at Citi had previously been filled through word-of-mouth, which often led to a gender imbalance. Through decades of championing transparency and fairness, every open position is now posted online so that anyone can apply, and there are gender quotas to be met for not just interviewees but also interviewers.

We were impressed and encouraged; we too are capable of making a difference for our communities if we are brave enough to push for change.

2. Know your purpose well.

“Every time we say ‘yes’ to one thing, we are saying ‘no’ to another.”

Co-Founder and General Partner of Accelerating Asia Ventures Amra Naidoo observed that although there is an abundance of mentoring initiatives and competitions, especially for women entrepreneurs, they often counterintuitively end up taking up time from entrepreneurs distracting them from their businesses rather than actively giving them the needed support.

CEO and Co-Founder of Calm Collective, Sabrina Ooi agreed, adding that as an entrepreneur, time is scarce, and there are endless things to do. “Every time we say ‘yes’ to one thing, we are saying ‘no’ to another. You need to pick your battles carefully. You need to have a decision-making framework around whether or not you should say yes to an opportunity.” To have such a framework, we need to know what our purpose is, and consider how an opportunity may or may not enable us to progress.

In a highly connected world where we are being bombarded by more choices to make than ever, this advice is not only valuable for entrepreneurs but for anyone!

3. You will fail but you will learn from it

“To err is to be human. You will fail.”

During Screw Up Night, the social entrepreneurs courageously shared their failures, which ranged from tiny mistakes to huge ones involving complete changes in their plans. They also reflected on what they could do to prevent repeating past mistakes. Despite the embarrassment and uneasiness, they experienced when they failed, all of them agreed that it was alright — good, even — to fail. They drew valuable lessons which helped them immensely in future endeavours.

“To err is to be human; you will fail.” Human fallibility is impossible to eliminate. Instead of lamenting our failures, let us seize these chances to grow and become better versions of ourselves"

4. You need to be future-ready.

“Do not ask if the world is ready for you, but if you are ready for the world.”

Technology has been fundamentally changing how we work. In a panel discussion on The Future of Work, Kenny Tan (Divisional Director, Manpower Planning and Policy Division, Ministry of Manpower Singapore) pointed out that “technology is not making jobs disappear but is changing the fundamental skill sets required for these jobs. Specifically, manual tasks within jobs are being automated, reducing the need for manpower and leaving higher value-added roles.” He highlighted the importance of skills, suggesting that we should “decompose jobs into skills as skills are transferable.”

In this VUCA (Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex, Ambiguous) world, it is wiser for us to adopt the lifetime employability mindset than the lifetime employment mindset to remain relevant in the ever-changing workforce.

What are the skills needed to switch nimbly between jobs? Oluchi Ikechi-D’Amico (Partner, Head of Strategy & Transactions, Capital Markets in Asia-Pacific, EY) suggested that one must strive towards a “balance of soft skills and technical skills while ensuring that one’s values align with one’s company’s”. Technical skills can be self-taught via the myriad online resources available in our hands. Soft skills are more challenging to acquire, but we can actively expose ourselves to enriching and diverse experiences; perhaps the first soft skill we should pick up is curiosity.

5. Through collaboration, you can overcome anything.

“If you are not scaling the solution, you are scaling the problem.”

Climate change is a multi-dimensional problem with reverberating repercussions, which needs immediate change for our sakes and those of future generations. Youth, governments, and corporations can achieve so much by coming together and pooling their resources to achieve global climate change targets.

Bye Bye Plastic Bags is a youth-led initiative to ban plastic bags in Bali, Indonesia. They also empower women by training them to produce reusable cloth bags as substitutes for plastic bags. These women are not only able to find work but are able to do meaningful work that prevents environmental degradation.

Solar Mama, another initiative by youths in India, trains uneducated women from poor communities to design and build solar panel systems, providing their communities with clean energy and jobs.

No matter how insignificant our individual effort seem, as long as everyone contributes a little, we can bring about change. Instead of waiting for someone else to do something, be that someone. All of us can play a part to alleviate the effects of climate change!

All of us can play a part in alleviating the effects of climate change!

Among the many things we gained from the Youth Co:Lab Summit 2022, these are some of our key takeaways. If you found them insightful as we did, #JoinTheMovement!

Find more about the Youth Co:Lab Summit 2022 ¨ -


Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.


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