by Rosanna Kurrer*

Innovation and disruption are buzzwords of the 21st century that produce both hope and fear in the world of business, depending on how much history a company can look back on. Seeing startups upset an entire industry with an innovative digital tool is now a commonplace occurrence, and as such does not elicit wonder and confusion, as it did just a few years ago.

In this precarious situation where the future is more unpredictable than ever before and where innovation within any organisation is no longer a luxury but a necessity to survival, we are forced to question the status quo of the current educational system, and the digital skills training or lack thereof available to the next generation.

How can we ensure that young people in Europe not only remain competitive in the skills needed in an increasingly automated society, but more importantly how can we nudge them to become effective problem-solvers who are not overwhelmed by the complex problems facing us in such a rapidly evolving and connected playing field? I believe that part of the answer to this question is in allowing them to get their hands dirty and giving them the opportunities to understand the problem and to design feasible and viable solutions.

The InnoApps Competition provides such an opportunity, to provide a platform for young people to approach a 21st century problem, dissect it into its basic components, understand the challenge, and collaborate with their team to come up with solutions that have never been brought forward before. This is how young innovators are created.

As a passionate hybrid thinker, with a background both in the design and in the engineering fields, my focus in mentoring the qualifying teams will be in introducing effective ideation and prototyping methods using the process of Design Thinking, developed at the Stanford University d.school. Innovation is the result of a human-centric approach to problem-solving, and of continuous learning and iteration. I will introduce an effective prototyping tool as well, which is an ideal introduction into the world of programming and computational thinking. I believe that these 21st century skills of design thinking and computational thinking are the basic requirements to ensuring the digital inclusion of any demographic, and are vital when brainstorming solutions for challenges society faces in the digital age.

*Article written by one of the InnoApps Mentors: Rosanna Kurrer – Cofounder and Digital Literacy Lead at the Digital Leadership Institute (DLII.org), a Brussels-based, international NGO whose mission is to bridge the gender gap and digital divide worldwide.