Bridging Voices and Visions: Empowering Youth through Inclusive Entrepreneurship at the 2023 Youth Co:Lab Summit

Blog by Pham Thu Trang, Youth Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Officer, UNDP in Viet Nam

August 10, 2023
UNDP in Viet Nam | Youth Co:Lab

"I want to bridge the language gap for 100 million people worldwide," shared Phan An, a young social entrepreneur, as we rehearsed his presentation for the Youth Co:Lab Demo Day the following day. His vision and enthusiasm were captivating, echoing the passion of many other young social entrepreneurs from across the region whom I had the privilege to meet at the recent 2023 Youth Co:Lab Summit in Bangkok.

This dynamic event brought together young women and men from around the world at the UN Conference Center to work together to make youth-led businesses in Asia and the Pacific region stronger and ready for the future. UNDP and Citi Foundation led the organization of this event, in partnership with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Commonwealth Secretariat, CVC Capital Partners, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), to provide an engaging platform where people could collaborate and get support for inclusive entrepreneurship. 

UNDP in Viet Nam | Youth Co:Lab

The theme of this year's Summit, "Inclusive Entrepreneurship," resonated deeply, emphasizing the commitment to serve underserved communities through social enterprises. With the empowerment of young people at its core, Youth Co:Lab fosters the creation of peaceful and sustainable communities.

Over three transformative days, more than 200 participants representing 28 nations converged, breaking down language and cultural barriers to engage in profound discussions and shape ideas that hold the potential to transform our world. This gathering transcended borders, cultures, and languages, weaving a network of changemakers that would ripple across continents. 

Celebrating Social Entrepreneurship and Exploring Boundless Horizons

Over the past five years, Youth Co:Lab in Viet Nam, co-created by UNDP and Citi Foundation, has laid solid steppingstones for the country's youth social entrepreneurship movement. Serving as a vibrant platform, it provides direct support to young entrepreneurs, enhances the ecosystem, and fosters the spirit of inclusive entrepreneurship among the young minds. In my role as Viet Nam's Youth Co:Lab focal point, I had the opportunity to nominate a young social entrepreneur and an entrepreneurship supporting organisation (ESO) that have played vital roles in the country’s youth social entrepreneurship movement for the Summit. I couldn't think of anybody who could better embody our country's thriving young entrepreneurial spirit than Phan An from WordsMine and Quynh Vo from Zone Startups Viet Nam. And my Vietnamese "squad" to the Summit has exceeded all my expectations. 

Phan An, CEO & founder of WordsMine

UNDP in Viet Nam | Youth Co:Lab

Phan An, CEO & founder of WordsMine - an edtech startup that helps people expand their vocabulary with the ultimate goal of closing the language gap of the most vulnerable groups – impressively presented his pitch during the Summit's Demo Day. He inspired an audience of a hundred individuals, including esteemed panel members from venture capital firms, the UN, corporations, and more. An and other aspiring entrepreneurs received valuable feedback from the panel. 

Quynh Vo, General Director of Zone Startups Viet Nam

UNDP in Viet Nam | Youth Co:Lab

Equally as inspiring was Quynh Vo, General Director of Zone Startups Viet Nam, one of the most reputable accelerators in the country, renowned for their signature programmes that empower young and women entrepreneurs. Quynh Vo gave a moving closing address wearing the traditional Vietnamese attire "áo dài," alongside distinguished guests Renaud Meyer, UNDP Resident Representative in Thailand, and Richard Tesvich, Head of Public Affairs for Citi Asia Pacific. 

Inspirations and Collaborations

Our agenda for the three-day Summit was packed with workshops and activities focused on reflection, sharing, and mentorship among key stakeholders. Yet, our hearts were also filled with memories and companionship.

UNDP in Viet Nam | Youth Co:Lab

After more than a year of connecting with my colleagues through Zoom screens, the opportunity to meet them face-to-face at the Summit was nothing short of exhilarating. Engaging in person, sharing ideas, discussing plans, and listening empathetically to each other's challenges provided a profound sense of belonging and greater appreciation for the impact I'm striving to make in my work

Another highlight of the Summit for me was the “Screw-up Night”, where speakers, particularly young social entrepreneurs, openly shared their journeys and how embracing failures in various aspects of lives had reshaped their personal mindset and built up their resilience. We all learn from our failures, and that night, we celebrated these failures over slices of pizza, surrounded by cherished friends. 

The sessions and speeches at the Summit were all like lightning bolts, delivering powerful bursts of motivation, highlighting how platforms like the Youth Co:Lab have the incredible power to bring about transformation. With hundreds of participants from many sectors, and the genuine and uplifting support and encouragement we received from these stakeholders, it was truly incredible. The Summit showcased the remarkable power that can be attained through collaboration and solidarity. 

UNDP in Viet Nam | Youth Co:Lab

As the Summit drew to a close, we carried home a treasure trove of stories, memories, inspirations, and plans. 

Allow me to conclude my reflection on this incredible journey with a quote from Quynh Vo’s closing remarks:

There is a branch of mathematics that focuses on studying chaos and its implications in life. Those familiar with it will recognize the Butterfly Effect, whereby a mere butterfly flapping its wings in Asia could set off a hurricane in Texas.

And if that’s true, I wonder, what impact will 230 brilliant minds engaged in problem-solving in Bangkok have on the future of the World?

Only you and the future will tell.”