What does it take to change the world? A seat at the UN? Or in the Oval Office? Do you need an audience of millions? Nope, not anymore. Thanks to our current connected climate, all you need to effect change is a great idea, hard work, and a smartphone. These three innovators, all under 25, are turning their dreams into reality in order to enact change and do good.
Project: Spero for Cancer
Rowan Jones is the co-founder and CEO of Spero for Cancer, a mobile community for people affected by the disease in all its forms. Rowan explains its genesis: “I had Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, a couple of times growing up.” His experiences informed the creation of Spero for Cancer. “I had the most supportive family and friends,” he says. “The first time I got cancer, 40 friends shaved their heads with me. I had all the support you could ask for, but I realized I never really talked about what I was going through with anybody.”
Rowan didn’t feel like anyone would understand what he had gone through — until he met a girl with the same type of cancer he had. “[She] had Ewing’s, and I introduced myself and said, ‘I have Ewing’s,’ and she just broke down crying. She said ‘I thought you were fake. I thought the doctors made you up to give me hope.’” From there, Rowan knew he had to find a way to connect the cancer community. Spero for Cancer does that by allowing users to search for other people by type of cancer, treatment process, age, location, and more.
What did it take to put this all together? “A lot of grind, patience, and hard work,” he says. Rowan had the idea a long time ago, but didn’t have much programming experience. So he and a friend enrolled in a programming boot camp while still attending college. Eventually, he says, “We decided the only way we’d actually get this off the ground is if we left school and pursued this full time — so that’s what we did.”
Rowan’s advice for other young people looking to make a difference through smartphone tech is grounded in the demanding realities of programming. “Choose something that you are really passionate about and will continually fuel your fire,” he says. “People drastically underestimate how difficult it is to undergo a project like this and how much time it takes. You need something that is going to keep pushing you when you hit lulls.”
Trisha Prabhu is the wunderkind behind ReThink, an innovative program that is making major strides in the fight against cyberbullying. She found her calling after reading a story about an 11-year-old girl who committed suicide as a result of being bullied online. “I was shocked, heartbroken and angry,” Trisha explains. “How could a girl younger than me be pushed to take her own life? I started thinking about what I could do to stop this from ever happening again.”
So Trisha studied the adolescent brain, learning that the portion responsible for decision-making isn’t fully developed until age 25. “The adolescent brain is like a car with no brakes,” she quips. “No pausing! No thinking! Just acting!” This led her to wonder whether this might be why young people are more willing to post hurtful messages on the Internet — and if she could create something that would give them a chance to pause, review, and rethink their decision.
This led Trisha, who has been teaching herself coding since she was 10, to develop ReThink, which detects offensive and hurtful writing on smartphones and computers and offers gentle pop-up questions like, “Is this message worthy of you?” and “Are you really sure you want to post this?” Amazingly, research shows that when adolescents use ReThink and are asked to reexamine their negative decisions, they change their minds 93% of the time.
Regardless of what she has accomplished, Trisha doesn’t believe she’s any more special than anyone else. When talking to other kids her age who want to change things, Trisha says, “You don’t have wear a white lab coat or have Albert Einstein’s hair to innovate. Just look around you and find a problem that you are passionate to solve.” And if a young person is afraid of failing? “Believe me,” Trisha says, “failures are the stepping stone for success.”
Sam Heather is the CTO of Curious, a TechStars 2015 company devoted to helping young people ask difficult questions and get responsible answers. Curious, as Sam describes it, “uses machine learning to automatically answer questions within a topic area.”
The work stemmed from Sam’s college dissertation, wherein he sought to “build a system that helped people learn about taboo topics.” (In some cultures, for instance, it’s not acceptable for young people to ask questions about their health or well-being.) In much of the world, Internet access is less reliable than mobile phone service, so Curious is a text-centric app. Here’s how it works: A person texts a question via SMS, and the system sends back an answer, along with a list of other questions they might be interested in.
How did Sam turn this great idea into a reality? “Hard work, partnerships, and lots and lots of data,” he says. “The software took three months to produce answers of a high enough quality and the system had to be constantly trained as we added more questions so that we could make relevant suggestions.”
Sam’s advice for other young people who want to use smartphone tech to make a change is simple: “The main thing is just to do it. This is the stage of your life where you’ll have the fewest commitments, and so it’s a great time to risk and give everything you’ve got to follow your dream and get your chance at making a real impact or building a successful social-impact business.”
Honor celebrates those who take action, are forward-thinkers, and seek to make a change in the world. With the artistic metal design, robust fingerprint technology, and ultra-affordability of the honor 5x phone, Honor empowers future earth-shakers and innovators to take charge just like the three profiled above.
Giaco Furino is a writer living and working in Brooklyn. He contributes frequently to The Creators Project, CONtv, Rhapsody magazine, and more.