Dr Kelly Page - EarthTech

Dr Kelly Page

Dr Kelly Page

‘Leave your assumptions about age at the door’: a chat with Dr Kelly Page

Dr Kelly Page is an expert in youth innovation. With a career spanning the globe, she’s worked in academia, business and education as a learning consultant and educator, with a particular interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, design thinking and entrepreneurship. She’s also – lucky for us – an EarthTech Challenge expert, giving our participants an incredible opportunity work alongside her and draw on her experience.

We had a quick chat over Zoom to talk about what’s ahead. Listen to our full chat, or read some highlights below.

Q: In general, how can adults nurture or support the creativity of young people, without getting in the way?

A: When you’re working with young people, you need to create space for them to be as they want, and just ‘hang out.’

Kids have always been told what to do by adults, so as a result they often don’t feel heard, so a key thing to do is look at the language, get rid of the ‘student’ and ‘teacher’ labels and show that it’s just about people of different ages collaborating.

As opposed to a traditional hierarchical way, we need to level the playing field… often all young people need from adults is simply being connected to other people, the right people, who can mentor them.

Q: One of the things we do in the EarthTech Challenge is paring up teams with those mentors – scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, storytellers. For those mentors, what should they be doing to shape the ideas of the teams, to nurture without cripple the creativity?

A: What you have to do is actually listen. Not just with your ears, with your eyes.

See how the teams are responding in the situation, and what probing questions you can ask. Approach it from a storytelling aspect, as a human being who is interested – not as an ‘expert’ in the field.

It’s not about telling or imparting knowledge, it’s more a process of uncovering it together. The ability of the next generation to uncover and discover and find information is incredible. So as a mentor, remember you’re there to listen and guide. Don’t fill up the space with your ideas. Leave your title at the door.

Q: So many people are so vocally negative about Greta Thunberg and other young people who are speaking out and taking action. As someone dealing with young people every day, what are your thoughts about that?

A: The dilemma is that many adults come to the conversation with your people with THEIR view of the world. And that’s so different from a young person’s view of the world. They’ve grown up in an incredibly connected environment, where so much knowledge is at their fingertips, so we need to recognise our dismissal of young people is often our – older people’s – ignorance.

Some stories from my experience. We had a kindergarten class – kindergarten! – playing with light and colour, and they came up with a way you could make a kaleidoscope on a digital app. We brought a software engineer in and together we made an early learning tool to teach kids about colour and light. Seriously.

So we need to leave our assumptions about age at the door. We often assume that ‘expertise’ refers to years of experience, but really, it’s just about using knowledge in different ways to solve a problem. And yes, kids can have expertise. And they can make connections between ideas, often, quicker than we can. We can learn a lot from them.

(Of course, at the same time, they’re still kids. They’re teenagers. They do need lots of snacks!)

Q: What’s the difference between innovation and entrepreneurship, when dealing with young people?

To innovate, you need to be entrepreneurial – to move something from an idea, from the ideation phase, to impact, to launch in the world.

Entrepreneurship often gets put into the category of business, but historically, the earliest entrepreneurs were artists and artisans. It’s about taking a risk, knowing how to pivot and deal with uncertainty, building and developing that mindset.

From a practical point of view, in our schools we don’t spend enough time around fiscal management, financial literacy, and that’s an important part of entrepreneurship. Kids often graduate from school without knowing how to balance books, how to create a budget. We need to help them understand business models – for profit and not for profit models alike.

My parents had a business, so from when I was little, I saw my parents working and heard them talking about the finance side. The more you expose kids to that, the more they can understand the reality of ideas in the world.

It’s also about collaboration. Bringing team-based work and collaboration in is also really important to entrepreneurship.

Q: How do we create an EarthTech Challenge that gets the most out of these young people, and what can they expect to get out of it?

A: The design of it is crucial. It needs to make it personal to the participants. And it needs to be purposeful.

Purpose is highly linked to wellbeing – if you have a purpose of why you do what you do, it makes you feel really good. If participants see that what they’re doing has a purpose and can actually make a difference, will actually impact the earth, that will really give them agency.

They need to know we are committed to their ideas having possibility and reality in the world – it’s not just a competition. We’re going to actually make their ideas happen. So we need to define their role going forward, if their idea gets picked up and is something that gets invested in – what is their role as a cofounder of the technology that they’ve created?

At EarthTech, we have the connections to make this happen. Young people won’t just be a vocal part, but will actually be the ones to build the technologies and solutions that will save the planet.