Around 140 tech enthusiasts from Oman and across the Middle East and North Africa region brainstormed at a 48-hour virtual challenge over the weekend to develop new online platforms to provide better opportunities for children and young people amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
The COVID-19 Youth Technology Challenge – co-hosted by Oman Technology Fund and Unicef Oman, and with support from the Generation Unlimited initiative, saw 50 teams working on innovative ideas in the categories of online access to education, training, employment and health services.
With the support of 28 mentors, the teams worked over the weekend to develop their ideas, before submitting video pitches to the judging panel.
In the initial round of judging, the panel evaluated all projects and shortlisted 12 finalists.
In the next round, judges will conduct a 10-minute Q+A session with each team before deciding on three winners who will receive US$1,000 in seed funding along with the opportunity to further develop their projects via a Unicef incubation programme.
On June 16, selected finalists will meet with OTF’s investment committee for potential funding and inclusion in its accelerator programme. At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, OTF allocated RO1mn (US$2.6mn) to develop youth-related innovation projects to tackle the crisis. The announcement will be followed by a ‘Demo Day’ showcasing all 12 projects.
Events taking place on 15 and 16 June will be livestreamed and links will be posted via Unicef’s and OTF’s social media channels.
“We are delighted that so many bright young minds from across the region participated in our youth technology challenge,” said Lana Wreikat, Unicef representative to Oman. “Young people inherently understand the problems they face and – as demonstrated by the number of participants taking part – possess a huge drive to find meaningful solutions.”
“The teams are ready with their ideas and now the real work begins,” said Talal bin Sulaiman al Rahbi, OTF’s chairman of the Board of Directors, before the start of the virtual challenge. “We have an impressive turnout for this very first OTF-Unicef challenge and I am equally impressed by the quality of ideas submitted. I very much see this as an opportunity for Oman to foster innovative platforms that will have an impact at the local, regional and international levels.”
“COVID-19 has fundamentally shifted the way we interact with each other,” said Yousuf al Harthy, OTF’s chief executive officer. “But there is no doubt that we can harness technology to develop impactful solutions to the problems this virus has created, both, in the immediate and longer term.”
The COVID-19 Youth Technology Challenge represents the first event in Oman under the Generation Unlimited (GenU) initiative. Over the course of this year, Unicef and partners, including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), will roll out more broadly the GenU programme.