One of the most rewarding educator experiences is witnessing students become agents of change and positively impacting their communities with their own creativity, grit and innovation. The Changemaker Challenge, a nationwide contest made possible by T-Mobile, the T-Mobile Foundation and Ashoka, does just that by empowering students to put their visions into action as they work toward an inclusive, equitable and sustainable solution to a societal challenge. The contest is open to students ages 13 to 18 in the United States and Puerto Rico. Recently, EdSurge sat down with Brigitta Witt, vice president of social impact and sustainability at T-Mobile, to discuss how teachers can support students’ bold ideas beyond the classroom.
EdSurge: How did T-Mobile’s Changemaker Challenge get started?
Witt: Our mission at T-Mobile is to be the best in the world at connecting customers to their world by using our network, scale and resources for good. The Changemaker Challenge started because we were inspired by the determination of young people who were taking initiative to solve challenges in their communities through grassroots ideas, and we wanted to support their endeavors. We partnered with Ashoka, an organization with the largest global network of leading social entrepreneurs and changemakers that champions new ideas to address the world’s biggest challenges. Together, we created the Changemaker Challenge.
How developed does a student’s idea need to be to apply, and how can teachers provide support?
We encourage youth to submit ideas focused on one of the following three categories: Digital Empowerment, Equity In Action and Thriving Planet. Digital Empowerment ideas can be solutions that help bridge the digital divide. Equity In Action projects can be focused around removing barriers and creating opportunities for everyone to thrive in an inclusive society. Thriving Planet ideas are focused on helping improve the health of our planet.
The ideas that ladder up to these topics should be fairly well thought out, with some progress to show how students are solving challenges in their communities, but they don’t necessarily need to have a clear or exact solution. Teachers can help by encouraging students to leverage their critical thinking and creativity to think outside of the box. Participants should focus on mapping out a project idea and testing it to show some positive impact. Teachers can help students with their applications by providing feedback and referring to the detailed guidance and examples available on the application page.
We can’t wait to see what new trails these young innovators will blaze in the years to come! Apply here by May 18 for the 2023 T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge. Finalists will be announced in July.
How has the Changemaker Challenge helped previous student participants elevate their ideas?
Students who apply have the chance to receive up to $15,000 in grant money to take their ideas to the next level. Beyond the seed funding to kick start their ideas into action, a really important piece of this is mentorship. We give students opportunities to talk to leaders at T-Mobile and people in the trenches doing day-to-day jobs such as marketing, finance or communications. Finalists also receive an all-expenses paid trip to T-Mobile’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, for the Changemaker Challenge Lab.
These students have great ideas with solid foundations, but that next level often requires a lot of mentoring and feedback from people who are experts in their fields. This unique experience provides hands-on skill-building opportunities, such as public speaking, business-case workshops and storytelling workshops.
What is the Changemaker Challenge Lab?
The Changemaker Challenge Lab is an immersive experience hosted at T-Mobile’s Bellevue headquarters that offers the Changemakers a chance to build skills and a community network to help them turn their innovative ideas into reality. The lab enables the students to gain mentors and receive feedback on their projects. Students will even have the unique experience of pitching their ideas to leaders at T-Mobile during the Changemaker Challenge Lab. This is an event you really can’t put a monetary value on; students will carry the experience into their college and career pathways.
What are some highlights from past Changemaker Challenge teams?
We have so many great ideas each year. Ian McKenna, who was recognized as a finalist for TIME Kid of the Year, presented a project that helps reduce hunger through edible gardening. His project has made an incredible impact on families in need. Khloe Thompson co-created Khloe Kares, a program that helps young people connect with supportive mentors. Khloe looks back at her experience with Changemaker Challenge and credits T-Mobile and Ashoka, the organization we partner with, for helping her with resources, ideas and connections to make her program more successful.
The Changemaker Challenge is a great opportunity for your company to be a positive force. What other programs is T-Mobile involved in that you would like to share with teachers?
Project 10Million is one of our education initiatives aimed at closing the digital divide. Project 10Million provides at-risk families with a free mobile hotspot, free or highly subsidized data plans and access to at-cost laptops and tablets. Through this program and our other education initiatives, we have connected more than 5.3 million students across the U.S.—and that number continues to grow as we work to close the digital divide. You don’t have to be part of a school that is in the program; families who qualify can also sign up directly for Project 10Million.
We encourage teachers to help spread the word about Project 10Million and the Changemaker Challenge so students get the opportunity to receive the resources they need and drive positive change for their communities.