The musician and tech entrepreneur Will.i.am has said more needs to be done to inspire children from underprivileged backgrounds to get into technology.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today, he said:

“We’re at a crossroads where this new technology is going to create jobs for folks who have left behind. If you encourage, inspire and support nine-year-olds to take an interest.

“Every single village, ghetto, slum. You have to protect them, that’s the purpose.”

The musician appeared on a panel discussing how startups can be the engine for inclusive growth. Will.i.am discussed his background, growing up in a poor neighbourhood in Los Angeles, and why he feels responsible to help the children that live there now.

“I realised in the ghetto, there’s basically a tsunami or an earthquake every day. Tsunami of no opportunity, earthquake of no funding, terror with just the conditions of living.

“And I wanted to change my neighbourhood, by not encouraging kids to be musicians because the industry is not health anymore. [But] encourage those kids to be computer scientists and engineers.”

Will.i.am: from musician to lifestyle tech entrepreneur

This is what led Will.i.am to set up the I.Am.Angel Foundation. The foundation says it aims to transform lives through education, inspiration and, opportunity.

Children who attended the foundation study robotics and computer science. It originally started with 60 children and has now grown to over 500.

In addition, he also built his own tech startup, named I.am+. The startup has built a voice assistant for customer service, used by companies such as Deutsche Telekom. The company has raised over $117m to date, from companies such as Salesforce.

This was all done to inspire the kids in the I.Am.Angel Foundation.

Will.i.am said:

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We get kids who are underperforming, in and out of juvenile [facilities], from failing GPAs to 3.5 and 4.0. 100 percent of our kids go to college, 80 percent for robotics and computer science and engineering. Because they say if Will can do it, and he’s from our neighbourhood, then we can do it too.

He says it’s important for kids from underprivileged backgrounds to have role models they can look up to, which is why he created I.am+.

He added:

So with my entrepreneurship and philanthropy, it’s about lead the way and not be afraid to fail.