Bridging the gap

Ericsson is kickstarting this year’s Ericsson Innovation Awards, inviting university students to use their skills and innovative thinking to solve global challenges. Sena Erten, Vice President and Head of People at Ericsson Middle East and Africa, talks about the themes explored in this year’s competition.

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What are the themes and problems explored in this year’s competition and how they will drive digital innovation?

 This year, Ericsson is inviting university students from across the world to propose innovative technology solutions to help tackle sustainable development challenges. The theme of the Ericsson Innovation Awards (EIA) 2022 challenge is ‘Impact Our Sustainable Future’ and will take inspiration from the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). With more than EUR 50,000 in prizes up for grabs, the competition will encourage students to identify an interconnected challenge to tackle with their team and create new innovative tech solutions that can make a lasting change and drive digital innovation in the process. I encourage interested teams of two-to-four students currently enrolled in university studies to submit their ideas by August 5, 2022.

 How will it complement regional government initiatives to foster a tech talent ecosystem?

 As governments across the region adopt digital technology, we are seeing an increased push in offering students opportunities to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to drive local innovations. Competitions like the EIA that engage students in the STEM space are an excellent way to get students excited about technology and foster their interest in pursuing tech careers in fields such as robotics, and coding – subjects that are becoming vital to the digital development of nations across the Middle East and Africa. With cooperation being an essential element of tech innovation, EIA will instill in students the spirit of teamwork to achieve a common goal while also encouraging independent learning. It will also increase the problem-solving abilities of students in real-life situations, thereby empowering them to emerge well equipped as the future workforce of the digital Middle East and Africa.

 What were the impact and practical applications of the previous competitions?

I’m glad you asked as highlighting the end results of the competitions are truly a testament to their impact and success. Over the past few years, we have seen plenty of success stories, however, two exceptional submissions that come to the top of my mind are from Team BlisCare who won EIA 2021, and Team OwnLabs who won EIA 2018.

The theme of EIA 2021 was bridging the digital gap, and students were encouraged to propose technological products and solutions to build a fairer and more equitable future. The competition saw Team BlisCare devise an innovative solution that focused around enabling equal educational opportunities for visually impaired people and used a tablet to create digital braille in real-time from any text or graphic. The solution was also designed to be cost-effective and to supply endless material both online and offline.

EIA 2018, under the theme “The Future of Truth”, challenged student teams to answer the question of how technology can improve the way we find, validate, and share truth in a fully connected world.  Team OwnLabs, from Senegal, sought to address the lack of school labs in Africa by offering physics, chemistry, and biology classes in a virtual reality environment via a smartphone. The beauty of OwnLabs’ idea was its simplicity to help young people find truth through experimental science and reach their full potential.

How will the competition seek to bridge the skill and talent gap in STEM?

 To answer this, it is important I emphasize how important private-public partnership is in bridging the talent gap in the tech industry. Partnerships between tech corporations and educational institutions to provide STEM learning opportunities creates an environment of efficient practical learning. This environment allows students to leverage real-world learning opportunities that improve their skills and help them grow their interest in pursuing exciting and rewarding STEM careers. As a company committed to empowering STEM education and fostering diversity and inclusion across academia, the Ericsson Innovation Awards will identify change-making talent and help make their smart ideas into reality. In the process, the competition will get students motivated to study STEM subjects and in the long run, play an instrumental role in closing the talent as well as the gender gap currently present in the STEM industry.

How will the competition encourage STEM career exploration and skill development (exploring personal interests etc)?

 The EIA competition gives students the chance to pick any issue on the given theme and develop innovative solutions to tackle it. Giving students this freedom encourages them to delve deeper into their chosen issue and broaden their knowledge and understanding of the topic.  Devising a workable technological solution for the issue will propel them towards exploring the topic further in the real world and perhaps even empower them to academically pursue the area. Moreover, the invaluable resource of articles and videos that come with the competition, as well as the expert mentorship we provide students throughout the period will help them narrow down their interests and develop, research, and innovate ideas that will in turn nudge them towards a career in STEM.

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