Inspired: Youth-Driven Innovation (YTH Live 2014 Opening Plenary Liveblog)

Sponsored by Kaiser Permanente

Moderator: Jacqueline Emerson – She’s So Boss & Hunger Games‘ Foxface


  • Jack Andraka – Intel Science Award Winner
  • Adora Svitak – TED2010 Speaker: What Adults Can Learn From Kids
  • Niharika Bedekar – Founder of a group that educates girls on puberty
  • Anthony Sis – Founder, QPOC Student Group; YTH Advisor
  • Devin Lytle – Co-Founder REAL TALK, actress, editor, pole-dance instructor
  • Erik Martin – Game Designer, founder of Super PAC for better education policies

Ruby, 12, introducing Foxface: The most successful characters in the Hunger Games were the ones who worked together. Foxface was sly and without her there would have been no rebellion – I’m so proud to introduce you to  her!

Video: Jackie wanted to perform & Alison wanted a place to play music. So they started a music festival – Tinderbox. Jasmine loves to ski – and she started a company now valued at $15M. It’s the 21st Century – over 50% of the us is female, yet women make up less than 20% of our leaders. Join us in breaking 20% – shattering it. She’s so Boss – Hosted by Jacqueline Emerson.

Jacqueline speaks: A boss is demanding, creative, and driven – but most importantly, a boss has a big heart and is someone who can forgive himself or herself if they make a mistake.  I balance Stanford with work, a job, a family – and that’s boss. Being boss means taking these words and manifesting them into every aspect of your life.  And the coolest thing about this conference has been meeting some of the most boss young people I’ve ever met in my life – the advocates and forward-thinkers of this generation, and I’m pleased to introduce them to you.


  • Anthony Sis: I’m a senior at Connecticut College – I started a Queer People of Color Group.
  • Devin Lytle: I’m an actress from Los Angeles & I teach women to accept their bodies and curves through pole dancing. I realize women are confronted with body image issues on a daily basis, so I teach women how to step into their power through their bodies and their stories. I developed an app called Real Talk – a digital safe space for women to share 27 second videos about their stories.
  • Niharika Bedekar: My greatest passion lies in puberty education and support – a host of mental disorders including depression & body image can happen during puberty. I teach girls about the changes that are happening to their bodies and help empower them to be the women they want to be.
  • Jack Andraka: I created a way to detect pancreatic cancer early, and now I work in biosensing. I’m also an open access to science advocate.
  • Erik Martin: And how do I follow that? I make video games and do education reform work. I founded the EdVengers to create a student bill of rights and push education reform.
  • Adora Svitak: I’m passionate about education reform and feminism; I got my start speaking in schools and published my first book at 7, and at 12 I spoke at TED 2010, then started a TEDx event.

What inspires you to innovate?

  • Jack – everyday problems that I experience help inspire me to change the world in a positive way. For instance, a close family friend, an uncle, passed when I was 13 of pancreatic cancer and that’s what’s inspired me. Another project I’m working on, water quality – creating water filters with recycled plastic – I was inspired by the kayaking I do every day.
  • Devin – Stagnancy inspires me to innovate. I think the suspicious song and dance of body shaming means that women just get stuck in this body image problem – and that inspired me to do it.
  • Adora – I think of innovation in a less STEMish way than Jack – it can be taking a different approach to a policy and a problem in society. We can innovate through everyday use of language & how we think about problems.
  • Anthony – I think we can innovate through how we connect to each other and the resources we provide to each other. My uncle passed because of HIV and I constantly think about how to get people the support they need emotionally and physically and that’s what inspires me to reach out to different populations and different communities.

I hear you saying that hurdles inspire you to innovate – so what holds you back from innovating?

  • Niharika: The reluctance to discuss taboo topics. I see boys and parents reluctant to talk about periods and I think this creates shame in girls.
  • Adora: People don’t like to talk about pregnancy because it’s messy – it deals with blood and sex. But a lot of the things worth discussing are messy.  Even when I was young I could sense taboo topics. Now the access that kids have to information about sex is unparalleled – so if kids aren’t getting access to good clear information they will get bad information, so this is serious.
  • Jack: As a scientist, one of the things I think is most harmful is closed access publishing. And that’s 90% of the science out there – articles cost $15. We’ve really created a fundamental barrier between the general public and science. We say we want kids in STEM, but when we have a Katy Perry song cost 99c and a science article cost $15, that’s a mixed message. The only people who can access information are people with access to the internet and to university libraries, and we’re throwing away so much human capital. How do we give access to information to people who are living on $1 a day in less-developed countries?  Science should be a basic human right.
  • Anthony: We’re not really teaching kids how to overcome the kinds of hardships they’ll have to deal with if they want to really change things. It’s hard to shift systems. And we’re expecting youth to change all of this, but this is really hard, and we’re not giving them the tools.
  • Erik: In middle school I tried to do social justice and instead ended up with severe anorexia nervosa because I couldn’t change things and I couldn’t deal with that and I wanted to be safe. Our schools are really good at putting kids in bad situations.

What do you guys think can be done about the issues holding us back?

  • Devin: The first step is conversation – talk about it, it starts from us. Social media is a major tool at our disposal.  Youth have grown up with technology and it’s amazing. We’re literally evolving this way as creatures.
  • Niharika: I first got my period when I was 9 – and most girls got it at 13 then. It was a hard place to be in. That’s what spurred me to create small group environments in the first place – kids want to talk to each other about these hard issues. It means more when you hear it from someone going through the exact same thing.
  • Anthony: In addition to conversation, I think visibility is important. So many people don’t come out because there is so much shame.  One thing I particularly focus on is HIV discrimination. We need to deconstruct all of the shame – but we need to not just be visible, but also to deconstruct the social structures that mean we are ashamed to be visible. The change starts with us.
  • Erik: Incentivize the change – you have to make people want to change. There’s an excellent book by Jane McGonigal called Reality is Broken. Kids in the US play 10K hours of video games by the time they get to 10th grade – they play them because they feel safe and secure in video games in a way they don’t in the world. It’s like a parallel education track. Texting is safer for kids. We have to go to people’s levels, to wherever they feel safe. Talk to kids about the tech they like. I often see teachers just try to throw games in and kids don’t like them – because the game doesn’t meet the kids where they are at their skill level.

Audience question: On my campus we have many different splintered queer and multicultural groups. Is your campus like that? How do you bring those groups together?

Anthony: We have many groups on our campus too. We try to have monthly staff meetings of all the groups to talk about how we can bring the groups together. Our QPOC group was created because folks of color weren’t coming to the LGBTQ center – I created it to explicitly let people know the center was there and was safe for them. We’re not just for QPOC – we’re open to everyone – so sometimes we have a conversation about how to engage all these identities together, with people who identify all different ways. Trying to bring all the groups together and forming a sense of umbrella identity as well as separate identities is important.  (reaction question: “Did you think of Gaypril? Cause it’s brilliant?” Anthony says he can’t take credit)

Audience question: I’m Sophia, founder of the Silver Ribbon campaign. What are your top 3 apps & websites for learning about health?

  • Adora – Bedsider. PostSecret is a great place for sharing in a supportive but anonymous way. Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice (reaction shot from Deb Levine who founded it)
  • Erik – Reddit. The front page is so misogynist and terrible but the subreddits are amazing – people share anonymously about sex and relationships and stuff. My guild website, where the people who I played World of Warcraft with talk about everything under the sun. The facebook page for the LGBT center at my university, University of Maryland.
  • Jack – As a scientist, I suppose it’d be the NIH Website. Also my AP Bio book. Also Crisis Text Hotline because on texting you don’t feel the societal pressure that you can’t talk about things. And my reading on narrato-fan-fictions.
  • Niharika – Reddit. Google isn’t my favorite and I’m not really a fan but I think it’s super important to how people get health info. The American Girl book about growing up – it’s such a comprehensive book and it lays out everything – I hope they turn it into a website soon.
  • Devin Lytle – 2X Chromosomes, a subreddit for women. Planned Parenthood – their website speaks from a place that’s very human (PP staff cheer). Tumblr allows youth to explore who they are, it’s just a very supportive community.
  • Anthony – The Stigma Project, visual images of what it is to live with HIV & the community app TSPsocial. I agree with Tumblr – it’s great for youth to reblog positive, healthy images. Circle of 6 (reaction from the YTH team who developed it) – you can just set up 6 contacts to call easily in case of sexual assault, but identifying that circle can be useful in other ways.

Deb Levine: I did not pay those guys to mention my products, I really didn’t! (laughs)

Welcome to San Francisco!

We have a lot of people to thank: Kaiser Permanente, Vodafone Americas, Bedsider, NIH, NIWH,  PP, NLM, Uber, One Pacific Coast Bank, and Wellett.

This is our 7th year – and I’ve never actually said this out loud but we always open with young people’s voices. Today’s intro was done by my 12 year old Ruby – and YTH is also 12 years old and we were born in 2001. I’m keenly aware of what being teenage means, and I’m living it every day – the tumult, the chill, the blemishes, the pimples, and the constant feeling of newness.

This year YTH hired a new executive director, a Millennial, Jamia Wilson – and her job is to gracefully negotiate the organization through teenagerhood and adulthood. I’m staying on as president of the board of directors.

Most of you know that as organizations grow they really need new visionary leadership and a different set of skills. Jamia’s calm when I’m frantic and thoughtful when I blurt.  She asks for support when I run around trying to do everything myself. And I’m proud to introduce her to deliver our opening keynote.

Jamia Wilson, YTH Live Keynote:

Deb, thank you for your faith in me. I promise I’ll take care of your baby in the best way possible.

What’s new? I’m new! I’m following our trailblazing founder, Deb Levine, in 12 years of feminist leadership.

Back in the 90s I was cruising the interwebs for info about sex – and when this black Baptist girl would ask her dad he told her he would tell her when she was an adult.  I was at an all women’s school and I wanted real talk that went beyond dogma and shock – and I found Planned Parenthood’s Teenwire & Go Ask Alice. And a decade later, I work for Deb Levine, the creator of those. I’m honored to be our first ED born in the age of technology, and I look forward to continuing Deb’s legacy.

The Revolution Will be Youth Innovated

Beyonce is to innovation what Madonna was to Generation X – a freelance generation – she’s creating a cultural shift towards collaboration, working together, and doing good.

Jack Andreka – the Edison of our time – he moved past the haters and continue to be flawless.

I believe that the Selfie Generation may just change the future of humanity. I’m tired of hearing that we’re the Me Generation. I just wrote about this for HuffPo Impact.

New York Times article: Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem. Well, this creates a lot of cool apps, but not good technology

Did anyone hear about the Skol Foundation research? So, apparently GDP does not equal social progress. The study begged a powerful question for me – what are we missing when we judge young people because of their access to wealth and privilege?

I view YTH as a collaborator – and right now we are really present.

I want to see youth as not just a market for youth tech tools, I want to see youth developing those tools.

I want to see us work on the root causes of these problems.

I believe in shared leadership and I’m dedicated to walking my talk.

Young people as partners and key collaborators.

I was born on the last possible year that you could be considered Millennial – and now I have to be dedicated to walking this talk.

How to develop quality character, mindset, values, and courage – Millennials are really committed to working with organizations that practice sustainable leadership.

My goal is to model the wellness-based mindset and values and create the change I want to see.

My approach to leadership will be with a culture of care at its heart.

We’ll be talking about innovation and sustainability on the #femfuture closing panel.

New times call for new tactics – it’s not about an either-or.

“Generation Selfie” is innovating our future and taking their rightful place.

Own your throne, like Beyonce!

“If you are intimidated by those who came before you, understand you too have a place right next to them.”

So, my call to action is just one thing: “Keep Calm and Trust Youth Innovation”

It’s time for us to equip young people with the tools they need to create youth impact.

Deb Levine introduces youth hackathon winners:

Team bEATen Track

Problems we wanted to solve: need for exercise, promoting small businesses, healthy foods

Opportunities: Most teens have smartphones. Connect people to healthy food. Game-like.

Solutions: our app tracks walking, running, and biking. you can earn rewards – produce from farmers markets. it connects you to the community and gives you a list of nearby health options.

We created an app that encourages people of all ages to live a healthy lifestyle & play a significant role in the community.

Build: prototyping user interface with myBalsamiq. building with wrapping with PhoneGap. GPS keeps track of users’ mileage. Built database of participating farmers with Parse.

Basically, you can buy rewards in exchange for your miles.

A surprise: Katherine Kwan representing Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office! One of the Congresswoman’s priorities is health – and she wants to recognize all the winners of the Hackathon with certificates!

Deb: remember I said I cried once before today? The vice president of Kaiser Permanente’s Digital Innovations said they are going to fund the app for $30K. These guys are going to build the app.


ZonaSegura ZonaSegura is a trauma-informed youth-centered innovative mobile solution to address teen dating violence in Honduras. Learn more about ZonaSegura on our program page.