Kelly Lovell is the founder and visionary behind BridgingTheGap Ventures, an organization that aims to bring together the world’s top decision-makers and industry leaders with young changemakers to usher in a new era for humanity that is more empowered, connected and collaborative than the status quo.
Kelly, a 19-time award winning entrepreneur, three-time TEDx speaker, a Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leader, recipient of the Queen’s Young Leader Award—a prestigious honour personally bestowed to her by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace—has also been featured in Forbes and a speaker at multiple high-level United Nations forums. Focused on bridging opportunity gaps for youth, her network now reaches over 15 million young changemakers across 243 nations and territories worldwide.
Based in Kitchener, Ontario, a small city near Toronto, Canada, Kelly says “the inspiration behind BridgingTheGap was really around creating an inclusive and participatory platform that gave youth access to decision-makers to co-create solutions.” Considered a changemaker herself and having attended many conferences, seminars and high-level events for youth she wanted to address problems she had experienced: creating pathways for new youth leaders—women, visible minorities and youth being left out of innovation—‚access to senior leaders and platforms of influence, and being seen as equals in the decision-making process. The significance of bridging these gaps over the year has heightened, Kelly remarks, “With young people being the most vulnerable to job loss, particularly during the pandemic, the inequalities and innovation barriers young people face are greater than ever before.”
Kelly Lovell meets Her Majesty the Queen, Buckingham Palace
In 2019, with the support of her BridgingTheGap team comprised of four women, Kelly decided to advance her mission by piloting an intergenerational, multi-stakeholder event to bring together youth with access barriers and senior decision-makers to co-create solutions to pressing community challenges. Her first official large-scale event, BridgingTheGap to Youth, held in Toronto in September 2019, was an ambitious youth forum that brought together over 30 community partners from government and business, and had more than 100 executives and young leaders attend. The goal of the forum was to help young attendees develop a positive community network to advance the issues they’re passionate about, equip them with tools to build their career and pursue innovation and co-create action plans for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (a blueprint for peace and prosperity).
Kelly says her first steps towards hosting the youth forum were around determining the viability of the idea, and “looking at the ecosystem to see who the individuals were that needed to participate.” She says, “I needed the industry involved. I needed policy makers and leadership participation to give youth access to decision-makers. And from the other side I needed to find non-profit partners who serve youth who would benefit from the experience.”
After identifying which executives and celebrity speakers she wanted to invite to participate in the event, she started reaching out. Kelly says, “You have to have audacity and believe in yourself.” She says always start with the circle you know, “First I looked at my immediate connections. Who do I know who might be even slightly associated?” Once her network was exhausted she reached out through LinkedIn and pursued leads for contact information via Google. “For example, for Arianna Grande’s brother [Frankie J. Grande] I Googled the agency, found the website and the contact I needed to reach out to, created my best email pitch, sent it, received a reply, and eventually hit my goal of securing a phone call,” she says. “Once I was on the call, I pitched my full vision. From there I was able to go back and forth to define the scope of engagement. And we finally came up with a win-win scenario.”
Kelly Lovell and Frankie J. Grande, BridgingTheGap Youth Forum
Kelly put together a stellar lineup that included Nelson Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela, UN decision-makers from the UN Office of Partnerships, ITU, UNESCO and UN Foundation, the author of Solve for Happy and former Chief Business Officer for Google[x] Mo Gawdat, co-executive director of Girl Up Anna Blue, Ontario Minister of Education Hon. Stephen Lecce, founder and CEO of Nutritional Brands Danna Pratte, director and national lead of sustainability and social impact at Deloitte Sarah Chapman, popular lifestyle YouTubers Adelaine Morin and Meg DeAngelis (a former Faze covergirl), and LGBTQ+ activist and reality TV personality Frankie J. Grande. Kelly says, “At the end of the day, I wanted to get decision makers who had the power to make change in the room with young people. I would say we successfully did that.”
In order to secure a venue, Kelly says she followed the same system she used for securing the lineup: she first tapped into her network and luckily was able to find someone who could make introductions. Finding the funding for the event was no exception. She says, “Again, I first looked at my network to see if I could get introductions and then started doing cold outreach over LinkedIn to organizations that would resonate with the content and messaging behind the event.” The event was funded by a mix of contributions from corporate sponsors, government support programs, some in-kind partnerships and some of her savings.
Although Kelly was excited about a live event and was confident of its impact on the attendees, she knew its reach would be limited so decided to live stream it and remove the geographic barrier. According to a post-event report provided by Kelly, the total network reach of their online content was 18 million followers and garnered over 2.3 million impressions on the event day.
BridgingTheGap Youth Forum Speakers. From (L): Meg DeAngelis, Corey Dixon, Kelly Lovell, Richard Walters
Successful by most standards, Kelly faced many challenges including travel logistics, getting WiFi in the venue, and even having her Audio Visual team cancel at the last minute. She says, “I’d never done a live event of this size before. It was a big learning curve for me. But I find when you have the right conviction for what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what goes wrong once you see the impact it’s having.”
Kelly says, “After the event I got feedback and heard so many beautiful stories. A non-profit connected with the Ontario Minister of Education and now has a connection for funding. A youth attendee connected with one of our influencer speakers and now they’re mentoring them. Someone else connected with a new partner for their event. And two of our influencer speakers connected and created a song together.” Kelly believes it’s these types of connections that can have the greatest impact.
Building on the success of the BridgingTheGap for Youth Forum, in early 2020 Kelly founded YOUNGA Forum to create a global platform to unite today and future leaders to co-create solutions for our future. Launched in the fall alongside the United Nations General Assembly and cumulative with a global broadcast release in December, 2020, the YOUNGA Forum made history as the first-of-its-kind global youth takeover of the United Nations. Using VR/XR, young people were connected virtually with decision-makers and industry leaders to discuss the theme, “The future youth want, the action we need,” which focused on five thematic tracks: Climate Action and Sustainable Living, Equality and Inclusion, The Future of Education and Work, Mental Health and Wellbeing, and Peace and Justice. Through a bespoke leadership and advocacy program YOUNGA trained over 1,800 Youth delegates in 114 countries focusing on underrepresented and marginalised groups. The inaugural YOUNGA Forum featured over 40 hours of live programming and engaged over 150 speakers with a collective reach of 200+ million followers.
As a legacy initiative for the UN Decade of Action from 2020- 2030, Kelly plans to continue creating opportunities through YOUNGA and BridgingTheGap Ventures that promote direct interaction between executives and youth—where high-level policy makers have meaningful conversations with youth, and youth are equal contributors. “It’s about who’s in the room, not how many, and it’s about quality over quantity,” she says. “Through BridgingTheGap’s programs and events, I know the connections young people make and experiences they gain will have ripple effects beyond what I can even fathom.”