Mark draws insight from his personal experiences and his powerful story of courage, determination, and entrepreneurial resilience Credit: EastMojo image

The NorthEast Young Heroes Awards premiered on Tuesday, December 22.

A total of 150+ nominations came for 10 different fields which include healthcare, administration, tourism, etc. The jury shortlisted 50 of them and the voting lines were open from December 10 to December 18.

In the category of education, the top spot was clinched by Mark Laitflang Stone from Meghalaya. Other nominations in the same category included Shyamanga Protim Kashyap, MD – Trig Technology Solutions, Kvulo Lorin, director, Tetso College, Diwakar Baset, founder – Invacations and Dinesh Lahoti, co-founder – EduGenie.

“Education isn’t what it used to be.” From dropping out of high school to becoming an entrepreneur at the age of 17 and onwards to 17 solid years of life coaching, Mark’s own words give new meaning to irony as he wins the first-ever NorthEast Young Heroes Awards 2020 in Education.

A pioneering Edupreneur from Shillong with a heart that beats for the wellbeing of tribal youth, Stone has made it his life’s mission to help young tribal boys and girls of Northeast India unlock their true potential. Inspired by his own journey, his unique philosophy of the kind of holistic education that young people need to succeed in a world of uncertainties is at the heart of his endeavors. His commitment to imparting unconventional education is evident from the spring in his step and the light in his eyes every single time he engages with young people to build resilience, wellbeing, and aspiration. His coaching experiences help unlock confidence, clarity, and purpose, leaving a significant dent in the youth development agenda of India’s northeast region.

Mark draws insight from his personal experiences and his powerful story of courage, determination, and entrepreneurial resilience. Over almost two decades of crafting successful ventures in the services sector – human resources, events and hospitality, skills development, telecom distribution, and consulting, what is closest to Mark’s heart is the organisation he founded at 20 – Avenues. Today, his keynote addresses and coaching workshops hold captive audiences in India, Europe, and Southeast Asia and his personal impact are well over 25,000 individuals. His vision to strengthen educational frameworks through meaningful interventions that empower youth with critical skills, attitudes and values needed to thrive in life led him to build Northeast India’s first-ever life coaching social enterprise which he founded in 2003. As an institution builder, Mark leads a competent, caring team of young life-coaches who are committed to creating impactful interventions for young people to help them seek more in their lives. To combat the gaps in formal education which strictly revolves around a particular syllabus and its completion, the Avenues curriculum is designed to encourage growth mindsets and aspiration. A key objective of the curriculum is to empower youth with the confidence, clarity of thought, and communication skills needed to build meaningful lives driven by values, self-belief, passion, and a collective sense of purpose.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore critical issues that have long since hindered youth development in the country, particularly in northeast India. A distinct lack of clarity of thought, poor communication skills, and coping strategies, low levels of aspiration and wellbeing are gnawing pains that have hurt the realisation of the true potential of northeastern youth. Missionary schools are recognised for their significant role and contribution to imparting language and formal education to the youth of the region and they remain, to this day, the institutions of choice among students and parents alike. However, young adults passing out from rural and suburban schools and colleges still lack clarity and self-belief to build meaningful lives driven by purpose, passion, and resilience. While the whole nation is striving to bounce back from its pandemic-hit situation and accept the new normal, here in the foothills of the Himalayas is a young group of spirited individuals who, for almost two decades, have been rolling out powerful interventions to equip the tribal youth of the region with critical skills and strategies needed, not to just survive but thrive in a world of uncertainties. Mark and his team of young coaches move across the northeast to transform parched classrooms into oases of life skills and hotbeds of untapped potential. They give new meaning to teaching as they enter each classroom to turn on the light in each child’s eyes – the light of hope, confidence, resilience, and aspiration for a brilliant future and instill in them precious values that will help them become responsible and productive citizens of the nation and the world.

Avenues’ flagship programmes are working towards augmenting formal education structures with life coaching efforts, significantly improving the quality of life and careers for tribal youth. Under his exemplary leadership, Avenues has impacted over 100,000 lives in the northeast, building meaningful partnerships with state governments and departments in the field of life coaching and soft skills development for youth.

Recently, programmes led by Avenues such as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs sponsored the “Aspire Meghalaya” programme provides the tribal youth of Meghalaya with much-needed breakthroughs and equip them with universal soft skills that are the foundation for successful careers. The project is now in its second year of implementation after its massive success in 2019 having impacted 5,229 youth across 21 campuses in eight districts. This speaks volumes of the resilience of the Avenues team itself and is a clear testament of Mark’s dynamic leadership, who is spearheading his team in curating a unique curriculum for soft skills and leadership development. Owing to the pandemic, Avenues’ training and coaching sessions have now moved on to a blended approach of virtual and onsite programmes with strict hygiene and social distancing protocols put in place. Their modules cover themes like curiosity, confidence, wellbeing, communication, and human values, and are designed keeping in mind the youth aspirations of the region. A significant part of Avenues’ initiatives is to also provide a platform for youth to showcase their talents across music, singing, performance arts, literary arts, cultural and indigenous practices along with unique opportunities to help propel their aspirations and open up alternative careers. Their modules also aim to build cultural awareness and awaken strong emotions of respect and pride so that they may not hide behind their roots but rather use them as a catalyst for their growth and development in all spheres of life – at home, within their communities, and beyond.

A popular figure in the college campus-speaking circuit across the northeast, Mark actively connects with audiences across the country and the world through his social media profiles to engage with young people through empowering discussions and messages that instill confidence, values, and resolve to turn odds into favors. A firm believer of ‘Starting Strong, Finishing Stronger’, he is unyielding in his commitment to consistently champion the aspirations of young people. Mark Laitflang Stone doesn’t believe in labels but to the young hearts he touches, he is an unconventional educator and mentor who turned the dreams of a Shillong-boy into a beacon of light for his community.

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