Ashif Mawji speaking to the media in excitement for the launch of the Innovation Challenge.

Giving back

Calling entrepreneurs: Innovation Challenge seeks to build a better future for youth

Mar 15, 2023

(Above) Ashif Mawji, chair of TELUS Friendly Future Foundation, welcomes innovators, entrepreneurs and charities across the country to participate in the “Livable Communities for our Youth” Innovation Challenge.

“If it ain’t broke, break it – and build something better.”

This mantra – a slight amendment to a familiar adage – has long guided my career. Shaking up the status quo and finding new and creative ways to improve how we do business is second nature to any successful entrepreneur. Whether it’s revolutionizing bee-keeping technology to better support critical honeybee colonies or building proprietary software to efficiently match homecare workers with patients in need, the world has come to rely on the opportunity to find solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

I’m also a dad, and it’s in this role that I truly feel an urgency to innovate and collaborate if we hope to ever meaningfully address the myriad social issues facing our young people today.

Here’s a snapshot of what our kids are up against: Stress and anxiety levels are soaring among teens and children as young as five years old. By age 25, an estimated 7.5 million (about one in five Canadians) will struggle with their mental health. Couple this with economic uncertainty, barriers to education, training, stable employment and housing, climate anxiety and social injustices, and it’s no wonder that so many of our hard-working, youth-serving organizations are sounding the alarm as they struggle to do more with less. 

Our youth deserve better. We can’t move forward until we bring everyone along together.

Shanan Spencer-Brown speaking at the recent launch of the Innovation Challenge at the University of Alberta.

Shanan Spencer-Brown, TELUS Friendly Future Foundation Executive Director, at the recent launch of the Innovation Challenge at the University of Alberta.

It’s why, on behalf of TELUS Friendly Future Foundation, I am so proud to announce the launch of the “Livable Communities for our Youth” Innovation Challenge,  a $1-million funding opportunity to help address some of the most pressing social challenges youth in Canada are facing today. Through a unique crowdsourcing platform,, we are bringing together unparalleled expertise across business, academia, entrepreneurs and charities to help unlock powerful new approaches to address multiple dimensions of youth well-being, including physical, psychological, social, environmental and financial.

Key to the Challenge is our integrated approach, one that revolves around the individual youth. 

Certainly, winning concepts must be creative and offer novel ways of approaching systemic issues, while also practical, viable and cost effective. But we aren’t seeking a silver bullet. Rather, winning innovators will be paired with charitable partners to deliver a comprehensive solution that ultimately sets up youth for success – from ensuring they have somewhere safe to lay their heads at night to connecting them every morning to personalized mental health support, food, safety, employment and education. 

Right now, thousands of youth-focused charities are working diligently to offer a range of much-needed programs and services. But, with demand rising and support dwindling, and with staff exhausted due to the demands of the pandemic, they are struggling. 

As urgently highlighted in a recent report by Canada Helps, the last 15 years have seen a steady decline in charitable donations by Canadians. This is expected to decline even further as lasting effects of the pandemic, economic uncertainty, geopolitical tensions and inflation continue. 

As a result, charities have limited opportunities to collaborate and offer streamlined solutions. Some youth may need to go through several programs or solutions to get help and there often isn’t a centralized or integrated approach to accessing measurable, outcome-based solutions. 

Compounding the problems, charities with big ideas for innovation are often not able to access the resources they need. 

TELUS volunteers at the Innovation Challenge announcement in Edmonton.

TELUS volunteers at the Innovation Challenge announcement in Edmonton.

Meanwhile, innovators may have great ideas, but don’t have access to the charitable sector to help bring them to life. 

The Innovation Challenge is strategically designed to remove those barriers. From the incredible scale and scope of TELUS and TELUS Friendly Future Foundation’s support to domain expertise, data and, notably, significant and secure funding, we’ve ensured applicants have access to everything they need to test, refine and launch the most compelling approaches.

It’s a dream come true not only for entrepreneurs who want to make the world a better place, but also those who provide critical social services. Both have a vital role to play in navigating the way forward in society.

Looking forward a few months, I’m confident that this Challenge will foster novel ways of tackling the issues and inspire additional investment into solutions that drive systemic change and measurable improvement in youth well-being.   

It’s a huge win – for our country, our communities and, best of all, our youth. 

Am I ambitious in my forecast? Absolutely. But as entrepreneurs the world over have taught us, with the right people, resources and funding in place, nothing is impossible. 

TELUS Friendly Future Foundation logo

Meet the author

Ashif Mawji
Chair, TELUS Friendly Future Foundation