YVote: How to navigate politics and the innovation agenda

YVote: How to navigate politics and the innovation agenda

Originally published in YVote.

Our first conversation is with academic and social entrepreneur Erin-Watson Lynn. A Lecturer and Ph.D. Candidate at Monash University, Erin has researched global labour market trends and entrepreneurship for the last 7 years and has published in Australia, India, China and the USA. In 2015, Erin was an Australian delegate to the G20 Youth Summit in Turkey. 

As winner of the Hon. Wyatt Roy MP's Policy Hack, Erin went on to co-found DICE Kids. A not-for-profit whose Patron is Lucy Turnbull AO, DICE Kids is growing a generation of digital, innovative, creative and entrepreneurial kids. Erin is also the founder of Generate Worldwide, an international education provider that operates in India. 

Erin's interests are the changing labour market and entrepreneurship, and is a self described Australia-India enthusiast.

Follow Erin on Twitter here.

Hey Erin, thanks for having a chat with me today! Do you want the bad news or the good news? Bad news? Okay nice. So we've estimated that up to 21,400 18 - 30 year olds didn't vote in your electorate of Melbourne at the last election. 

Holy shit!

Right? How does this make you feel?

That makes me feel like democracy has failed. Or that we failed democracy. 

I don't blame you. So what would you say to young people thinking of not voting at the next election, or pulling the ol' donkey vote? 

Unlike most young people globally, you have the freedom to control the future of a country. Don't waste that opportunity. And that kind of freedom is what millions globally are fighting for. 

Fair point. Thanks for getting the grim stuff out of the way early, Erin. 

I'd like to ask about you and your field of expertise.You and your team at DICE Kids won the federal government's first Policy Hack with a really simple yet effective idea to teach entrepreneurship and its values to primary schoolers: a National Lemonade Day.

What do you hope these kids will take away from this, apart from a lot of tasty lemonade and a sugar rush?  

The purpose of the Lemonade Day is to inspire young Australians to engage in entrepreneurship by giving them the opportunity to own and operate their own business. The day operates at that elementary level where kids are given an opportunity for them to capture, which is what the entrepreneurial mindset is all about.

I want to also ask you about Malcolm Turnbull's buzzword of the moment: 'innovation'. Does the government's new tack make it easier for young Australians to become entrepreneurs and innovators? Do you know about where the other major parties stand on this topic?

Innovation is the buzzword of the moment, but that is a good thing. The Government's push for innovation and entrepreneurship is extremely well timed as we face a changing labour market and more fragmented life-courses. The beauty about this agenda is that there is bi-partisan support. I think it would be foolish (or election suicide!) for any political party to disagree with the Turnbull Government's innovation agenda.

I can't help but think that many young Australians would have some groundbreaking or otherwise innovative ideas and an entrepreneurial attitude to boot, but won't have the capital to realise their plans. How do we make it more equitable?

The risk we face is that some people will have the technical and soft skills to thrive in the #ideasboom and others won't, which will only contribute to widening inequality.

The beauty about raising capital is that anyone can do it. The equity challenge happens at the level where people know how raise capital effectively. It is important that everyone in the community is able to ride this wave and this is why the education system needs to play a role in engaging young people with the skills and preparedness for entrepreneurship. This is why DICE Kids is so passionate about engaging young people with digital, innovative, creative and entrepreneurial skills. A core mission of DICE Kids and our Patron, Lucy Turnbull AO, is to play a role in bringing everyone along for the ride by reaching disadvantaged communities across Australia

I find that when I talk to school-leavers and graduates, they're keen to voice how anxious they are about the job market, let alone the prospects of having a secure or established career before too long. The most common complaint is the paradox about having no experience to get a job, but many jobs, even entry-level ones, requiring considerable experience. It seems like a lot of employers don't want to take a punt on us young folks! Sounds like entrepreneurship can address a lot of these concerns. But how else should government policy or employers address this? 

I am concerned that the mismatch between the higher education system and the labour market is fuelling these employment challenges for young people. This raises two questions. Firstly, is this mismatch a consequence of the demand driven funding system? Government policy can play a role in resolving this problem by adjusting how universities are funded. As access to education becomes more equitable, the number of jobs proportionate to graduates will get smaller and smaller. Which brings me to my second question, is the purpose of higher education the pursuit of knowledge, or to get a job? One might argue that if it is to get a job, then the role of universities is largely vocational.  

Those are some difficult but fundamental questions, and I'd be interested to see how our current government and successive ones choose address this. 

I'd like to zoom out from Australia momentarily and think about the global stage. You were chosen as an Australian delegate to theG20 youth summit in Turkey last year. Were there some stand out needs or challenges that the global youth addressed, and how do we as young Australians fit into this picture? 

The three agenda items for the Y20 in 2015 were youth unemployment and entrepreneurship, education in the 21st century, and peace. As Australians, we were able to make a significant contribution to the policy recommendations for all of the agenda items. However, the outcomes of the Y20 (and the G20 Leaders Summit) were underwhelming. The Australian Head Delegate and I wrote a critical paper that was published by the Lowy Institute of International Policy, arguing that young people's contribution to the G20 is largely pedagogical, rather than a substantive contribution to international policy. The Y20 is building its credibility as an engagement group, but as young people continued to be viewed as 'students', it will be difficult to progress. Government's around the world need to make a commitment to young people's contribution and give them a non-tokenistic seat at the table. 

Well said! Maybe giving young people a grasp on the steering wheel in summits like these might actually lead to progress on some fronts.

I'd like to take our focus back home and ask you about how the economy was framed, particularly at the last election, where it was overwhelmingly centred around the budget deficit and to a lesser extent, job creation. Were those issues as prominent as they were often made out to be? To what extent does framing in the media affect how we engage with important issues and policies? 

At the end of the day, the Liberal party was there to win an election and for the voting public, a budget deficit and fear of employment stability played an enormous role in their success.

The media plays a significant role in influencing how the voting public engages with policy. Going back to the earlier comments on higher education, voting in government elections is when the study of philosophy can play a role in building a more informed and critical society, and thus lead to more accountable governance. 

For the reason you mentioned, among others, I've always had a respect for philosophy and believed in its value towards engendering an intellectually well-equipped and critical public. As an aside, a trial in the UK found that philosophical discussions in primary schools boosted students' literacy. I wonder if that is something that could ever be trialled here. 

Erin, what are the top three issues or policies that are influencing your vote at the next election? 

Any policies that open up the opportunity for people to engage in meaningful work and entrepreneurship will get my attention. 

We've definitely spanned some big issues in this conversation and I think a lot of readers would love to learn more about them, but wouldn't know where to start. How do you stay informed about the issues and policies that you care about?

I consume a lot of media and read as much as I can, it helps that I am an academic by trade!

I would recommend that young people read The Conversation, watch TV shows like ABC's Q&A and engage in the debate on Twitter. I also enjoy Foreign Correspondent, Lateline... my Monday and Tuesday TV watching is quite nerdy!

I also keep up to date on more in-depth commentary through the Lowy Institute, the Australian Institute of International Affairs

Having said all that, I read the Australian, the Age, and other newspapers. The trick is to know how to critically evaluate the content rather than just consume it without questioning its messenger and content.

Nothing wrong with a nerdy Monday and Tuesday night in. What else is a weeknight for?! Erin, it's been a pleasure, thanks so much for having a chat with me today. 

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