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These changemakers found inspiration with the MYP

MYP Student Innovators

By Sky Brandt 

In late July, the IB announced the finalists for the MYP Innovators grant. This offers Middle Years Programme (MYP) students the tools, skills and resources they need to actualize social change. To make this opportunity for students a reality, more than 50 volunteers, Heads of School and experts in social entrepreneurship from the organization Ashoka, came together to design the grant and review student projects. Throughout the project discussions, our collaborators thought critically about how to support talented MYP students—changemakers ready to have an impact on their community—as they seek to enhance the leadership skills they began to foster during their IB education.

I have been supporting this project through my role at the IB, and I am excited to see how these young changemaker’s ideas and experiences may shape the world ahead. We will likely have a lot to learn from them. These are some of the things to look out for as these first 32 student-finalists embark on their journey to change the world in big and small ways.

These innovators will define their own success

The grant itself was designed to support both established projects and new emerging ideas. These students are starting their projects at different stages and success may look very different for each. Eighteen of the finalists’ projects are early start-ups, and these students will be moving from the drawing board toward their first few high-impact activities. Fourteen other projects are well-established and will seek to continue or expand their impact into new areas. At the end of the grant period, the IB will ask students to reflect on what they have achieved and where they saw the most success, and we hope that their efforts will lead to long-lasting and sustained change both now and into the future.

Adapting to a changed world with COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

These student-changemakers will face new and unexpected challenges while implementing their projects. As student applicants were putting the final touches on their project proposals in February of 2020, the world was just beginning to see the emerging COVID-19 health crisis. The finalists will now have to adapt their plans to fit a world of social distancing, remote learning and restricted travel, in exactly the same way that organizations and business have adapted.  All of these students will have to become knowledgeable on the health concerns in their local communities. They must consider their own safety, as well as the safety of their families and school communities. But more importantly, they will have to learn unique leadership skills to adapt their goals to the challenges of COVID-19. They will carry these skills with them as they move to the next chapter of their lives and influence how the world will solve similar challenges in the future.

Choosing a focus: The sustainable development goals

Students finalists were asked to identify one of 17 areas of impact linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals that best matched their project’s intended contribution towards making a better and more sustainable world. The finalists’ projects zeroed in on nine of these goals, with more than half of the projects focused on three specific areas: Reduced inequality, quality education and sustainable cities and communities. Eleven other projects focused on either good Health and well-being, zero hunger and sustainable consumption and production.

The projects range in scope and complexity. Some look to create new technologies while others seek to make their environment safer and cleaner. Many will work with people to understand and address inequalities. While we can’t predict what students may have chosen in today’s world, these areas of focus should offer some insights into how students see the world and where they will choose to put their efforts.

Who are the MYP innovators?

I’d like to introduce a few of these student-changemakers below. I’m excited to learn more about all of the finalists and what inspires them in the months ahead.

To make his community more sustainable, Can Yavuz from the American School of Warsaw, is looking to grow his team-based project, Precious Plastic, and will expand a small-scale local recycling solution within his school. He told us, “It turned out that we weren’t reusing and recycling enough plastic. We needed to change that. I’m thrilled to work with a team of smart, hard-working and talented students to come up with a solution for my community in Warsaw”.

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Navya Agarwal, from Indus International School, Bangalore, will continue her art-based social impact work with Project Limitless. She began her efforts in 2018 with the goal of creating collective murals that break down social barriers and empower marginalized communities. “I’d always been told that art is powerful and that it has the capacity to change the world”, Navya told the IB, “but to me, the stacks of paintings lining my bedroom wall were not impacting the world, they were only impacting me.”

In the United states, Jonathan Brown at the Connecticut IB Academy, will be looking to find ways to not only bring healthy foods to those who don’t have access to them but also show his community how to grow them. “Rather than using community gardens to serve those who can afford to pay membership”, he says, “I hope to inspire my community and peers to see the value of producing communal goods that do good”.

Carolyn Lee, at Atlanta International School, noticed how many Epinephrine Auto Injectors, known by the brand name EpiPen, go to waste as they expire for individuals with severe allergies. “I even had found some EpiPens that dated back to 2008”, she explained. “My project, Lifetime Epi, hopes to address the challenge of single use EpiPens contributing tons of plastic waste per year. In addition, this product also aims to address the ethical problem of the affordability of the EpiPen”.

These are just four examples from this year’s cohort of incredible student-innovators. All of the 2020 finalists and their projects are listed here.

Sky Brandt is the alumni relations manager at the International Baccalaureate. He leads a team that contributes to building a stronger IB community among students and alumni.