In my annual letter for 2012, I invited students globally to write their own annual letters about what we need to do to extend the progress the world has made in improving the lives of its poorest people over the past 50 years. I’ve received some innovative and inspiring letters, which I’ve featured on my website. All the insight and ideas these young people brought forward are amazing.
I saw this same level of insight and creativity today at the World Economic Forum, when I sat down with young innovators and leaders, including students who’ve received Imagine Cup grants, to discuss how we can help their peers around the world achieve their dreams. Whether young people want to start a business or a nonprofit, or they want to be the first in their family to go to college, it’s critical to make sure they have what they need to succeed.
Improving access to quality education is essential to putting students on a path to compete for good jobs or become entrepreneurs. Worldwide, we must invest more in education. In addition, access to technology and technology skills will be increasingly important elements of economic opportunity—whether you grow up in Africa or Alaska.
And finally, we need to make sure young people—no matter what their socio-economic background—have the opportunity to make their great ideas a reality, whether it’s through startup funding, connections or mentorship. The Microsoft Imagine Cup is an annual competition where students around the world are challenged to develop creative technology solutions to the world’s toughest problems. Today, I met with Imagine Cup Grants Winners from Croatia, Ecuador, Jordan and the U.S., all of whose innovative technology projects have the potential to make a tremendous impact on society. One of the Imagine Cup grant winners I met with today was Gerardo Francisco Pérez Layedra—or, as he likes to go by, Paco.
Paco and his team came up with an idea called Skillbox, an affordable solution to help children who are hearing impaired by translating all audio received from a teacher in a classroom into sign language. A wireless headset captures the sound and sends it to the computer, and SkillBox then shows the corresponding sign for the word or phrase. Yesterday, all the team had was an idea. Today, that idea can become a reality because Microsoft is giving them the resources they need to start their own business: cash, software and support as well as connections to investors, NGO partners and business partners. I’m optimistic about the impact that they will have on helping hearing impaired children get a great education.
Young people have the ideas, energy and creativity to make the world a better place. We should help them try.