Social Innovation4 min

How to give life to ideas – from a female innovator who does it every day

As students around the world prepare to collaborate and develop their ideas in Red Bull Basement 2020, a renowned change-maker, Manjula Lee, shares the keys to her entrepreneurial mindset.
By Trish MedalenPublished on
Manjula Lee is the CEO of World Wide Generation (WWG), which she founded with the goal of solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. Not afraid to dream big, Lee has led a collaboration of tech innovators at WWG to create a digital platform called G17Eco, which brings together government, business and civil society to help accelerate and scale the delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“I'm leading, I'm collaborating, I'm innovating all the time,” says Lee, an advocate of social entrepreneurship who has been recognised with numerous honours. “But the best part is we feel like we're doing something that's really going to impact the world. And there's no better, more rewarding thing than to get up every morning and know that what you're doing is making a difference.”
Here’s how she does it.

Define your purpose

In Lee’s own case, the goal is enabling a sustainable future for the next generation by 2030.
“That's my biggest piece of advice: define your purpose. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I here? What is the global purpose that I contribute to? What do I love?’ Lee says. “You don't need the qualifications that you think you need. It's about understanding your purpose, what you are passionate about, your strengths, how you want to impact the world.”

Write a business plan – for your life

Lee started her career in the business sector, and she sees the value of using a business plan to create social change as well.
“When you do business, once you've got your own vision and mission, the first thing you do is write a business plan,” she explains. “Having a reference point for your decision makes it easier.”

Find mentors

Lee is a big fan of mentorship, something that’s an integral part of the Red Bull Basement experience.
“Get mentors around you – people you admire, people who are in the field of work that you want to be in,” she advises. “I had a lot of mentors, and I still do.”
Manjula Lee founded World Wide Generation in 2016
Manjula Lee founded World Wide Generation in 2016

Focus on the solution, not the problem. And have fun!

According to Lee, a playful outlook can work to the benefit of a serious purpose.
“I try and bring a lot of humour into what we're doing,” she notes. “If you talk about the problem, it seems completely insurmountable, but if you talk about the solution, that gets people excited… I'm always trying to find fun ways of bringing play into the solution as well.”

Make technology work for you

While WWG’s innovative technology is so robust that the British government named the company as the Technology Partner for the UK’s Sustainable Development Capital Initiative, Lee emphasises that tech is only as good as the human innovation behind it.
“What we [humans] have that technology doesn't is creativity, innovation, empathy, emotion, ethics,” she states. “So we need to look inside ourselves, and be the innovation ourselves. We are the creators. We're really always about technologies that free us up to be creative, innovative, collaborative and solving problems. Technology can't do that by itself.”

Don’t wait to innovate

Lee started turning her talent toward societal change in her 30s and she wishes she’d started to drive positive change even sooner. So she encourages students to take part in Red Bull Basement.
“If you are at university, this is the perfect time to ask, ‘What do I want to give to the world?’” she declares. “I feel like a new generation [is] going to rise up now and go, ‘OK, we're going to change this. We're the last generation that can do it because of climate change, and we're the first generation that can do it because of technology. So it's such a transformational time. Red Bull Basement is a great opportunity for you to find your passion, find your purpose and do something that's going to seriously change society and the planet.”