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Young people leading the digital way
By Kerry North, Senior Partnerships Manager – Social Impact, O2
On 23 June, we joined the top 100 digital leaders in the country to celebrate the Digital Leaders 100 (DL100), honouring the highest achievements from the past year, and celebrating teams and individuals who are blazing a trail within the digital space.
Being recognised as one of the top 100 digital leaders is an amazing accolade, and we were very proud that the ideas of two young people – Claudine and Lewis, which were made a reality using O2 funds via our Go Think Big programme – made it into the DL100. To add to our pride, Jessica, a Go Think Big young leader, was recognised as one of the top 10 Young Digital Leaders in the UK.
And it didn’t end there. After being named in the UK’s top 100, 16-year-old Lewis was announced as the overall category winner for Mobile Innovation of the Year.
I was lucky enough to be at the awards with Lewis, Claudine and Jessica. I watched Lewis’ face when they announced that his innovation, Friend Finder, had won, and he was invited onto the stage to collect the award. In less than a second he looked confused, shocked and then immensely pleased (and slightly overwhelmed!).
Lewis deserved to win. It’s been a true privilege to be part of his journey and watch him develop Friend Finder over the past few years, but it’s also been amazing to see how much his self-confidence has grown.
Lewis was diagnosed with a brain tumour at 17 months. He’s had more than 13 brain operations and suffers from seizures most days. His disability has meant that he’s spent a lot of time in hospital, which can be isolating and lonely. Funding from O2’s Go Think Big programme allowed him to set up Friend Finder to help connect young people who miss a lot of school, helping them to make friends and stay in touch. As well as an online world, Lewis knows another part of being unwell and missing school is that children can find it hard to read and write so he’s piloting Near Field Communication (NFC) gadgets to enable children to safely and securely exchange contact details and keep in touch.
Lewis recently turned 16 and posted a moving video about his challenges. So far, it’s had over 30 million views – you can watch it here. One really moving thing about Lewis’ win is how genuinely pleased Jessica and Claudine were – rushing to congratulate him. It highlighted that as well as bringing their ideas to life, O2’s Go Think Big programme has also helped young people develop friendships and support networks.
So what’s next for Friend Finder? Lewis has big plans: he wants to grow Friend Finder and take it global to help even more young people. He also wants to improve the Friend Finder Hands, clever little NFC gadgets that are used to ‘high five’ and easily connect people who find it difficult to read and write on the app, to give feedback for users with visual impairments, and also to develop the Friend Finder website.
If you know a young person looking for information and advice on how to bring an idea to life, kick start their career or get themselves ready for the working world, visit http://www.gothinkbig.co.uk/