“We live in a globalized world and you will always bring something that no one else understands or something that people here misunderstand. Your ability to really bridge that and say I understand what the Chinese people are thinking, or I understand what the South Asian or Indo-Canadian people are thinking, your ability to do that and bring your globalized resources over here is the foundation of your strength.”
Interviewee: Franco Ng, Youth Mentor, Entrepreneur, Founder of Live Unlimited and YouthTalkNation
Interviewer: Haley Donovan, Canadian Ecosystem Institute, Advisor, Public Affairs Specialist
Haley Donovan: In recent years, you founded YouthTalkNation, and Live Unlimited. Your companies aim to redefine current approaches to networking for youth while helping young professionals enhance their access to high-level networks. As a young leader, what was the inspiration for starting both of your companies?
Franco Ng: I always like to share my journey beginning at the age of 12. This is when I laid the foundation for my passion for youth mentorship and leadership. When I was 12, I joined the Army Cadets program here in Richmond, Vancouver. It is a seven-year-long youth mentorship military program, and it was really there that I experienced all of the different levels of leadership from extremely bad and poor leadership to inspiring leadership that plants a seed in your head and empowers you to do more.
It was around that time I had a father come up to me who told me I had an incredibly positive impact on his son. He wanted to thank me for all of the work that I had done in the program. So, it was really at that point where I decided I wanted to do everything possible to have some element of mentorship or youth leadership in my work. I was lucky enough to receive good mentorship myself, so I wanted to give it back by inspiring others to pursue their dreams and look forward to what they want to do in the future.
That is really what led me to start my companies, YouthTalkNation and Live Unlimited. I recognize there are many young people with great ideas. The creativity is there however they often lack resources and guidance to really fulfill it. I hope that my organizations and work are able to surround these people with the guidance and resources to pursue their goals.
Haley Donovan: YouthTalkNation has been running for almost a year now. It seems that your companies serve as a bridge between the youth in Vancouver and the local government. Can you tell us about what YouthTalkNation does to facilitate this engagement?
Franco Ng: The core of YouthTalkNation is looking at issues that affect youth the most, but often they feel like they do not have a voice. So, for example, issues such as cyberbullying or mental health within schools. These are problems that youth face daily, but it is always adults and bureaucrats around the table trying to solve or prevent these issues. We never turn to the victims or those that are facing the issue to ask what their thoughts or solutions are. I find that particularly odd. Why not go directly to the source?
At YouthTalkNation, we are trying to become a data-driven think tank. We do our own surveys and collect our own data. We take all of the information and formulate questions directed at youth such as how would you solve this or how would you develop a solution for this particular issue? Afterward, we bring in community partners or different business partners who might sponsor a grant or sponsor one of our innovation competitions. Our team We will bring all of the youth together to help create the competition and develop policy solutions. If the youth’s solutions go well, our company will help find adequate resources so their solutions can be implemented.
Haley Donovan: Have you found the government repose to be positive?
Franco Ng: I think for government, they often say youth is important, however, there seems to be a lack of resources, lack of knowledge, and an age gap preventing the government from engaging with young people. Oftentimes, when you have a platform like mine or others who are actively working to bridge that gap, we can take the burden away from the government by helping them bridge the gap. I think the government appreciates it and is extremely supportive of everything that we have done.
Haley Donovan: Can you speak to your experiences in China and why believe it is important to engage youth from both sides? Whether it be Canadian youth in China or Chinese youth in Canada.
Franco Ng: I grew up in a very Western culture of course so I missed the other viewpoint that is the East. Our systems are incredibly different which has led to clashes and has led to misunderstandings. However, it is often the young people who do not have a prejudice because they have grown up in a globalized society, so they are willing to understand each other, and they are more willing to take the first steps to learn about different cultures.
I believe it is so important to maintain a channel of dialogue. One simple example of this is student exchange programs because they plant a seed of understanding or cultural harmony which aids in economic development down the road. So, that is why I feel it is very important starting with young people to do this sort of work.
Haley Donovan: What piece of advice would you give to young people who have an entrepreneurial spirit like yourself but lack appropriate educational backgrounds or business models to pursue their goals?
Franco Ng: The advice that I normally give to a lot of young people is to diversify and do more. Do not try and copy what everyone else is doing and try to have a time in your life where you are doing something completely opposite to your studies or what you are learning. I think our education system forces us to be very narrow-minded and we enter university with designated majors or job pathways that are available after we have studied. You quickly come to realize that there is so much overlap and diversity out there and your degree does not reflect your career path.
Haley Donovan: What strategies can be used to increase confidence and engagement among youth in an effort to develop more young leaders like yourself?
Franco Ng: I would say, never underestimate yourself and never think of your weaknesses as weaknesses. What I mean by that is, in relation to a young person, they will often think they lack experience, or I do not have the resources to be at the adult’s table. What happens when you get into that mindset is you sell yourself short. You know, we are all human beings, and we all have different backgrounds and experiences. What is to say that your experiences are more valuable than mine? It’s just a different set of perspectives and a different set of minds.
Many organizations actually want young people to take part and explore that market because that is the future. So, your ability to leverage that and utilize that to your strength is something that could set you above other peers.
Haley Donovan: What would your advice be for people who are new to Canada from China or more broadly the Asia-Pacific region who are in university and have entrepreneurial visions but lack proper direction and cultural confidence?
Franco Ng: Oftentimes, new immigrants or people from the Asia-Pacific and other countries will sell themselves short because they think their English is not great or they think they do not fit in from a cultural perspective. But again, we live in a globalized world and you will always bring something that no one else understands or something that people here misunderstand. Your ability to really bridge that and say I understand what the Chinese people are thinking, or I understand what the south Asian or Indo-Canadian people are thinking, your ability to do that and bring your globalized resources over here is the foundation of your strength. The day that you understand this, you will have more confidence in how you present yourself and you will have a greater ability to recognize the niche area or the weak points in any environment where you can express yourself and add value to the conversation.
Haley Donovan: Thank you so much Franco for taking the time today to speak with me today on behalf of the Canadian Ecosystem Institute.
Franco Ng is a young business leader and entrepreneur based in Vancouver, Canada. In recent years, he founded YouthTalkNation and Live Unlimited. As someone who is firmly committed to youth mentorship, Franco’s companies help young leaders gain access to professional networks while bridging the gap between youth voices and local government.