Youth as eager adopters of new technologies should come as no surprise to anyone; yet little attention is focused on the role young people play in pioneering tech solutions to critical global challenges. Youth-led tech innovations were spotlighted last week at an award ceremony honoring the three inaugural recipients of the Premio UNITEC a La Innovación Tecnológica Para El Desarrollo Social (UNITEC Prize for Technological Innovation for Social Development). Among the honorees—the newest members of the YouthActionNet global network—were a 21-year-old student who engineered a solution to reduce pollutants from car emissions and an aspiring architect who harnesses technology to capture rainwater for home use.

A signature initiative of the International Youth Foundation (IYF), YouthActionNet is creating the world’s largest network of young social entrepreneurs, currently numbering more than 900 young founders/CEOs in over 80 countries. More than half of those fellows selected in 2013 utilize technology in significant ways to address urgent social and environmental needs in their communities.

“By harnessing the power of technology in creative and far-reaching ways, these young people are an increasingly powerful force for positive change,” said IYF President and CEO Bill Reese. “By strengthening fellows’ leadership and management skills—and connecting them to each other and key stakeholders globally—we’re working to maximize their impact.”

In Mexico, the Premio UNITEC fellows will benefit from advanced leadership training, networking, funding, and technical assistance. Implemented by the Universidad Tecnológica de México, Premio UNITEC is one of 12 local YouthActionNet programs carried out through Laureate International Universities and sponsored by the Sylvan/Laureate Foundation.

Globally, the technology innovations employed by YouthActionNet fellows include the use of mobiles for banking, data collection, and program delivery; the development of online platforms for crowd-sourcing, advocacy, and training; the use of radio and TV to deliver messages to target audiences; and a host of engineered solutions for addressing issues ranging from hearing loss to lack of electricity in remote rural areas. Fellows' work is resulting in increased citizen engagement in policymaking, improved healthcare delivery, reduced traffic congestion, enhanced educational outcomes, expanded opportunities for those with disabilities, and more. 

Examples of fellows who are pioneering the use of technology include Katy Digovich, whose venture develops and deploys mobile health and education tools in Botswana to prevent and monitor disease outbreaks, and Pablo Alvestegui, who created A Dedo, a web interface that facilitates ride-sharing among commuters in Chile. As is the case with a growing number of fellow technology initiatives, both are now being expanded internationally.