Ayiti: The Cost of Life" - an online game developed with youth that addresses community health issues in rural Haiti

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Ayiti: The Cost of Life" - an online game developed with youth that addresses community health issues in rural Haiti

United States
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

An engaging youth-created online game that educates people about the complex social forces that affect community health in the developing world.

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Focus of activity

Policy/institutional change

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Plot your innovation within the mosaic of solutions
Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Insufficient Evidence that Games Improve Health

Which of the principles is the primary focus of your work?

Community Health

If you believe some other barrier or principle should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic:

This field has not been completed

What is your signature innovation in one sentence?

An engaging youth-created online game that educates people about the complex social forces that affect community health in the developing world.

Describe your innovation. What makes your idea unique and different than others doing work in the field?

Ayiti incorporates Global Kids’ (GK) pedagogical approach in both its development and in the design of the game. First, the game was developed in GK’s after-school program, Playing 4 Keeps (P4K), which involves 20 diverse New York City public high school students in workshops on global issues while developing the digital media skills needed to create online games.

Ayiti was developed in the 2005-2006 program and distributed last year with curriculum materials. It is a professional quality casual game that uses the location of Haiti to educate players about the obstacles to education faced by children in developing countries. In the game, each player assumes the role of family members living in rural Haiti. Over the course of the game, the player must choose among and balance various goals, such as achieving education, making money, staying healthy, and maintaining happiness, while making decisions that contribute to or detract from achieving his or her chosen goals.

What barriers exist that are creating the problem your innovation is hoping to address/change?

Our program and game address the fact that many youth are uninformed about the complex community health problems faced by vulnerable populations around the world. Regrettably, public schools have generally failed to educate youth about vital world issues. At the same time, many studies have documented the amount of time that youth spend playing online games, suggesting they have immense potential for educating them about abstract subject matter.

Delivery Model: How do you implement your innovation and apply it to the challenge/problem you are addressing.

GK has taken a twofold approach to implementing the Playing 4 Keeps program and the Ayiti game. First, we seek to educate youth directly about international issues and thinking critically about digital media through our after-school program. Each year, over 20 underprivileged young people brainstorm, conceptualize, and ultimately create an educational game.

Second, the Ayiti game has the potential to educate millions of youth who play it. Once engrossed, a young person playing Ayiti will learn in an experiential way about the global impact of poverty, be directed to resources about it, and learn what they can do to address it through civic engagement. To reach a broad audience, GK has established partnerships with UNICEF, TakingITGlobal, and MTV, all of whom collaborate with GK to distribute the game on their respective websites. Since the game is distributed with educational resources, it can be used in classrooms where teachers can process the subject matter with students.

How do you plan to scale your innovation?

GK is working to disseminate Ayiti to millions of gamers around the world through a variety of methods. In addition to the aforementioned partnerships through which the game is distributed, GK is looking to further distribute the game by establishing a partnership with the online gaming portal Shockwave. We have also promoted the game by conducting press outreach, presenting at numerous conferences, and writing about it in publications like the Serious Games Journal and Threshold magazine. To date, more than 650,000 people have played the game.

In addition, GK has established a replicable after school program based on our experiences in P4K. Over the past two years, GK has created and refined a gaming curriculum that enables teachers and youth workers to develop similar programs. We are now working with the United Way of New York City to develop a plan for replicating it in as many as eight schools over the next three years.

Provide one sentence describing your impact.

Ayiti has made thousands of game players think critically about important international issues like poverty, health, and education.

What impact has your innovation had to date? Exactly who are the beneficiaries of your innovation?

To date, well over 650,000 youth, educators, researchers, and other online gamers have played Ayiti on the web, brought it into their classrooms, or studied its impact. As a result, the game is both educating players about the complex relationship between poverty and community health and presenting people with an innovative model for raising awareness about critical global issues.

As the first youth-created educational game of professional quality, Ayiti has received considerable attention from the press, gaming organizations, and online gamers themselves. Ayiti has been mentioned or featured by New York 1, Voice of America, The Associated Press, Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Marie Claire, among others.

Since it was launched in 2006, the game has received prestigious awards for its achievements, including the “GaCha” Award for Best Awareness Raising Game at the Fourth Annual Games4Change festival and selection as an Adobe Listen Up! outstanding program.

How many people have you served directly?

Since the P4K program was launched in 2005, over 40 youth have been extensively involved in the creation of online games like Ayiti, providing them the unique opportunity to learn invaluable technological skills and an extensive understanding of global issues.

Over the course of the year, the students in the program are involved in weekly intensive and interactive after school workshops (including some half-day sessions), divided into four sections: Recruitment and Training, Learning about Game Design and Global Issues, Building the Game, and Launching the Game. Students participate in workshops on such global issues as Defining Human Rights, Racism, Health, Education, and Children’s Rights to prepare them for selecting an issue on which to focus their game. Students also participate in workshops related to gaming issues, such as Developing a Common Definition for Games, Understanding the Iterative Design Process, and The Concepts of Rules and Play.

How many people have you served indirectly?

As mentioned earlier, more than 650,000 people have played Ayiti. Global Kids developed the game as a serious learning tool that educators and youth workers can use in their classrooms and also distributed it with two high quality lessons for use in classrooms or programs. The first workshop and lesson plan is designed as a tool for helping youth process their experience after playing the game, while the second workshop and accompanying lesson plan can be conducted either before playing the game, as a way to introduce students to the game's issues, or after playing the game, as a way to help them better understand the links between poverty and access to education.

In addition, through GK’s presentations at conferences and publications about our work, our organization has informed over 1,500 educators, researchers, and other people, with thousands more reading about our work in the press.

Please list any other measures reflective of the impact of your innovation

The Center for Children and Technology (CCT) is conducting an extensive evaluation of Ayiti and the Playing 4 Keeps after school program. During the evaluative period, over 20,000 players completed the full evaluation process, demonstrating that the game can be used to collect data about players’ attitudes. Following the forthcoming data analysis, CCT will provide a final report on the impact of the game and the success of the after school program.

What are the main barriers to creating your impact?

Unlike many youth media or digital literacy programs, Ayiti is a youth-created program, yet because it is of professional quality, it competes on the open market with hundreds of other commercial games. Distributing Ayiti on a large scale has required the assistance of numerous organizations that promote and disseminate the game through their websites, allowing it reach a wide audience despite our limited resources. We will continue to pursue new methods of dissemination to broaden our outreach.

How is your initiative financed?

The P4K program has been financed through the generosity of the Microsoft Corporation’s U.S. Partners in Learning Mid-Tier Grants Initiative. This funding has enabled us to implement a yearlong after-school program and a supporting curriculum for the project so that it may be replicated in other programs and classrooms. In addition, funding for pilot phases of the program was provided by the Surdna Foundation. Since Global Kids is a not-for-profit organization, we have also sought to develop a range of partnerships that enhance the program with various in-kind and other resources.

Provide information on your finances and organization: annual budget, annual revenue, number of staff:

Active since 1989, Global Kids has established a proven model and strong track record for engaging students in learning about foreign policy issues, developing their leadership skills, and inspiring them to succeed in school and pursue higher education. Global Kids’ Online Leadership Program (OLP), now in its seventh year, delivers youth media programs that build digital literacy, foster substantive online dialogues, develop resources for educators, and educate youth about substantive educational content.

GK’s annual budget is $3,512,746 for FY2008, and our total revenue in FY 2007 was $3,099,650 (unaudited). There are currently 42 full-time staff members who work for GK. GK staff members have built a reputation as leaders in the fields of youth development, international and public policy education, and the use of the Internet to foster dialogue and learning about critical world issues. A team of seven staff members works on the projects of the OLP.

What is the potential demand for your innovation?

We have already seen significant demand for our innovation, both as a game and as an educational program. First, the game itself has already become widely played and it will continue to develop a wider audience as it becomes more available through partnerships with other youth and gaming portals. Second, the game development program and accompanying curriculum is an innovative model, and we are in the process of replicating it in other schools.

What are the main barriers to financial sustainability?

While we have seen demand for the game, one significant barrier is that—as a nonprofit—we have little support for marketing or press outreach. This has prevented us from reaching a broader audience. In addition, because of the technological expertise required to conduct the after school component of the program, it is more expensive a program to conduct than many other after school programs.

The Story
What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.

GK’s OLP was developed in 2000 to train youth with the skills necessary to utilize digital media for positive purposes and to engage them in addressing critical civic issues through the media they currently use.

Since then, as GK has developed a range of pioneering online programs, socially conscious games have remained central to our programming. Early on, we noticed the enormous amount of time our participants spent playing games, in effect participating in workshops about child soldiers or ethnic conflict in our programs and returning home to play games defined by killing and violence. We realized that GK not only had an opportunity to leverage what was becoming one of the most dominant forms of youth culture but also that online games could serve as a compelling form of youth media and leadership development.

After piloting the P4K program, GK launched the scaled up version of the program in Brooklyn, NY. Over a ten-month school year, GK worked with the game design company Gamelab to engage a cohort of minority youth in the design, development, and dissemination of a professionally produced online game. In the spring, the program participants chose to develop a game on the general topic of poverty as an obstacle to education, based on their learning about the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. They then decided to use Haiti as a case study and setting for the game.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers marketing material

Online Leadership Program Director Barry Joseph had developed innovative programs in the areas of youth-led online dialogues, video games as a form of youth media, and the educational potential of virtual worlds. Barry is a founding member of Games for Change. Prior to joining GK, Barry worked at the nonprofit Web Lab and the digital media company @radical.media. He has published articles and spoken at conferences around the country about digital media.

How did you hear about this contest and what is your main incentive to participate? (this is confidential)

1. Direct outreach from a Changemakers or Ashoka Team member Robert Benedict.