Never Too Young, Never Too Old

It’s never too early or too late to test your innovation wings when it comes to mixing business with altruism. These social entrepreneurs tell you why...

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At an age when most professionals begin making retirement plans, he’s busy chasing a new career goal. Well in his late 50s, Claus Gollmann is giving entrepreneurial millennials a run for their money with his startup – Kind in Diagnostik (KiD), which helps children deal with trauma through psychotherapy.

Sitting at the opposite side of the room is 19-year-old Kadir Can Kirkoyun. Not even out of his teens, the Turk has put lazy evenings with friends on hold to work on his startup - Scode, an app that teaches coding via storytelling.

The two are competing for a 40,000-euro grant under the Investment Ready Program, for which Allianz has tied up with Impact Hub as part of its Encouraging Future Generations program.

They are facing stiff competition from Ralf Toenjes, who comes from a generation that falls between those of Claus and Kadir. The 36-year-old Brazilian co-founded Renovatio, a non-governmental organization that produces eyeglasses for a dollar to enable visually-challenged children and youth to attend school and work more efficiently.

At different stages of life they may be in terms of age, but what ties the three together is their passion for people. So what inspired them to take the path less trodden? This is their story.

Young and restless

scode

When he was in his early teens, Kadir Can Kirkoyun would spend hours glued to gaming apps. Most of his friends didn’t share his enthusiasm for 1s and 0s. But even as a youngster, Kadir understood that the lack of interest came from the fact that they couldn’t imagine the possibilities that software coding offers.

On a whim, he wrote the first codes for the Scode app with his brother Kaan and a couple of like-minded friends. The rest, as they say, is history.

The app uses a story-telling format to teach users to code. It won a mention in Google Playstore’s Best Apps of 2017 list. When he began, Kadir was too young to understand the potential the idea had. When he did, there were challenges to be met – he was below the legal age to found a company and school attendance and homework made time management rather difficult. Then, there were legal procedures to be followed. What would a teen know about those? But with determination, Kadir overcame them all.

He doesn’t regret starting so young. “At that age, you are not burdened by responsibilities and you have the enthusiasm and optimism to change things for the better,” he says.

Kadir believes in the cause of coding – he sees as the key to changing lives in this century. Today, Scode app has more than 180,000 users. “It’s immensely satisfying to see people realize what great ideas coding can enable,” he finishes.

Man with a vision

As someone who suffers from myopia, Ralf Toenjes knows the challenges that vision limitations can bring. It’s even worse for children and youngsters, whose educational development can be seriously hampered due to such problems.

To address this gap, the Brazilian co-founded Renovatio. When early attempts to bring $1 glasses to those who needed it proved unsuccessful, Ralf turned to crowdfunding. Money raised by Renovatio went into setting up two mobile eye clinics in Brazil and provide eyeglasses to 17,000 people in 19 states.

Recently, Ralf partnered with Axel Ali to found VerBem and the two are exploring a hybrid business model to funds eyeglasses for disadvantaged youth.

“I remember an incident that cemented my belief in our cause,” he says. “We distributed glasses in Para, in the middle of the Amazonas. A man with high myopia burst into tears and mumbled something about not having to climb trees anymore. I understood later that as an acai taster, he had to climb 10-meter high trees to see if the fruit was ripe for picking. Limited vision can seriously compromise the quality of your life and work.”

The millennial, who featured in the Forbes Brazil’s ‘30 under 30’ list for 2017, aims to help 1 million people with vision limitations before he hits 40. How’s that for a milestone goal?

Supporting future generations

When Claus Gollmann started in child psychiatry in the 1980s, there was little public awareness of domestic abuse and limited public funding for specialists. He realized that child victims needed therapy that eliminated stigma and allowed emotional healing.

Then, KiD was born. Here, therapists use novel methods to help traumatized children in cases where conventional therapy has failed. So far, KiD has enabled more than 600 children to overcome their negative experiences.

Claus himself had a rather eventful childhood. He was thrown out of schools for disobedience and had friends who came from broken families. Their troubled lives often turned them to drugs. The German was just 16 when he realized he had to get his life back on track. He studied social pedagogy, often working with difficult youngsters.

As he got older, Claus felt the need to create an environment that encourages children to open up and makes them feel safe. Given his childhood experiences, he could relate to a young troubled mind. “Being older has its advantages. With age comes wisdom and I can better understand what these children might be going through. There’s also the trust factor,” he says.

Claus enjoys exchanging ideas with people from different generations, something that makes him bond with kids easily.

Never too old, never too young – there are no age limits to helping those in need. 

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