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 Yunus Yasin | Association of Science Technology and Innovation

Giving Malaysian school children an appetite for science and innovation

Participants of the YES competition often go on to seek alternative career paths once their eyes have been opened to possibilities not previously considered. The story of Yunus Yasin begins as a similar tale as many others. Initially presuming he would either become an academic or apply for graduate jobs upon attaining a PhD, Yunus was to follow his heart somewhere entirely different.

Yunus Yasin - giving Malaysian school children appetite for science and innovation
"My most important takeaway from YES was confidence. I believe this is something that people need to develop more than anything else. Other things you can learn but confidence needs to be built."

What sets Yunus’s venture into entrepreneurship apart from many, is that the non-profit work he has undertaken has inspired and improved the prospects of tens of thousands of children within the field of science, technology and engineering.

Biotechnology YES changes perception and inspires

Yunus took part in Biotechnology YES in 2000 while halfway through completing his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Yunus participated in YES with members of Professor Chris Lowe’s lab – a leading scientist in biotechnology who has won many awards and spun out a number of companies from the university. Professor Lowe encouraged Yunus and his fellow students to take part in YES.

Yunus describes the residential workshop as eye opening: “I found the intensive training very inspiring. We were talking to investors and patent attorneys who gave advice from the real world. After the training we were given an office and asked to put together our pitch. It was a totally new experience for us.”

In 2000, gluten allergies and coeliac disease had received a lot of press and a paper was published by scientists who had identified the mechanism where gluten allergy symptoms appear. The team’s hypothetical idea was a drug to help people with coeliac disease. The pill would allow sufferers to intake gluten as the drug worked to block the allergy’s symptoms.

The team progressed to the Final in London walking away with the “Best consideration of IP strategy” sponsored by Potter Clarkson. For Yunus, he says: “YES completely changed how I looked at things.”

Key facts

The Science Fair for Young Children (SFYC) is ASTI’s biggest project with 300-350 schools and
40,000-50,000 students taking part annually.

Approximately 200,000 participants have taken part in SFYC since 2006, at school, regional and national levels.

SFYC has been growing by 100% year on year.

In 2018, 600 teams from 6 countries took part in ASTI initiatives. In 2019, this grew to 10 countries.

The aim is to span 15 countries in 2020 and grow the competition into a truly international affair. 


The entrepreneurial bug has bitten

On the back of their victory, the team were successful at the inaugural 1K competition organised by the University of Cambridge’s newly formed Entrepreneurship Society and were also shortlisted at the British Bioscience Entrepreneurship Competition. At this point, Yunus’s team members decided to pursue job offers and follow the more traditional post-PhD career path, bringing an end to the team’s journey together.

For a time, Yunus decided to enter the world of employment himself but after YES, always had the entrepreneurial bug, setting up a total of four companies whilst working for other people. He also set up two companies on his own in the areas of Green Technology Consulting and Agriculture.

Getting young children interested in science

Fast forward to the present day and Yunus is now well known in Malaysia for his work inspiring the next generation to become inventors. It all started when Yunus set up a Science Club for children in low income primary schools in Malaysia. The Young Scientific Explorer used simple experiments to get children interested in science. The programme was so successful that the Malaysian Community Education Foundation became involved and Yunus then helped launched a larger, improved national programme: The Science Fair for Young Children (SFYC).

The number of children taking part in SFYC grew rapidly year on year and led Yunus to set up The Association of Science Technology and Innovation (ASTI), a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization with the objectives of empowering young children through various science-based and skills-development projects. Talking about awakening the spirit of invention, Yunus says: “When it comes to innovation, students consider how to use their out-of-the-box thinking to benefit others.”

SFYC was positioned under ASTI and Yunus now wanted to create something for secondary school children, preparing them to take part in national and international competitions. The ASTI Leap Challenge was born. Adding to this, the Young Inventors Challenge was also created for children to participate in once they had graduated from the SFYC.

Supporting teachers

Yunus is passionate about supporting teachers in their role and in 2016 added a teacher training programme, On the Wings of Fire, to ASTI’s offering. The aim is to build the Malaysian teaching community’s confidence which Yunus feels is much-needed in today’s fast-changing world.

Continuing to support teachers, Yunus became Advisor on STEM to the Minister of Education, Malaysia at the end of 2019. It’s a 2-year pro-bono role where Yunus is looking to improve education in Malaysia. Yunus says: “Teachers are very much in the box and the system doesn’t allow them to think outside of it. We are going to help them to build confidence in delivering their lessons and take some risks to benefit their students.”

Coming full circle: The pedagogy of techno-entrepreneurship

Yunus feels that to be a true techno-entrepreneur, one has to be confident to do things on their own. He says: “To do things on their own, one has to be an innovator. To be an innovator, one has to understand the fundamentals of science and their overriding principles. SFYC is about understanding fundamentals, the Young Inventors Challenge is about being an innovator, and ASTI is now embarking on a pilot entrepreneurial project similar to YES for schools. Thus, the circle is complete.”


More information

Visit The Association of Science Technology and Innovation (ASTI)


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