Global Cardboard Challenge: Imagination Foundation

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Global Cardboard Challenge: Imagination Foundation: Launched from Caine's Arcade, Engaging 100,000 kids in creative play

Global - Activities in Over 50 Countries Los Angeles, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Inspired by "Caine's Arcade" - kids around the world build anything they can imagine with cardboard and recycled materials, and then communities come together for a day of play. Over 100,000 kids in 50 countries take part each year. It's simple, flexible, transformative, and super fun!

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if the creativity of every child was fostered, and every cardboard box became an opportunity to imagine, build, and play for millions of ch
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Kids do not get enough creative play. Schools are often not structured to foster creativity of children with hands on open ended play. And kids are often not excited or engaged in learning.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The Global Cardboard Challenge offers a flexible program for communities to engage kids in creative play, while introducing hands on project based learning to schools, communities, and parents. The Caine's Arcade short films (part 1 and 2) instantly inspire kids and communities to build and play. Participation can be as simple as a single day with cardboard, or longer and more structured events. Educators continue to create and share open-source curriculum, and have adopted the program into design thinking challenges, common core aligned curriculum, and STEM programs. The program is popular both in school and out of school, and has been adopted by educators and parents in over 50 countries in just 2 years.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In communities around the world, local organizers host Cardboard Challenge events that bring kids & communities together to celebrate creative play. Events happen in schools, community centers, parks, & living rooms, & range in scale from 6,000+ kids in South Africa building cardboard space themed inventions, to a mother & daughter building an underwater cardboard amusement park in their backyard: Stories of GCC impact: Creative play transforms neighborhood in East Baltimore: Play Reunites divided town in Bosnia:

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

100K+ kids in 50+ countries have taken part in Cardboard Challenge. Educators create open source curriculum, Common Core aligned, & more, which is shared with other educators. Early STEM Ed for 30,000 Pre-K kids w NHSA: Ohio University mentored 5th graders in 12-wk long Design Thinking STEM Cardboard Challenge: Kids use Challenge to raise $ for their school & charities; tens-of-thousands raised. More Stories of global impact in communities featured here: Led to Imagination Chapters pilot, launching this fall with Indiana University's Creativity Labs, which will measure program's mpact:

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Imagine a world where creativity and play are core social values. The Global Cardboard Challenge and day of play could continue to grow into an annual event that brings millions of kids together to play, helping kids build creative confidence, and celebrating the values of play that can strengthen communities. STEAM can be introduced to kids at a young age (we're working on a partnership to engage 30,000 kids in STEM/STEAM over the next 3 years). Long term, every cardboard box will an opportunity to create and play, helping to raise the next generation of creative problem solvers.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Currently funded through corporate & foundation support (i.e. Goldhirsh Foundation, Mattress Firm, Focus Features, California Community Fdn, etc). Individual giving is growing as impact & programs develop. We're launching 9 month study in partnership with Indiana University's Creativity Labs to measure impact of our Imagination Chapter pilot program, which will provide greater impact insight to qualify for broader support and traditional grants.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Programs like Destination Imagination and Odyssey of the Mind provide creativity challenges. Ours differs in that our structure is open, flexible, and free. Anyone can participate, and can customize the challenge to their interests. Our program is also free to take part in and uses free/recycled materials, removing barriers to entry, and allowing the program to scale. Our program also harnesses the power of a story, Caine's Arcade, to spark imaginations and share the impact of creative play for kids and communities.

Founding Story

I'm a filmmaker who needed a door handle for my car. I pulled into a used auto parts store in East LA, and met a 9 year old boy named Caine who had built an elaborate arcade using cardboard and imagination. Caine asked me to play, and I bought a $2 funpass. I later learned Caine had never had a customer before me, so I decided to make a short film about Caine's Arcade, and to surprise him with a flashmob of customers. Here is the film: Caine's Arcade went viral, raising over $239,000 for Caine to go to college, and inspired kids around the world to play with cardboard. There are kids like Caine everywhere who are often missed. We started the Imagination Foundation to help foster their creativity.


Mike McGalliard (ED, Full time; founded LA's Promise), Smeeta Singh, (Opperations, full-time), Alice Lin (Community Engagement, full time), Jenny Inglee (Storybook Project, part-time). Board: Sarah Adolphson (WME Fdn), Scott Curan (Clinton Fdn Counsel), Stephanie Gallo (E&J Gallo Winery), Ben Goldhirsh (Founder GOOD), Nirvan Mullick (Caine's Arcade + Founder Imagination Fdn), Tom Vander Ark (Gates Fdn):
About You
Imagination Foundation
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Imagination Foundation

How long has your organization been operating?

Please select

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Organization Country

, CA, Los Angeles

Country where this project is creating social impact

, Global - Activities in Over 50 Countries

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, Foundations, NGOs, Businesses.


Goldhirsh Foundation Grant, California Community Foundation Grant, Big Ideas Fest: Innovation in Action Award, Dan Eldon Award for Creative Activisim, Mattress Firm Sponsorship (2013/2014), Focus Features The BoxTrolls Partnership, CGI America STEM Partnership with National Head Start

Primary Target Age Group

3 - 5, 6 - 12, 13 - 17.

Your role in Education


Please specify which of the following best applies:

I am applying on behalf of a particular program or initiative.

The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with (if applicable)

Public (tuition-free), Private (tuition-based), Home-School, Other.

Intervention Focus

Curricular, Extracurricular, Community.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Equip Adults to Drive Change in Learning: Providing creative learning experiences for teachers, parents, working professions and others that empowers them to drive change in any part of the learning ecosystem.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Lack of structures to facilitate meaningful community ownership in learning process: It is challenging to ensure parents and the broader community are involved as full co-owners in the learning process.


Resources and Scaling Partners

What key learning outcomes does your work seek to improve?

Creative learning through play. Increasing creative confidence. Fostering creativity as a core social value in communities.

Secondary Form
PROGRAM DESIGN CLARITY: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Please succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

a. Organizing local events worldwide, connecting partners & resources (MakeDo, Little Bits, Mattress Firm), curating curriculum, developing communities, building platform
b. over 50 countries, majority in US.
c. year round, most events take place in September, and culminate in a Global day of play early October (anniversary of flashmob done for Caine in short film)
d. Wide range
e. Mostly volunteers, but also partners like Mattress Firm, The BoxTrolls, & NHSA Chapters
f. Our Cardboard Challenge Organizer Playbook illustrates our Creative Play model and can be downloaded here:

Info Sheet and FAQ:

INSPIRATION: What do you consider the most important trends or evidence that inspire you to believe the world is ready to Re-imagine Learning? Please elaborate.

As a filmmaker and story teller, I was inspired by the global response to Caine's Arcade, and by how quickly parents, educators, and kids extended the story to re-imagine learning. Caine's Arcade was an unintentional spark that found an audience of educators, parents, and kids ready to re-imagine learning. The Imagination Foundation was formed from the ground up as a grass roots response, and has developed in collaboration with this global audience. Mimi Ito from MacArthur Foundation called the response to Caine's Arcade "the first scalable model for project based learning."

LEARNING THROUGH PLAY: What does “learning through play” mean to you and why it is a must-have, instead of a nice to have?

Kids learn naturally through play and exploration. Kids like Caine learn through imaginative open ended play. In a traditional school environment, kids like Caine often struggle, are bored, and are considered slow. Their natural talents and curiosity are not fostered, and their potential is easily squandered. It is critical for us to raise a new generation of creative problem solvers who have the skills to not only build the worlds they can imagine, but can also imagine the world they can build.

SUSTAINABILITY: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating the percentage that comes from each source.

Grants: 25%
Sponsorship: 65%
Individual Giving: 10%

MODEL: How does your mission relate to your business model (i.e. Non-profit, for-profit or hybrid)?

We are a non-profit. Our mission is to scale creative play, as such, all "profits" are directed back into expanding programming. We intend to employ entrepreneurial models to generate revenue, while directing profits back toward programs and impact.

FUNDING PRIORITIES: If your organization were given $20K in unrestricted funding today, how would you use it? Why?

Web development for our platform. Our current site ( is very limited in terms of functionality. We can not support a mapping feature or dates, and would like to revamp the web platform to make it easier for participants to find local events to take part in.

PARTNERSHIPS: Tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Nat'l Head Start Association to engage 30,000 Pre-K kids in early STEM Ed, primarily in underserved communities:

Indiana University's Creativity Labs partnership for 9 month Imagination Chapter Pilot helps study impact:

Focus Features The Boxtrolls 2014 Cardboard Challenge partnership helps promote & scale:

reddit partnership helps scale:

COLLABORATIONS: Have you considered or initiated partnerships with any of the other Challenge Pacesetters? If so, please share.

We received a message/comment via the changemakers platform from the founder of Pop-Up Play offering to be a Philly Chapter leader for our Imagination Foundation and our Cardboard Challenge. We hope this partnership will help locals our community in PA learn about Pop-Up Play as well.

VISION: If you had unlimited funding, and you could fast forward 15 years to when your program has been able to achieve wild success - what will it have achieved?

In 15 yrs, every consumer box and product includes a "re-imagine" logo, and is connected to a platform where kids share the creations made from the product packaging. Creativity and play have become a core social value, celebrated by billions in an annual day of play, and throughout the year through Imagination Leagues creative challenges. Children have more access to creative play time, and are creative problem solvers. Cities are more playful.

IMPACT - KEY METRICS: Please list the key data points that you would cite as evidence that you are able to achieve lasting learning outcomes. Please also share one data point for which you most hope to see better results over time

Current impact limited to engagement & empirical evidence, i.e. parents/educators sharing stories of kid's increased creative confidence. Our program grew from 20k participants to 100k+ in 2 yrs. During Imagination Chapter Pilot in fall, we hope to see increase in creative proficiency & confidence of participants. Each Chapter will serve about 20 kids over 9 months, with impact measured:

IMPACT - REPORTING SAMPLE: Please attach any examples of your impact reporting. [optional]:
RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE: Please link or attach any research or evidence resource you are open to sharing more widely [optional]. Building research and evidence is a key aim of this initiative, and the resources you share may be chosen for listing in the Center for Education Innovations library:
SOURCE: If applicable - who created the research or evidence you are choosing to share? :
IMPACT - REACH: How many people did your project directly engage in programmatic activities in the last year?

100,001 to 500,000

STUDY: Has an external evaluation or study been conducted of your organization?

In progress

Other (please specify)
Number of Employees:

Fewer than 10

Number of Volunteers:

More than 1,000

APPROACHES: Given the complexity of play, it is not surprising that there have been numerous research attempts to categorize the different types and approaches! Please indicate which of the following your project focuses on.

Play with Objects, Creating a Supportive Socio-Emotional Environment, Educational Structuring (developing playful projects within educational contexts), Adults Participating (Ensuring adults are able to play alongside children), Challenging Play (play that disrupts - where rules are disregarded and levels of imagination are high).

Other (please specify)
AFFILIATION: Please specify if your organization has any existing affiliations with the LEGO Group.