A climate activist from Limerick is among the first-ever recipients of a global talent programme launched by Google billionaires to promote brilliant young minds worldwide.
Saoirse Exton, 16, a fifth-year student from Limerick City, is the only Irish recipient among 100 young people selected from tens of thousands of entries worldwide for the inaugural Rise Programme, the anchor programme of a $1bn (€860m) pledge by Eric and Wendy Schmidt to support talented young people.
Ms Exton is a founder of Fridays For Future Limerick, leading regular school strikes for climate action since 2018. She is currently the equality officer with the Irish Second-Level Students' Union (ISSU).
Ms Exton told theshe was still in shock that she had been selected for the programme, which gives its recipients lifetime benefits, including university scholarships, mentorship, career development and funding for future ventures.
"There's a lot of funding available through the programme for different social projects, so I can put it towards serious campaigns that I'd be interested in doing throughout my life."
The Rise Programme sets out to back young people between the ages of 15 and 17 with the "potential to use their talent to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges".
It is a partnership between the Rhodes Trust, which provides the prestigious international scholarship programme at Oxford University, and Schmidt Futures, founded by Mr Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google, and Ms Schmidt, a philanthropist and investor.
The first stage of the entry process involved young people recording a video of themselves, answering questions about times when they solved an issue, or how they work with others.
The next round involved answering more questions and submitting a personal project.
“It could be anything you wanted," Ms Exton said. "Mine was about rewriting Irish myths from different perspectives. I rewrote them, originally from a feminist perspective but as I wrote on, it morphed into its own thing. I wrote short stories based on these myths, some of them were more comical, some of them were more cynical.”
After entries were whittled down to 500 young people, a ‘finalists day’ was held.
“We were asked to try more problem-solving, we answered more questions, things like that. I think they were trying to find out if the finalists were leaders, or critical thinkers, or problem-solvers."
Ms Exton said she was looking forward to seeing how being involved in the programme evolves for her. “I think there will be a lot of training, and mentorship. There is the [university] scholarship aspect as well, which is four years, no matter where you go, but it is means based. I’m looking forward to finding out more, and there is a residential summit in July, which I am also really looking forward to.”
Applications for Rise 2022 are now open, see www.risefortheworld.org