The Knowledge Society: Empowering Canada’s Youth to be ‘Unicorns’

By: Yasmin Ranade

May 25, 2022

Nadeem Nathoo

The Knowledge Society (TKS) is an innovative international education program that empowers the world’s most promising teens to make real-world change. The co-founders of TKS are two brothers – Nadeem and Navid Nathoo.  Born in Canada, its unique 10-month innovation program for students aged 13-17 is aimed at helping solve some of the biggest current and future problems.  TKS is headquarted in Toronto.

WhatsYourTech.ca recently featured the endeavours of two Ottawa teens and how their involvement with The Knowledge Society has helped springboard their love of science, tech, and entrepreneurism into action.

Intrigued by its mission, the program, and the myriad of inventive projects that TKS students and alum are leading, I asked co-founder, Navid Nathoo, about his mentors and if TKS is helping to fill an educational gap for teen tech heads, scientists and changemakers – aka ‘unicorns’ – in Canada.

Filling an Educational Gap

Navid Nathoo

Navid agreed that The Knowledge Society brings entrepreneurial and scientific “exposure and mindset” to Canadian youth in a much needed and novel way.

Navid stated, “For teens to create a path in tech, they should first understand the possibilities. Teens have a stronger exposure to traditional career paths – lawyer, doctor, engineer, teacher, accountant… – however, there are so many new careers that have emerged in the digital world.”

Navid stressed, “In today’s world, if a teenager identifies an interest in a tech career, to be successful in tech at a global level requires an entrepreneurial mindset.”

“Ironically, this can be contradictory to what’s fostered in our traditional schools,” explained Navid. “To be an entrepreneur, you need mindsets around risk taking, embracing failure, thinking exponentially, and being unconventional. Oftentimes what’s rewarded in the tech world is unfortunately punished in school.”

Navid provided these a couple of examples where risk-taking can be met with discouragement, academically or socially. “Trying a new writing style in an essay might give you a lower mark, with little feedback and no opportunity to iterate or resubmit. Being unconventional can socially distance you from others and subconsciously disincentivize being different.”

“Schools have a unique opportunity to adapt to the 21st century and expose teens to new career possibilities in tech, while developing the mindsets to be successful in this new industry,” reflected Navid.

Mentorship is Key

“I have many mentors that I look up to,” began Navid. “Vinod Khosla, in particular, has shifted my mindset over the last decade. Vinod was the founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems, which was acquired by Oracle in 2010 for $7.4B. He then went on to start Khosla Ventures, a venture capital firm which invests in world-changing companies.”

Added Navid, “One of my favourite quotes is, “the consequence of mitigating risk makes the prospect of success inconsequential”. Vinod is a strong advocate for thinking big, taking risks, and leveraging emerging technology to solve the world’s biggest problems – and that’s a mindset and passion which I also share.”

Cultivating Leadership through Happy Teams and Ingenuity

I asked Navid about the importance of also cultivating leadership in youth as an important pillar for success as young scientists and technologists.

“I’m still learning [about leadership] myself,” remarked Navid.

Navid explained, “After building my last company in Silicon Valley, working directly with the CEO of a billion-dollar company, watching my friends build successful companies, and growing The Knowledge Society, there are 2 patterns I’ve noticed:

  • The first is Build Happy Teams: leaders are only as strong as their teams. Great leaders assemble great people and build incredible teams. The best teams I’ve seen are happy and enjoy their jobs. Great leaders create an inclusive, enjoyable, and motivating work environment for their teams.
  • The second is Figure It Out: a great leader embraces uncertainty and ambiguity. They understand that they are ultimately responsible for the outcome of their people and organization and relentlessly solve problems that impact their teams.”

Added Navid, “Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught either of these areas growing up. I’ve had to learn by doing, failing, and trying new things. Fortunately, these are both areas we emphasize in The Knowledge Society so students can develop these abilities from a young age.”

Advice for Canadian Youth: Action Your Plan

“We started The Knowledge Society because we wish we had a program like this to help us maximize our impact in the world,” shared Navid. “So, of course, my advice would be to apply to The Knowledge Society.”

I’d also say that it’s really important to understand the value of compound growth. It takes time to develop valuable skills, mindset, networks, and knowledge,” said Navid “We live in a world filled with short-term goals and instant gratification. So, if you want to build an impactful company, it’s important to invest in your future self.”

“You likely won’t build a billion-dollar company tomorrow, but you can give your future-self the abilities by investing in yourself today,” remarked Navid.

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