How many 16-year-olds do you know who are intent on changing the world we live in? Hold that number in your head for a moment. Now, from that small group of ‘Generation Z’ers’, how many are already changing the world? I’d place a bet that number is pretty small. For me, the number is only one – Taj.
Taj and I have now known each other for a couple of years, first meeting when he was about 14 years old. I can vividly recall our first face-to-face encounter. We met at a coffee shop in Melbourne, and Taj Pabari, little known to me at the time, succinctly laid out his plan to give the power of digital literacy to children of all ages, and through that, empower a generation with the skills they required to operate in a rapidly changing economical and societal environment.
What do you say to that type of thing? It’s hard to fathom a 14-year-old with the intellectual capacity for that vision, let alone the ability to inspire a team and execute on that vision flawlessly.
Well, fast-forward a little less than two years, and here we are. Taj has recently been nominated for the Young Australian of the Year Award. His company, Fiftysix, has educated more than 40,000 children, and he’s still waking up every day at 4am to balance his competing roles of son, friend, CEO, student and teenager.
Right now you’re probably thinking something like, “Who is this kid and what is he having for breakfast?” so feel free to read more about Taj here.
Leading up to MyData 2016, where a large contingent of entrepreneurs, senior executives, academics, designers and engineers from the personal data economy are coming together to work towards collaborative person-centric data solutions, Taj and I had the opportunity to speak quickly about shared views and the generation of kids he works with daily.
Below are some highlights from our conversation.
- Lets start at the beginning shall we? What drove you to want to provide a foundation to teach children critical digital skills?
My original goal was to change the world – not just my community, but at global scale. Fiftysix is the foundation for realising our vision. We want more young people creating, not just consuming.
- FiftySix has educated more than 40,000 kids by providing them simple, fun and engaging tools that introduce them to hardware and software. From this experience, what are the most interesting insights that stand out about the children’s attitudes and behaviour towards your program?
This video represents the impact we have upon kids – we take them through goal setting, computer science, creativity, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. From wanting to be an artist, we transitioned kids thinking into digital art. From farmer to computer scientist, etc.
So really, the curriculum is far greater than simply learning how to assemble our product. We’re trying to expose kids to the types of opportunities they will have access when they have a foundation of valuable digital skills.
- When you think about the fact these kids will account for their personal data as an asset, what does that tell you about the importance of digital literacy?
We need to expose it to them from a young age. We need to teach kids how to be safe online instead of limiting them, or leaving them completely out there in the open. We need to expose them to screen time, not hide it. By doing these things, we can help inspire kids to become active participants in an evolving economy and society. Their data assets, something we hope they will own, control and gain value from, are a key part of this equation.
- Imagine a world where our personal data, and other digital assets, are indistinguishable from traditional assets like currencies. As a socially impactful entrepreneur, what opportunities to create societal and economic value do you see in that future?
My generation, and the generation that follows me (Generation Z), are amongst the first generations for a while with potentially a worst economic outlook than their parents. Within the current constructs, this seems the likely reality. But, with positive change, the digital economy can create new value, enable new levels of access, and help our generation live socially and economically prosperous lives.
The opportunities are really abundant. When I think specifically about how data can be used to reduce friction, personalise services, lower cost and increase access, all I see is opportunity. Companies like Meeco are part of making that a reality.
- Zooming all the way back to the present, if you could give kids, or the parents of young kids one message about digital literacy and it’s importance, what would that be?
Digital literacy is as important as financial literacy, perhaps more. Embrace it, learn it & enjoy it!
As always, it was a pleasure speaking to Taj. My view is that the programs Taj and his team run provide the foundation for children to actively participate and gain value from the evolving digital economy and digital society. They also act as an accelerant, and fill some of the gaps often found within traditional educational environments.
Meeco’s vision is to equip everyone on the planet with the means to get equity and value in exchange for the information they share. To make this possible we have created a self-sovereign place where people can turn their life data into a growing and valuable asset.
We hope and trust that the generation of children Taj works with can realise the value we envisage.
Head of Experience and Labs, Meeco