European Youth Award: Motivating Change-Makers To Drive Social Innovation

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The European Youth Award (EYA) explores today's challenges and motivates young, smart, and talented people to aim high and find solutions that have a social impact. Project Manager Birgit Kolb reveals the interest behind this pan-European contest.

The European Youth Award (EYA) is a pan-European contest to motivate young people, social entrepreneurs, and startups to produce digital projects with impact on society. Why did you decide to bring this initiative to life? How did it all start?

At EYA we believe that young individuals in today’s world can change society in a substantial way using the power of digital technologies. It’s less a matter of capability as a question of motivation: will young people stand up for change or not?

Humankind faces challenges in every field. If you are concerned about global problems, it may easily happen that you lose hope and refrain from doing anything at all, thinking you can’t change the way things are. But each of us can make a change. It may be a long path needing stamina, but with the right motivation, we can do it! Digital technologies are one of the most powerful tools for change we have at our disposal.

The European Youth Award (EYA) aims to motivate digital natives to use today’s means to make a difference. EYA recognizes winners for their efforts and puts them on stage while supporting them on the way to becoming social entrepreneurs and change-makers. EYA wants to see winners get onto the international stage and gain well-deserved visibility. That’s why Peter A. Bruck, the initiator and mastermind behind the EYA, brought this pan-European competition to life in 2012 – the EYA team has been developing it continuously ever since.

EYA 2017 will again be hosted in Graz, Austria, and last from Nov. 29th to Dec. 2nd. What will happen during this period? What can people expect?

Yes, exactly – Graz as the City of Design, but also as a Human Rights City, is the perfect host for EYA. Participants can expect an interactive, inspiring, motivation and knowledge transferring program – they will make ties of friend- and fanship, learn from each other as well as international top experts, and get inspired for future cooperation projects.

We usually start off the first afternoon with a workshop conducted by the team of the “Factory of Imagination”. In the evening, the City of Graz generously invites us to the City Hall, giving participants the wonderful opportunity to enjoy Paul Hughes’ great “Ten Meters of Thinking Performance” and networking in a unique atmosphere.

On the first conference day, the well-established and popular “EYA Campfire” and the “Winner’s Presentations” are only two of the highlights the event has to offer. On the second day, one of the core points of the program is the “Open Space – Students Exhibition”. There, students from all over Europe show their work on the winning projects during an interactive exhibition.

The event culminates in an exciting Gala Ceremony at the Dom in Berg and an awesome after-party assuring the fun part of the celebrations 😉

The submission for 2017’s edition starts soon – who can submit their project and how does it work?

Digital projects – be it websites, apps, VR/AR, IoT, online campaigns – can be submitted by all young people (under the age of 33) living in one of the 59 eligible countries, directly in our database. They just have to answer 8 questions by completing a form. It’s easy and relatively quick. Applicants can also consult the guidelines published on our website.

We are looking forward to seeing many great projects so don’t miss the chance and apply now! 🙂

What industry or field of activity would you like to see more entries from?

Honestly, we would like to see more smart-digital projects in the “go green” and “sustainable economics” category. Although people think there might be tons of projects in these categories, it turns out that this is not the case and the majority of the submissions are not truly innovative.

In terms of technologies, we would be curious to see more smart things, wearable devices or robotic projects.

Tell us a bit about last year’s winners and their projects.

Last year, EYA had 13 winners in 8 categories and they are completely different from each other. However, there were two things they have in common: each is unique and each has a super-engaged, creative and sweeping project team making the effort.

It’s hard to pick just one as all projects are truly great. Discover them yourself, all the project descriptions are available on our website, or on EYA’s YouTube channel.

Social entrepreneurship and innovation are gaining more attention in recent years. What does this development look like from your perspective?

Yes, that’s true and I am very happy to see this development. When I started as project manager for European Youth Award in 2012, the term “social entrepreneurship” had a kind of “negative aura”. It was strongly connected with requesting funds and donations only and eternally, never becoming sustainable.

Although “innovation” was never seen as purely negative, a lot of people were suspicious, anxious or skeptical. People have a tendency to fear what they do not understand or cannot control. As innovation is always something new and requires basic openness, some people may get uneasy. They fear to lose their job, their economic status, their familiar lives, etc.

In the past years, this has changed. Social entrepreneurship is “in”, it’s respected and recognized. A new legislation even offers an outlet for social enterprises these days. Innovation is seen to be something positive, as an opportunity. That’s really great to witness!

What is the most memorable moment throughout the history of the European Youth Award?

On the last day of the Festival, we usually have a “huddle” with all participants. We sit together in a big circle and everybody shares their experiences and feelings concerning the event. For me, the most touching and memorable moment was when Cristina Birsan said in 2015: “Normally you go to an event, take the best out of it and leave, but not with EYA events: you gain so much personally and professionally that you can’t wait to return. You become part of a family you will never forget and always miss if you go away”.

If there is one thing you could wish for in improving the European startup ecosystem – what would it be?

I think I’d wish for lots of smart, thoughtful and motivated people never stopping to work on the improvement of Europe’s startup scene.

What’s one piece of advice you can give to people aiming to develop and build their project?

Always believe in and work on yourself and your capabilities, focus on what you do, don’t be afraid to try and learn from your mistakes which offer a chance to improve.


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