Everyone has heard of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, but those are lofty accolades that seem attainable only to a few far along in their careers. What’s needed is more recognition of brilliant younger people, earlier in their journeys. That’s why Anita and I started the Westly Prize, to acknowledge and fund young social entrepreneurs between the ages of 16 and 28. We had over 75 applicants from around the state who have already created both companies and non-profits that are changing the world. On November 5th, we announced the six winners, each of whom received a check for $25,000. And we were proud to have the support this year of the Packard Foundation, who partnered with us in sending the message that you’re never too young to start changing the world.
You can read about all the winners here, but two of my favorites are Manny Escamilla, who grew up in a trailer in one of the toughest parts of Modesto and although he was raised by a single mom with substance abuse challenges, graduated from UC Berkeley and is now doing graduate work at Harvard. Manny started CodeX, is an academy to help kids in the Central Valley learn how to code. His goal is to provide these kids with the essential computer skills they will need to climb the social ladder out of poverty. We also awarded a grand prize to Anh-Thu Ho, a student at UC Berkeley from Vietnam who founded Ladon, a crowdsourcing platform for student translators to donate their services to help social workers to communicate in real time with people who speak little English.
My wife Anita was raised by a single mom who spoke primarily Chinese, so she saw firsthand how hard it is for non-English speaking parents to raise families in America. Most immigrants want to learn English, but it’s not always easy when you have a job and five kids like Anita’s mother. Hopefully organizations like Ladon can help the next generation of immigrants on the path to success in America.