“To the students who are watching this interview at home, who aspire to build a business for themselves one day, what is your most crucial piece of advice?”

“I believe 16 is the new 18.”

Those were the words of Irune Mar Eguiluz, CEO of Kantunn Limited — a sourcing company that firmly stands amongst the most reputable in Hong Kong’s competitive market. Irune is an expert in the apparel and fashion industry; her expansive network, reaching from Mexico to Hong Kong, has allowed her to flourish under today’s capitalist economy.

Experiential Education Trumps Traditional Homework

To Irune, scholarly articles and math homework pale in comparison to the internship opportunities that she was exposed to at a young age. A staunch believer in experiential education, she cites her first interaction with apparel factories as the birthplace of her undying passion for sourcing.

Her message to OWN Future Fair’s ambitious students, that 16 is the new 18, is a testament to how today’s progressive society has molded the youth to succeed in their personal endeavors.

A Flaw in the Education System

In a world dominated by social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook — or networking apps that connect brilliant minds from all over the world — we are clearly equipped with the power to substantiate lasting change. Yet, today’s kids, drowning in SAT workbooks and college applications, are blinded from these shining opportunities that matter far more than a superficial degree.

Today’s education system is flawed; the imperative of being book-smart, particularly in Asian cultures, supersedes the pragmatic applications of what we learn at school. This narrative is unequivocally ironic when we have all the tools to succeed in the workplace, even at such a young age. OWN Academy hopes to change this narrative, to empower society’s young minds with the necessary soft skills and confidence to truly flourish in life.

A Beacon of Light

For me, OWN Academy represents a beacon of light — guiding me through the dark, uncharted territories of being a young adult. I remember approaching Natalie (the CEO of OWN Academy), two months ago, with no clear intention other than wanting work experience and to stray away from the comforts of history papers and debate tournaments.

As a 16 year old, I was forced to confront the reality of what it’s like to work in a business, of what it’s like to drive one’s passion and see it to fruition. OWN Academy taught me — a regular high school intern — to always believe in myself, to believe in my ability of influencing others and creating actionable change.

It always amazed me how Natalie, with her business hanging in the balance, trusted a 16-year-old to interview real professionals such as Irune, or to moderate Asia’s largest career exploration event — with thousands of fellow students in attendance.

What Does This Really Mean?

As I continued to work with my fellow teammates at OWN Academy, I realized that empowering students was the essence of the company itself — that I had met a group of people, out of genuine benevolence and willingness to help, who believed in me even more than I did in myself.

It was then, after last month’s OWN Future Fair and seeing hundreds of students show up to watch me speak, that I truly realized the meaning of “16 is the new 18.” I realized that the key to spreading your passion and generating positive change is simply to believe in yourself — that when you already have all the tools and skills at your disposal, you become your biggest obstacle.

Written by: Justin Wu, Student Ambassador and Intern at OWN Academy

Empowering youth to be change makers and problem solvers of the future by motivating them to find purpose through exposure and experiences.

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