India-headquartered International Changemaker Olympiad (ICO) provides a platform for school-going children to launch a social entrepreneurial initiative to solve social and environmental problems and build an empathetic mindset of helping others in the process.
The world is changing at a rapid rate and so are its problems. From political polarization to growing inequality to climate change, everything is on the rise. The demand for changemakers is huge and urgent. However, the supply is extremely limited. We find very few people who are empathetic enough to really care about the world's problems and even fewer who are working to create a better world.
Furthermore, the education system tends to focus on memorizing facts such as historical dates, scientific definitions, and mathematical formulas. There are rarely any opportunities for children in schools to get sensitized to real-world problems and get inspired to act. Consequently, young people leave schools with grades and certificates and get good jobs, but lack in becoming empathetic, conscious citizens with an action-oriented mindset. The vision of ICO is for every child being empowered with the skills and mindset to create positive change around him or her from a young age.
At the ICO, the various social initiatives are completely led and owned by the students, helping them get sensitized to the problems around them and develop a 'changemaker' mindset from a young age. ICO also adds the element of experiential learning to school education helping students gain skills such as empathy, leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving ability through solving real-world problems. Students participate in teams of 2 to 4 to identify a problem, develop a solution, implement it, and scale it over 4 to 5 months. We provide a trained mentor to each team that guides them remotely via audio/video calling or messaging over the entire period. The innovative ICO platform has been recognized internationally. ICO won the "Oscars" of Education at the Reimagine Education Conference in London in 2019, given to innovations in education that are effective, scalable, and effective.
Our primary impact is the skills and mindsets students develop by launching their initiatives. Through a detailed anonymous survey with 192 students in ICO, 91% of them, post-ICO, reported that they now feel empowered to help others, compared to only 36% who said this pre-ICO. 92% reported that the experience helped them develop empathy, 87% reported an increase in creative problem-solving, and 94% said they could work better in teams now.
We observed a long-term behavioural change in students who continued their journey of changemaking even after their learning journey with ICO. One of them is Adhya Kaddi, an 8th-grade student from National Academy for Learning, who launched an ICO initiative called 'Paper Plane' to stop paper wastage. Her team did a meticulous job of planning strategies and measuring their impact of recycling paper and remaking new books. Post ICO, she started her own organisation called 'Project TBD' to empower youth with skills such as digital literacy, accounting, business management and public speaking to support their employment during COVID-19. This shows the long-term mindset change in students after going through the 5-month long ICO experience.
Our secondary impact is the social causes that students tackle to bring about a positive change. For instance, 20+ teams who have worked/working on saving water have saved 500,000+ liters of water till now. 25+ teams till now have raised and donated ₹5,41,700 as donations to different NGOs. 32+ teams have till now reduced the usage of 245,000+ plastic items such as plastic straws, plastic carry-bags, garbage bags, etc.
This year we joined the Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) program organized by Singapore International Foundation (SIF). It is an ideal incubation program for young entrepreneurs to go through to launch or scale up their social enterprises. With ICO being just a 2-year-old organization, the YSE program provided the right platform for us to reflect upon our experiences, plan and visualise future goals, and to be part of the YSE support system.
We attended the virtual YSE Workshop from July to August. Over the past 2 months, we learned so much from the business professionals and social impact leaders in the program. All workshops were sequential and well-structured which helped us brainstorm about every aspect of our social enterprise. Starting with business needs assessment, theory of change, impact measurement, storytelling about SE, systems change were all insightful sessions. The trainers also provided us with tools that we can use for our business development process, even after the program. It was also interesting to see the different digital platforms used to ensure that we are engaged throughout the workshop.
We are very happy to be shortlisted for the next stage of the programme. Over the next six months, we will be assigned an experienced mentor to work with us in refining our business processes and presentation. In March next year, we will pitch for a chance to get funding of up to SGD 20,000. We are really looking forward to that – it would be a valuable experience.
We are also glad to be a part of a network of passionate social entrepreneurs within the YSE community. It was really inspiring to see the other young social entrepreneurs from 19 different nationalities participating this year. Despite the different social causes and focus areas, it is heartening to know that we are not alone and that there are others out there on a similar social entrepreneurial journey like ours.