ALTHOUGH he left Malaysia at the age of three for Australia, award-winning education technology entrepreneur Nathaniel Diong still considers himself more Malaysian than Australian.
At the age of 19, the Sitiawan-born trailblazer is now inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs and equipping them for the 21st century through education.
As chief executive officer of Australia-based Future Minds Network (FMN), Diong has delivered entrepreneurship programmes in 30 schools and universities worldwide, and also influenced more than 1.5 million youths through his work projects with the Australian Curriculum Authority and Assessment.
“We have equipped over 11,000 youth with essential skills to thrive in a changing job market, while helping them build their own businesses,” Nathaniel told theSun.
FMN programmes not only help young people develop skills for the future job market, but also build their confidence through learning from failure.
“The process of learning through experience builds their courage and shows them all skills can be learned,’’ Diong explained.
His organisation works with students aged 13 to 18.
“Students are more positive, resourceful and eager to learn, knowing they can develop talents through hard work,’’ he added.
“After our programmes, they have delivered TED talks, managed teams of 1,000 remote volunteers and have even been acquired by other companies.
“In short, we equip students with essential skills, entrepreneurial mindsets and open up a new career path.”
Systemic change is slow, especially in a complex field like education, Diong pointed out.
When he first started FMN, there were not many such programmes.
“Globally, the rate of structural unemployment is rapidly increasing, where there is a gigantic gap between current skills of the labour force and what employers are looking for.’’
“There was clearly a demand for new entrepreneurial skills but which were difficult to teach in the existing system”, Diong explained.
Millions of young people struggle to find gainful employment without the necessary foundation for the future.
“For me, it was a no-brainer that something had to change. And if I didn’t lead this change, then who would?’’
Today, there are more players entering the market because educationists recognise the need.
Diong regards the boom in entrepreneurship education as a move in the right direction.
Young people today are more creative than ever, he said, and his company is even planning to tap into the market with a magazine called Teenpreneur, highlighting the world’s top 50 teenage entrepreneurs.
“We’ve worked with 16 year olds solving some of the world’s toughest challenges, interviewing Elon Musk, and more. We’re blown away by these students daily.’’
The programme is currently deployed in the UK, US, Estonia, Finland and Australia. We plan to venture into Asian countries in future.
“But if you’re an interested school or university reading, we’d love to chat regardless, as there will be room for collaboration in the near future.”
Setting up something like FNM was never part of his life plan. Like most Malaysians, Diong typically dreamt of becoming a doctor, lawyer or an engineer.
“All I knew was I wanted to do something to help the world.’’
Entrepreneurship became his “canvas” to create the change he wanted.
“It’s been much the same for our students,” he said.
The serial entrepreneur has new goals, such as learning to surf, starting a venture capital firm, and networking with like-minded people such as Netflix’s co-founder to develop fresh ideas.
“I have many, many goals, but this year, my main focus is Future Minds Network.
“As a young person, there’s so much pressure to be “successful” by your 20s.
“In reality, success for everyone looks different and it doesn’t have a time limit. Rye bread takes two hours to bake. Wholegrain takes four. No one will ask you to bake wholegrain in two hours (unless you’re on Masterchef). If you do, the bread won’t have time to rest, and it won’t rise. The same goes for your journey. Take your time to make something that matters.’’