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Idea’Yala taps into the millennial mind

Paloma Zobel is the co-founder of Idea’Yala, a project of Ayala Corporation that encourages the youth to bring their ideas forward.

The overachieving millennial is neither a myth nor a product of ingenius marketing — they are real and among us. By a hairline — I am one, but I find it hard to imagine myself in the league of the Tavi Gevinsons and Emma Watsons of the world. They are exemplary specimens of the millennial population, ones that would make the rest of us proud to be counted, even by way of a technicality. The Philippines is not short of Tavis and Emmas. I look to my right and there is a young editor beside me, an expert in multitasking and overdelivering. I look to my left and there is a young multimedia darling, a ball of energy and infectuous passion. They are not afraid of rejection, or being excluded for being different. For them, life is one big experiment, an endless process of trial and error where we try to make sense of things and keep on failing, at times miserably, until finally, we don’t. A mall, of all things, the modern mothership of the masses, has realized this and taken action. It identified the youth as an untapped market and a viable resource for fresh, and more importantly, sound ideas. No other institution of this scale has ever put this much money on the young. Ever.

The mall is Ayala Malls, only one of the largest and most successful chain of commercial and lifestyle centers in the country. It is known for its taste for innovation and its aptitude for implementing them, as it has done so recently with a first-of-its-kind campaign co-founded by Paloma Urquijo Zobel, together with Mariana Zobel and Jaime Urquijo Zobel called Idea’yala. As the title suggests, it is a quest for ideas for the Ayala Malls. But that’s a simplistic way of putting it — as the campaign eases into its next phase, everybody on the team reveals that it is turning out to be more than just the-little-project-that-could.

The STAR was present during the team’s celebratory lunch, an intimate gathering of the Idea’yala co-founders, mentors and “ideators,” real-life success stories who have been sharing their experiences across different schools in Metro Manila, inspiring individuals ages 18 to 24 to share their genius with the world. At the lunch, Paloma beamed with pride, excitement and a little bit of good panic, as she told us that she had only seen 60 entries — less than half of the total number of groups that pitched their ideas at video boxes installed at the different Ayala Malls. She had the weekend to see the rest and then comes the difficult task of cutting the entries down to the 30 best. “We received 175 entries in less than two weeks. Each team consists of five students, so that’s over 800 young people going out of their way to think, plan and share their bright ideas with us,” says Maricris Bernardino, head of marketing of Ayala Malls. That’s time away from Facebook, time away from television, time away from parties, coffee dates, sleeping in, and everything else we always thought the youth had been busy with all this time. Apparently, when they’re not being young, they’re busy making plans for our future.

Without preempting the ideas, Paloma shares how impressed the team is so far with the entries, how refreshing it is to see the youth in a new light. “I think what we found really interesting is that innovation is really rooted in a problem, and that it actually happens when you give somebody a blank canvas and they can go out and take risks. I think this is what we’re actually doing. I told the participants, ‘We’re not giving you parameters. We’re giving you Ayala Malls as a platform to come up with a solution, with something new.’ We’ve seen the videos and they’re all ideas that can be implemented perfectly and are perfectly feasible. We’re really happy with that. We don’t want to give out the ideas just yet, but they’re really exciting. We got the chills just watching them,” says Paloma.

 

 

The Idea’Yala campaign is also a chance for the Ayala Malls to get study the wants and needs of the growing youth market segment. “We discovered in the process that Ayala Land is such a strong brand among the youth. This is a company that they look up to. Even the deans of the schools were very thankful to have an institution like Ayala Land reach out to them,” says Maricris.

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Rowena Tomeldan, Ayala Land VP and Ayala Malls head of operations and support services also shares, “Ayala Malls has always been known to attract the families, but usually, the younger segment of the market is hesitant to go to places where their parents go. So we’d like to listen to them, bring them in, and make Ayala Malls their mall of choice.”

Among their discoveries is the youth’s growing need for “spaces” — areas in the mall where they can just hangout. Paloma says, “We’ve learned that some of them might have a very disposable income, and some of them don’t. Some of them can go to the mall and only be able to sit in the food court. If that’s their main concern, we have to address that. A lot of them came to us with that problem. One said, ‘We can only hang around certain areas in the mall. We want to hang out, but we’re not always shopping.’”

YOUTH AIN’T WASTED ON THE YOUNG

“If you’ve waited until your idea is ready, you’ve waited too long,” Juliette LaMontagne tells the participants, a mass of millennials eager to realize the ideas, at the first Idea’Yala Summit held recently. The Idea’Yala team and Ayala Malls have narrowed down the entries and are now getting down to the nitty-gritty of the ideas development process. The first Idea’Yala Summit — a series of talks by ideators, innovators and guest speakers — took place recently, with DJ Katrina Razon, graphic designer Dan Matutina, and special guest Juliette LaMontagne, an educator, TED senior fellow, and founder of Breaker, an urban micro-agriculture challenge currently raising funds on Kickstarter sharing their insights on the theme “Making your Innovations Relevant for Today’s Generation.”

Juliette’s presence is particularly pivotal — Breaker is a project that is much like Idea’Yala. In 2012, it was successfully funded via pledges on Kickstarter, an online community that allows the clever, the creative and the bold not only to get financial backing for their products, but also interact with fellow innovators. Breaker is a design challenge to turn urban gardening — rooftop gardens, parks, local organic farming — into enterprising agriculture. Its team of 18 to 24-year olds collaborated with Majora Carter and other industry experts to create a product or service that will take urban architecture to a larger platform that would impact more communities.

Having worked, even collaborated with a lot of young people through Breaker, she gives us an insight on today’s youth and how they are wired: “[Millennials] are not lazy, and what gets interpreted as a sense of entitlement is just a different way of being in the world. I think that they have the makings to be the “innovation generation,” to drive the innovation economy. They’re more motivated than other generations. They need to feel a sense of purpose and that’s why Breaker challenges are always about an issue that matters to the world. They can see that if they contribute, it would really have an impact. That motivates them,” says Juliette.

But in certain ways — as we are seeing with the progress of Idea’Yala — the process is just as impactful as the product. “Oftentimes, the collaborative process itself is the piece that is hardest for them. Putting an idea forward, seeing it fall away, seeing an idea get more traction…those kinds of things can be really challenging especially for those who have been successful in school are used to getting it right. To be told over and over to start again, go back to zero, is really challenging for them, but it develops in them a kind of resilience that they don’t otherwise get the opportunity to develop. It’s like a muscle that we’re exercising,” she says.

“The process is really meant to, little by little, build up the tolerance for ambiguity, the willingness to put something out without it meaning to even make sense. And these micro moves lend themselves to an environment that is more fluid, more adaptive. For example, when we’re brainstorming, and the different groups are working on their own boards — we tell them to leave their own boards and go to someone else’s and contribute an idea to an idea that’s not even theirs. It’s this way of saying, ‘Your thing that you think is so precious? It’s not precious.’” A bit harsh? Nah, just growing pains. Juliette adds, “Once they have the first experience of seeing something they felt precious about fall away, and somebody else picks up an element of it, and it gets adapted and it ends up as something else — they’re like ‘Aha, that’s ten times better than what I thought I had there.’”

Like all the ideators and mentors behind Idea’Yala, Juliette is psyched to be on the team, sharing a model of learning she firmly believes in. “I’m so excited that they invited me because it’s so aligned with what I’m trying to do — to help young people get all the education at zero cost by having it offset by corporate sponsors who can afford it. It’s a win-win. It solves their challenge of ‘Help us imagine what this place could be,’ and the kids win by getting this great learning experience. I think this is where all education needs to go. I’m not saying it’s the only model, but I think in the mix, we do need to have these corporations taking a stake in the education of our young people,” she says.

So what makes an idea worth funding? Juliette says, “I think it’s a matter of proving is valuable. If the community — Ayala Malls and beyond — sees that young people are walking away with skills that are of value to them because their talent pool is better, then corporations are going to continue to invest; also, if the solutions that these kids come up with will be valuable in and of themselves.”

INNOVATION THROUGH COLLABORATION

“Innovation has always been a value that Ayala Land and the Ayala Malls uphold. It’s also a good time now to partner with this important segment of the market,” says Rowena Tomeldan. The mentors, ideators and collaborators of Idea’Yala — founder and designer of Risque Designs Tal De Guzman, , co-founder of Manila Music Festival Katrina Razon, graphic designer and illustrator Dan Matutina, TV and multimedia personalities Robbie Domingo and Gretchen Ho, founders of Gouache Bags Louie Poco and Ann Enrique, and Spark Project founder Patch Dulay — all have enterprises that thrive in collaboration.

The Spark Project, for example, has been instrumental in the success of Ann and Louie’s Gouache Bags. Tal is working with the craftsmen of Paete, Laguna as well as shoemakers in Marikina. Kat has collaborated with musicians and producers from around the world. And all of them have gotten in touch with almost everyone, thanks to social media. They each have a vision and a purpose and that’s one thing they have in common with the participants of Idea’Yala.

As Paloma sums it up for in behalf of her generation, “We’re not a generation that likes to sit back and relax. We want to be heard and get our ideas out there, and we’re really proactive. We’re really giving them an open canvas and a platform to make their ideas a reality.”

* * *

The second Idea’Yala Summit, “Communications and Effectively Reaching Out to Your Audience,” was held yesterday with Ayala Corporation’s corporate strategy associate Mariana Zobel, journalist Atom Araullo, and Google’s Alex de Leon as mentors. The last summit, “Bringing Ideas to Life,” will be held on Oct. 18 with Samsung’s Chris Concepcion, Spark Project’s Patch Dulay, Kickstarter Venture’s Christian Besler, and Skycable’s Carlo Katigbak as mentors.

For information, visit www.ideayala.ayalamalls.com.ph, or explore #YALA on Twitter and Instagram.

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