For about five days, a group of wide-eyed, hopeful youth convened in the political capital of Cameroon – Yaoundé. The occasion? YES Alumni Youth Innovation Camp. The goal? Learning the theories and concepts of innovation and social entrepreneurship. Why? Because the YES program believes that the current 200 million African youths aged 14-24 can only change the continent with these concepts at their fingertips.
To that end, a group of experienced Escalino trainers were assembled. With participants coming from a wide range of African countries – it was fitting that the trainers be from diverse backgrounds too. From East Africa to Scandinavia. From engineers to education enthusiasts. Diverse knowledge and background was going to be key in educating the budding YES alumni social entrepreneurs. The hands on experience these trainers possessed would give the participants a glimpse into what it took to rethink the norm and create new social sustainable ventures in their communities – at least we hoped.
In anticipation of the training – scheduled to begin Monday (Nov. 17th), Escalino trainers arrived early. We spent all sunday reviewing the training modules that had been development. Changes were made and the flow slightly altered where necessary. By the end of the day, the trainers were convinced that no stone was left unturned, or unpolished, for that matter.
Monday morning came swiftly. In fact, It wasn’t long until the monday morning cool breeze was rushing past our sleepy faces. The Cameroon breakfast followed – an adventure of trying to recall any french words to order a delicious omelette. Je’ vou….. was all any of the trainers could conjure up. A few spanish words flew in the misty air but the waitress didn’t look impressed. Thankfully the French speaking participants came to our rescue. Fortunately, before I personally could show off just how much or how little I had paid attention during my one semester of French.
That monday, the participants were introduced to concepts that later became recurring themes in the camp. Fixation, Priming, Constraints and The Triple Diamond. Videos, including one where a monkey intelligently figures out how to get a nut out of a narrow tube blew the participant minds away. More entertaining educational videos – often used to break the monotony of lecturing followed throughout our lessons. “If a monkey could creatively use water to solve a problem (make the nut float so it can eat it), humans could do better in creatively solving community challenges” said our lead trainer Jacob.
The participants were later introduced to the importance of understanding their customers/users. Including the methods to employ. With knowledge oozing out of the participant’s brains like river, we concluded with our daily routine of Escalino evaluations. Having taught the participants how important it was to understand one’s customers/users, it was only fitting to practice what we preached. Actions speak louder than words the saying goes. The feedback was used to adjust Tuesday’s training accordingly but the practice was repeated daily.
Tuesday featured challenging participants to understand why they should care about changing their communities. A motivational presentation on how Muyambi, one of the trainers, had taken on an issue he cared about drove the point home. This was followed by an activity to identify potential problems in the participant’s own communities. Problem categories ranged from healthcare to safety. By the end, posters covered in sticky notes bearing problems of all kinds filled the walls of the training room.
With those problems in mind, another tool was introduced – asset mapping. The activity introduced the ABCD concept. Asset Based Community Building. In simple terms, the activity made sure participants knew the institutional, natural, etc resources they had in their communities before complaining about the lack of resources to solve their community problems. They later remarked how eye opening the exercise was. “I know how rich my community is now” said one of the participants. “I know where to find what I need” said another. This simple exercise had given the participants reasons to boast about their communities. More importantly, they realized they needed to look within their own local resources for solutions before looking outside.
Later participants were later grouped to work on issues they cared about. Since the camp was aimed at coming up with a social venture; participants were expected to develop a problem statement, opportunity, come up with a solution and an action plan to execute it. Then present it. All these would be refined over and over again till they were nothing but gold. Speak of an intense camp. The days that followed were full of intense group work for all involved.
To wrap up the process, participants learned about prototyping. An exercise that combined team building and prototyping – the marshmallow challenge. We watched as different teams embarked on the tough journey of building the tallest tower using spaghetti, tap and a piece of thread. The marshmallow could only be put on the top. As the time to build came to a close, I could see scrambling faces. Many wished they had tested their structures before they had to put the marshmallow at the end of the activity. The lesson was how important it was to pilot/test ones project/product at a small scale before launching a huge undertaking. The reasons were evident in their activity – majority if not all had put the marshmallow last on the structure of spaghetti and watched it crumble to the ground. Like a teacher I was becoming, I knew in their failing lay great knowledge as they later try to implement their projects.
By the fourth day, the participants were ready to be introduced to pitching. This is where all they had learned came into play. They had three minutes to convince a panel of judges that their ideas were worth a one thousand dollar investment. While the investment was imaginally, the participants pursued it unbelievable determination. At around noon, we held a pitching trial for the participants to feel comfortable when the presentation time came. We helped iron out any issues and by the second trial, we the trainers were acting as judges. We fired questions at them and one after the other, they spilled out golden answers. As the eleventh hour drew near, we could not wait to see what the participants were capable of.
I can tell you that when that eleventh hour came knocking – the participants answered with nothing but confidence that left the judges in owe. As everyone awaited the judges’ decision – it was clear to everyone in the room that all participants already felt like winners. They congratulated each other with encouraging words. They had surprised each other in how they delivered their content. “I am really proud of what we have accomplished in our individual teams and as a group today” said one of the participants. As each one of them nodded in agreement, the trainers and organizers could not be more proud of this group of budding African entrepreneurs. The camp had just built an army of convincing experts ready to tackle their community problems – thanks to every iEARN partner that made it possible.
- Muyambi, November 2014