Inspiring Young People to Apply Design Thinking to Social Issues

by | Mar 4, 2022 | Changemaker Of The Week

As a young girl, AnnaLise Hoopes felt overwhelmed by all the problems in the world and continually asked herself, “What can I do with my one life to make the most impact?” The answer would arrive in college, when she learned of humane education—using education as a tool for social change by empowering youth to tackle the problems of our time. At that moment, she knew that this would be her life’s work and began to dream about creating her own nonprofit.

Over the course of her career, AnnaLise traveled many paths from receiving her Masters in Education from Harvard, teaching and working in the nonprofit sector, and launching her own vegan sustainable food startup. Each pursuit allowed her to amass a valuable skill set that helped to make her vision become a reality in 2018 when the The Changemaker Project was born.

The Changemaker Project is a social entrepreneurship nonprofit that equips young people with the tools, mentorship, and funding they need to create a better world. To date, they’ve empowered nearly 2000 youth in over 30 countries to learn about social and climate justice issues and design innovative solutions. A cornerstone of the program is Stanford’s empathy-based Design Thinking process. Students go out into their communities and conduct empathy interviews in order to understand the issues and pain points of the people they are trying to help—rather than coming in with their own ideas and designing a solution that may not actually meet needs.

Though some suggested initially launching a more local pilot program, AnnaLise wanted to build a global community of changemakers from the very beginning. She believed that inviting students from around the world to connect with one another as they tackled injustices in their communities would allow them to broaden their perspectives and understand global issues on a deeper level through cross-cultural friendships. As AnnaLise began to build, she reached out to The Pollination Project.

“When we received the Pollination Project grant, I was thrilled. I was so grateful to find an organization that believed in our mission. It gave us the seed funding to get this off the ground. We needed a website, flyers and help with events in order to build partnerships and launch our  first cohort. The TPP grant helped with all of that,” said AnnaLise.

As a lifelong artist who does everything from printmaking and painting to photography and dressmaking, AnnaLise has a strong visual mind – it’s one of her Superpowers – so it’s no surprise that The Changemaker Project program begins with a lesson on Vision.

“Vision is so important, because when you can envision something, it gives you confidence that you can make it happen. We do a guided visualization exercise and invite students to imagine the world they want to see in the year 2050 and the role they’ve played in creating it. Some of them are resistant at first. They say, ‘I just see a world destroyed by climate change.’ We try to encourage them to understand that you have to use imagination. If you can’t imagine a better world, you’re not going to be able to create it. We ask our students to think about what the world would look like if you could see and solve these problems—if you could truly create meaningful change. We try to expand their perspective of what is possible,” AnnaLise shared.

The program partners with schools and youth organizations who implement the curriculum either as part of a project-based learning course or as an extracurricular activity. TCP also hosts a live call every week where students around the world are invited to come together and learn, receive mentorship on their projects, and help to cultivate an international community of changemakers. When a student decides on a project, they have an opportunity to pitch their idea to win seed funding at the annual Changemaker Global Pitch event. Students can participate through the program at their school or independently, and it’s open to any student between the ages of 13-18 (though they are launching an adult course soon!) The Changemaker Project culminates with a Changemaker Showcase in June, to honor and celebrate the impact students have made with their projects.

“I always say that it takes a lot of foolish optimism to be an entrepreneur. Of course, things will go wrong and you have to readjust. But I try to let my vision carry me forward to imagine what is possible, and I encourage our students to do the same. You’re going to encounter obstacles in any new venture, so you need to have a lot of optimism and belief in your vision to see it through,” said AnnaLise. 

AnnaLise shared that her students give her hope during these dark times we’re in. “I can’t solve all the injustice and suffering of the world on my own. But if I can empower young people to tackle problems in their communities—and actually give them the tools they need to be successful—that feels like the best thing I could do with my life. I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than that.

To learn more about this incredible organization, please visit https://www.thechangemakerproject.org/