By Alaine Johnson
Reflections about the YSI
The process of applying to YSI was scaffolded, and each round I made it through pulled me deeper in, to think - can I really do this? What is the competition I'm up against? And what could we create together?

So of course when I opened my email first thing in the morning and scrolled down, down, down to see in all caps that I had been accepted to the program (21 out of 8,700!) it was like a jolt of electricity.

Thus began in earnest the online program, where I started working with two incredible teammates from Pakistan and India. Our conversations flowed, our strengths complemented one another's, and it was a really stellar pairing on YSI's part.

"I was new to social entrepreneurship and the startup world. I was way beyond my comfort zone."
Alaine during the 2 weeks in Oslo. Photo by: Antonio Stark
Novoed is another world, and it's best to immerse yourself early on. The innovation library is a resource to always have bookmarked and handy, and the materials on Novoed may feel overwhelming. Set a schedule with your teammates to spend time on it every day/every other day. Decide early on, in the first week if possible, a system to hold each other accountable for missing meetings or asking to reschedule. Nothing is worse than a team stuck in inertia!

Your learning is limitless during the online program. The team building activities are important to get to know each other as teammates, and keep your ideas in mind and start discussing early on to see what you're all passionate about. I watched countless TED talks, downloaded articles, and bookmarked the crap out of useful resources for building a business. I didn't get through all the modules with my teammates, but I still visit Novoed frequently to know what is the required methodology for building a social enterprise.

Then the highly anticipated Oslo program. Norway is a really unique country - it's lauded as social perfection with a pristine natural environment, and coming to Norway under the brand of YSI brought us immediately into an inner circle of young, determined people working to challenge the status quo and do more to connect the world. The two weeks were as accelerated as ever. Between mentor meetings, workshops, and bonding with other participants, it was unforgettable! The city itself is full of events, parks, and attractions too.

New to the startup world and out of your comfort zone

There were some days in Oslo that I felt our team had accomplished so much. There were other days that I felt the learning curve was so steep - did I really know what I was doing? And well, the answer is yes and no! What I learned from YSI is that we never REALLY know what we're doing until it's done and we see the impact - sometime's it's different from what we imagined. As a company keep growing, its strategies keep iterating and changing. The important thing to know is that YSI and their network believe in your capability to figure out these challenges and come out on top. That, along with the inspiration from the other participants I met, is enough to believe that we are all capable and can do this.

The promise of a documentary film capturing our experience forever after was an enormous value add for what we were doing (and for YSI) especially for measuring how the program changes year to year in each iteration.

Most rewarding has been following the developments of the teams as they go on to win grants, join accelerators, and have meet ups around the world. While I felt there was a massive learning curve, YSI was such a critical on-ramp to provide a framework for thinking about how to tackle problems and the learning curves of global problems. Now that I know how to go about building an MVP, do market research, sketch a lean canvas, and pitch to investors with a slide deck, I plan pursue the ideas that live inside my head, and tap into the collaborative support network of YSI to bring them into fruition.
Tips and insights

Even if you're busy, take full advantage of the online platforms and networking opportunities that YSI is creating for you! It's very rare that you'll have such immediate access to top talent that are working on some breakthrough ideas... you never know when you might want to collaborate with these brilliant minds so it's essential that you get to know everyone a bit online. It's part of community building, after all. And if you're lucky enough to make it to Oslo, then meeting in person will feel all the more rewarding!

Check out Earthpreneurs. The people on there come from every walk of life and it's worth sending a few cold messages to people involved in what you're interested in. It's a group with thousands of people ready for idea mining, sound boarding, you name it!

Be ready to share your culture. Despite having traveled widely, I had never seen traditional Norwegian garb. I learned about the meanings behind different stitching patterns and witnessed a mesmerizing accordion performance. I wore a mixed dress of Philippine and Indonesian national dress, and answered questions the entire evening about my clothes and jewelry. It's the first time I got to learn so deeply about Scandinavia, and perhaps the first time some others heard about the Philippines/Singapore directly.

Text author: Didrik Strøhm

Further reading:

Nassim Taleb
Jonny Schneider