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Working to help others help themselves

Apr 05. 2018
Agrooga Health
Agrooga Health
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By The Nation

The young founders of five social enterprises across the Asia-Pacific region are celebrating today after being recognised for their innovative approaches to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the recently concluded Youth Co:Lab Summit 2018.

The five winning teams beat 16 other finalists at the Summit’s inaugural Regional Social Innovation Challenge, held in Bangkok at the end of last month. 

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

More than 30 young people representing 21 finalist teams from nine countries battled it out at the Challenge following two days of dialogue, capacity-building and mentoring to prepare them for 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 favourite on the Youth Co:Lab Facebook page during the course of the event.

Two winners from Start-up Track category are 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 is designed to be a one-stop shop to address questions about legal and government processes.

The other winner is Arooga Health that 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 programmes in the Philippines and is aiming to launch a pilot of its platform within a private company for use by its employees.

“We are really 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.

In the Scale-up Track category, Phinix from the Philippines was the winner. Phinix is a textile recycling centre that collects textile waste and transforms it 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.

The other winner is Hands On from China that utilises 3-D printing technology to produce affordable prosthetics for children and young amputees in China. Over the past year, the social enterprise has made more than 50 robotic hands for beneficiaries in 14 provinces. 

“I don’t believe you 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,” said Hanyao Gu, co-founder of Hands On.

Blue Hearts from Maldives grabbed the Popular Award. Amassing more than 900 Likes on Facebook, Blue Hearts is an online platform designed to provide young people in Maldives 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. Once formally launched, the platform will also be used to raise awareness about mental health and wellness.

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

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

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 programme has reached out to more than 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 programme will be widened to include 16 countries over this year and next.

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

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