Digital Leader 2016: Maggie Philbin

Written by Maggie Philbin, Digital Leader of the Year 2016 and CEO of TeenTech

I was so very thrilled to receive the Award for Digital Leader of the Year. It’s such an honour and brilliant to celebrate with a talented team who have put so much heart, soul, imagination and honesty into the past eight years. I’d like to thank all the judges, all the people who kindly voted but most of all the wonderful sponsors, companies and volunteers, many of whom have been with us from the very first event in an empty office block in Reading and whose young graduates and apprentices donate so much time and energy. This is your triumph.

TeenTech grew out of a visit to a school in Berkshire in 2007 where I asked young people to share their experiences of science and technology and why they were and more crucially weren’t interested. Years of being asked to ‘launch’ initiatives had made me very aware of the frailty of working in a silo so I invited everyone in the region interested in helping to make a difference to join the steering group. We ran the first innovation day six months later with 450 students, made big changes based on feedback, ran the event again for which we won several awards.  We decided to see whether we could work across the UK, bringing people in a region together to build and run an initiative which really resonated with the local community.

TeenTech reaches out to young people and communities who often have no idea why they should be developing digital skills and how fundamental they will be to every job they will do in the future, whether or not they’re working for what their parents or teachers may consider to be a ‘tech company’. We now have a series of age appropriate programmes which inspire young people form 8-10, ranging from TeenTech City of Tomorrow for younger students to the TeenTech Award programme for young people up to the age of 18. We work face to face with 5000 students, teachers and parents a year and indirectly with ten times more. We signpost other initiatives and give them a platform at our event days. Working together is the only way to really make a difference.

As anyone who works with hard to reach communities knows, it’s painstaking work. We focus our efforts in areas of greater social need and motivate both schools and individual students to become TeenTech Evangelists once they have been through our programmes. One girl headed out to Colombia on a school exchange, and quite spontaneously decided to lead a TeenTech Innovation session. That school (still working on chalk and board) is now participating in the TeenTech City of Tomorrow programme. Two teams of girls went into their local primary school to demonstrate their TeenTech Award projects and amongst the waving hands from younger pupils asking how they could join in, was one boy who asked ‘Can boys do this too?’

The answer is a big yes as TeenTech focus on diversity rather than gender. Our events are 50% male /female and the number of students who then produce TeenTech award projects is 60% female/40% male. We provide on-going support and business connections to the schools who most need them.

I’ve felt so proud to hear a teacher in Mid- Wales credit TeenTech with being the catalyst which completely changed the whole attitude of the school towards STEM. One boy who had never been outside Wales before travelling to London to showcase his TeenTech Award project at The Royal Society – not only had success with us, going on to accepting his award from HRH Duke of York at Buckingham Palace but has now been selected as one of three young engineers to represent the UK in USA. The teacher says the students in what is a very deprived area of Wales, now completely see that they can compete on a world stage.

The eight years of TeenTech have been eight years of non-stop learning. The digital space has changed so much in this time but what doesn’t seem to be changing at the same pace is the overall demographic of those who benefit most and are able to seize opportunities whether it’s booking a cheaper holiday or accessing online learning. In theory tech is for everyone but in reality far too many miss out. So it’s important not only to give students a glimpse of the growing number of ‘invisible’ careers threading their way across all sectors but also the opportunity to develop the creativity, collaboration and communication skills that will take them so much further as they embark on a lifetime of different careers, where being robust and being bold is going to be very helpful.

And as I say – we can only do this together, so if you’d like to work with us we’d love to hear from you.

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