Microsoft’s 2013 YouthSpark Challenge for Change winners: Where are they now?

The inaugural Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest last year received thousands of entries and named five inspirational winners who were each awarded $2,500 to help fund their projects, as well as a Surface, a Windows Phone 8 and a three-week volunteer travel experience to Kenya.
The 2014 winners will be announced Thursday.

Microsoft asked youth aged 18-25 to submit an idea for a social good project designed to spark change in their communities or around the world. One year later, Sneha Jayaprakash, Brian Hickey, Christina Ong, Adam Dunn and Meghan Shea are moving forward with their dreams and making a difference.

When she entered the 2013 YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest, Sneha Jayaprakash, a computer science/bioinformatics major at the University of California San Diego, had already created Bystanders to Upstanders (B2U), an app that rewards random acts of kindness.

“I care very deeply about social injustice and inequality, and I strongly believe in harnessing the power of the individual to change the entire world,” says Jayaprakash. “Winning the Challenge for Change competition provided me with the jump start that I needed to reach out and motivate others to get active on a larger scale.”

The B2U team, which has grown to 16 members, has now created more than 100 challenges for the app and plans to have a prototype to test with users later this month.

Brian Hickey planned to use his prize money toward the construction of a business and training center in rural Uganda as part of the Engeye program. Today, Hickey and his partners have secured land for the center and have been surveying local villagers to get their input on its role in their community.

“We currently have an architect designing the Business, Education & Training Center and hope to turn the designs into a reality in late 2014,” Hickey says. He adds that the trip to Kenya gave him some ideas on alternative income through craft opportunities to empower women in rural Uganda, another program he’s now piloting.

Christina Ong’s dream was to design a multidisciplinary peace-building curriculum for children and educators from around the globe.

While she’d originally envisioned targeting primary school students, since winning YouthSpark Challenge for Change, Ong’s focused her efforts on undergraduates with the hope that as they become educated about the positive impacts that peacemaking can bring, they’ll spread what they learn to the communities they care about. In January, she helped coordinate Students For Global Peacebuilding's annual Peace Week in Irvine, Calif.

Ong says participating in the contest led her to new opportunities. “Microsoft's Challenge for Change opened doors that I never knew could be opened for me,” she says. “I attended the 2013 Net Impact Conference and was inspired by the multitude of successful, innovative change-makers that made positive impacts on their communities in their daily lives.” 

North Carolina State University student Adam Dunn started Triangle Youth Leadership Services with his friends Joseph Bond, Steven Mazur and Devan Riley, to harness the creativity of young people to solve community issues. With the prize money, they were able to host a two-day conference.

"Through winning the Challenge for Change, Triangle Youth Leadership Services hosted its largest and best event yet, attended by nearly 75 high school students from across the entire state of North Carolina,” Dunn says. “The prize money put us on a track toward financial independence, and we're excited to see where we go from here!"

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