5 inspiring young people shining bright on the road to 2030

12 Aug 2016

Vanessa Greene is interviewed along with fellow Outbox executives at Inspirefest 2016. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

As UNESCO celebrates International Youth Day 2016, we look back on the Future Leaders from Inspirefest and ask these bright young stars to shine a light on the road ahead.

According to UNESCO, the world has never been so young, with 1.8bn young women and men populating the planet.

International Youth Day 2016 celebrates those in the 15-to-24 age bracket who will go on to shape the future under the theme of ‘Road to 2030’.

Silicon Republic is a media partner with the Digital Youth Council and we endeavour to give young people a voice both online and on stage at our annual event, Inspirefest.

In 2015, we had 10-year-old coding sensation Lauren Boyle presenting a keynote to an esteemed audience of her elders in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, followed by a video and live presentation from outstanding young scientists Ciara Judge and Émer Hickey.

This year was no different, as the Future Leaders session proved one of the most inspiring during the three-day event.

There’s no shortage of inspirational young people in STEM all over Ireland, and it both thrills and humbles us to encounter them. With this in mind, we rounded up our future leaders and found out what their hopes and plans are for 2030.

Inspirefest 2017

Niamh Scanlon

Niamh Scanlon is just 13-years-old, but she has already achieved more than most adults two or even three times her age.

In addition to having the title of EU Digital Girl of the Year 2015, Scanlon is a CoderDojo mentor, app developer, Coolest Projects and Eir Junior Spiders award winner, and graduate of the first class of Outbox Incubator execs. She has also spoken at global events, from GE’s Minds and Machines Europe conference in Paris to Accenture’s International Women’s Day gathering.

Scanlon took to the Inspirefest stage this summer to talk about the work she has done with organisations like CoderDojo, as well as the doors it has opened for her. Mostly, though, she spoke about the importance of getting other young people into coding in order to grow and build diverse tech workforces in the future.

“I don’t know what technology will give us by 2030, but I hope it will help more people in the world live a better life,” she said of the International Youth Day theme.

“It’s hard to imagine the amount of new jobs there will be by 2030 thanks to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), and I think that young people need to have the skills to be ready for change.”

To enable the future she imagines, Scanlon said she hopes that coding is as common a skill as reading, and supported by formal education.

“By 2030, I also hope that the tech sector will be equal: full of women, men, children and adults! This will only happen if we start working on equality now. So we need to encourage more young people, especially girls, to get into coding and STEM,” she added.

“One way you can help to do this is to start mentoring in a CoderDojo near you. CoderDojos are classes to help teach young people how to code. You don’t always need to be an expert in technology to mentor – you learn a lot by mentoring.”

Karla O’Brien

22-year-old Karla O’Brien was one of Inspirefest’s stand-out speakers, drawing a standing ovation for her talk on her path to adulthood. From her early accolades – being named 1994’s Johnson & Johnson Baby of the Year – to dealing with Asperger’s syndrome, O’Brien’s storytelling was on point.

Bringing us through her difficult school years, where fitting in seemed an alien construct, the emergence of a newly-named Karla was heavily aided by a trio of crucial events in 2015. A fruitful trip to Germany (liberal Berlin, in particular), the passing of the marriage referendum in Ireland and Caitlyn Jenner’s publicised coming out as transgender changed everything.

Now, in 2016, O’Brien is happy. And the future, she hopes, will be bright.

“My hope for the world of 2030 is that people are free,” she told us. “Free to be whoever they want to be, to love whoever they love. For each person to have the same opportunities regardless of gender, race, age or disability. That the same quality of life can be afforded to each and every individual and that they can feel safe and loved as they deserve to be.

“I hope we can manage what seems to be so evasive to us as humans, and learn to treat others with respect and dignity, regardless of the differences between us. To paraphrase a Dickens quote, to see one another as fellow passengers and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

Vanessa Greene

For the past few years, media analysts have been telling us that millennials are increasingly watching more content through YouTube than the traditional TV set. So, if you were looking to create a programme aimed at connecting music and youth with STEM, why would you bother with TV?

That’s why 19-year-old Vanessa Greene established the Echoing STEM YouTube channel in November 2015 with the aim of inspiring more young women to have an interest in STEM and promote the Irish music scene, too.

Based in Dublin, Greene has spoken previously to Siliconrepublic.com about her admiration for many of the biggest vloggers on YouTube. Echoing STEM came about with help from her friend Catrina Carrigan (another impressive young STEM enthusiast) at the Coder Girl Hack Day event in DCU Alpha.

“One of my major hopes for 2030 is that we will not only be teaching an overall better STEM curriculum, but will also be teaching a matured curriculum in computer science,” said Greene.

“I live to see the day where every girl has as equal an opportunity as the next person. Equally, I hope to see those similar inequalities squashed in regards to LGBTQ communities.”

Edel Browne

Edel Browne, a 19-year-old biotechnology student at NUI Galway, is the co-founder of Free Feet, a start-up developing technology to help people with Parkinson’s disease overcome ‘gait freeze’ by shining a light in front of the foot.

Her “overenthusiastic” interest in biology set her on a prosperous path. In 2013, the Free Feet prototype won her the Best Individual Award at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and, since then, Browne has enjoyed great success from her passion.

“I’ll still only be 33 by 2030, so, hopefully, it’s a nice place to be!” she said when asked about the future. “Technology will be king, that goes without saying, but I can definitely see things leaning more towards biotech and its applications within the food and agriculture industry.”

‘I can definitely see things leaning more towards biotech and its applications within the food and agriculture industry.’

Browne is currently in her third year at NUI Galway and was recently blogging at the demo day for Indiebio, a biotech start-up accelerator. “This year’s cohort seemed to have a particular focus on food, with the take-home message being that we simply don’t have the capacity to produce enough of it without biotech,” she said.

“Biotech entrepreneurship has become increasingly accessible to a wider audience in the last few years, and this is a trend which I can see continuing.

“This has led to greater innovation within the start-up community, resulting in solving real-world problems using biology. 23andMe is one of the most interesting and pioneering companies in biotech at the moment, making DNA profiling accessible to all for only $100 (sic). I can definitely see this demand for accessible biotech continuing and I look forward to working to meet that demand through technology.”

The 23andMe product is €169 in Ireland, and $199 in the US, a spokesperson from the company told Siliconrepublic.com.

Elle Loughran

Louth native Elle Loughran will receive her Leaving Cert results next week, but she has already achieved quite a lot.

The 17-year-old scientist is also a blogger and, earlier this year, created a website called Tigertunity to help connect people with opportunities.

In the last year, she has also carried out research into using UV light to combat antibiotic resistance and, as she told the Inspirefest audience, one of her ambitions is to spread her passion for science.

“I’d love if there was something [like Coderdojo] for science, except for all ages, because if you… never really got into working in a science career, there are very few opportunities for you to do research,” she said during the panel discussion.

“That means that people tend to think of science as just a body of research and nothing else, which is sad because the real fun in science is finding out new things. So I’d love to start a network of local centres for science where people can actually do research projects.”

‘I want science to be a community thing rather than being locked away in an ivory tower for academics. And have people like female scientists no longer seem remarkable just for being female’

The Outbox Incubator alumnus is hoping to study science at Trinity College Dublin come September, while further ambitions for the year include running an educational campaign about antibiotic resistance in primary schools and setting up three community science labs and a college science fair.

For 2030, Loughran said she would like to see “progress to continue to speed up”, especially in the area of health, as well as seeing 3D printers and ‘friendly’ AI being used more widely, and progress in areas such as space travel, renewable energy and self-driving cars.

“I want science to be a community thing rather than being locked away in an ivory tower for academics,” she said. “And have people like female scientists (and other minority groups) no longer seem remarkable just for being female.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

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Updated 9.15am, 15 August 2016: This article was updated to reflect that Echoing Stem was formed following Coder Girl Hack Day, and also to clarify the price of 23andMe’s product.