Think Unlimited: Youth Empowered to Think Up the Future

Think Unlimited: Youth Empowered to Think Up the Future

Al Mafraq, JordanNew York, United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

Transformative educational programs that equip and empower Arab youth to “think up the future” by engaging critically and creatively with their world.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

As Arab nations undergo revolutionary change, a new generation of leaders who can balance political and economic reforms with religious and cultural values are vital to a stable future. However, as Jordan’s Queen Rania said in a 2009 CNN interview, “In the Arab World we still focus too much on rote learning…we teach children what to think rather than how to think.” Attitudes of empathy and respect for differing opinions remain vital and elusive outcomes of education. And in a traditionally hierarchical society, convincing young people that they can be changemakers is an ongoing challenge. Though school enrollment is increasing, the quality of education in Arab nations is still inadequate to equip youth to be the problem solvers of tomorrow (AHDR 2002).

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

Think Unlimited works to educate a new generation of leaders by training not only youth, but their parents and teachers as well. We offer three programs: Brain Camp is a 6-day summer camp that alters students’ perceptions about their abilities, and the role of education in their lives. Our original curriculum teaches core critical thinking and perspective-taking skills in a culturally-sensitive way, and inspires youth to use these skills to solve problems and improve their communities. Brain Builders is a semester-long afterschool program facilitated by local teachers. Through our extensive training and support, teachers gain valuable insights into inductive teaching methods, effective ways to change students’ attitudes about education, and the role games and activities play in the learning process. Minds in the Making is a course empowering parents to become proactive co-educators, and giving them tools to encourage social and intellectual development in the home.
Impact: How does it Work

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

At Think Unlimited, we believe that the most valuable resources any school can possess are the minds of its teachers and students, all too often ignored in the race for modern technologies and tools. We build schools from within by equipping students and teachers to think critically, think creatively, and use the power of their minds to create change. Because the national curriculum in Jordan focuses on fact-based rote learning, students lack practical skills and real-world experiences that pave the way for their using education to create change. We fill in these gaps through extracurricular activities. Our after school program consists of 10 modules, each building a key critical thinking skill: Mindset and attitudes about learning Understanding information Organization Reasoning Strategy Decision Making Opinion Formation Perspective Taking Creativity Problem Solving Each module is taught through interactive, culturally-sensitive powerpoint discussions, followed by games and activities that allow students to practice and build upon what they have learned. At the end of each module students are asked to reflect upon how they can use their toolkit of skills to improve their own lives and the futures of their families, communities, and country. As products of the same broken educational system, teachers and parents themselves often lack these skills and the motivation to turn outward to create change. By training parents to teach these skills at home, and training teachers to implement the afterschool program, we aim for intergenerational change.
Sustainability

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

Building employment skills and “job readiness” is a common approach to educational interventions in the Arab world, led by organizations like INJAZ, the Jordan Education Initiative, and CADER. However, framing education programs in this way narrows the vision of students, further entrenching the idea that education is simply a means to an economic end. Think Unlimited equips students with skills that prepare them to be innovators and problem solvers in whatever sector or pursuit they choose, and turns their focus outward toward improving their communities. Because they are so well-funded and well-established, and their goals align with the powerful private sector, these organizations often leave little room for a fresh take on enrichment programs in schools. But our niche is growing!
About You
Organization:
Think Unlimited
About You
First Name

Shaylyn

Last Name

Garrett

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Think Unlimited

Organization Country

, NY, New York, New York County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, MF, Al Mafraq

Your role in Education

After-School Provider, Other.

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

Public (tuition-free)

How long has your organization been operating?

Less than a year

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Innovation
How long has your solution been in operation?

Operating for less than a year

Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.
Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Transformative programs that equip and empower Arab youth to “think up the future” by engaging critically and creatively with the world.

Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Inspiring and educating a generation of leaders and critical thinkers by training not only youth, but their parents and teachers as well

Social Impact
What has been the impact of your solution to date?

We originally developed our programs as Peace Corps volunteers in Jordan. During our two years of service, over 600 students participated in Brain Camp programs in under-resourced villages all over Jordan. After completing Peace Corps service in August 2011, we began working full-time to build Think Unlimited, which we incorporated in October 2011. Since then, we have trained 24 teachers and 8 administrators who are implementing the Brain Builders after school program with approximately 150 students this semester.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

With our local partner, and over the next 2 years, we plan to train 250 public school teachers to implement the Brain Builders after school program. If each teacher implements for a minimum of two semesters, over 3,000 students will be reached. But training local teachers makes the program sustainable and unlimitedly replicable.

We currently have funds to offer our Minds in the Making parenting class to 200 parents this year. If our model proves viable, and if we are able to train additional trainers, we should be able to reach at least 500 parents per year over the next two years, impacting roughly 1200 parents and thereby 4,500 children.

We are currently training a new class of 30 Peace Corps volunteers to implement Brain Camps, which we believe will impact 600 students per year

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Our biggest obstacle so far has been limited manpower. We have been amazed at how much work is involved in keeping administrative fires burning, raising funds, and making sure we’re making careful, considered decisions about management and strategy—all while trying to implement and evaluate our programs! We worry about finding the right people to bring on, given the limited exposure most Jordanians have to the type of work we are doing. We also need team members who share our commitment to quality, in-depth programming and real results. We have begun to nurture program graduates to become capable staff members, giving them a chance to put their skills into action. If successful, this will not only solve our recruiting challenge, but would add another layer of impact to our work.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Train 30 Peace Corps VTs to run Brain Camp, 24 teachers to run Brain Builders, and offer Minds in the Making to 200 parents

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Solidify partners and identify target groups of parents for Minds in the Making

Task 2

Successfully implement practicum for teachers already trained to implement Brain Builders

Task 3

Complete training and support for Peace Corps volunteers to implement Brain Camp

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Hire local staff to oversee each of our three programs, and double the number of students, teachers, and parents reached

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Identify potential employees (hopefully some program graduates)

Task 2

Raise the funds for these employees' salaries

Task 3

Identify one additional local partner to implement Brain Camp

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]

If we had to identify the single factor that has enabled us to thrive, it would be education. Hoping to offer others what education gave to us, we joined Peace Corps Jordan. As educators in villages we immediately saw how a lack of critical thinking skills and empowerment was limiting our students’ potential. Though we developed Brain Camp as an academic enrichment program, we quickly began seeing its impact beyond the classroom. When a 16-year old girl in our village used the skills she learned at camp to design, initiate, and lead a club for other girls, we knew that building minds could promote empathy and create lasting change, and that our work in the Arab world was just beginning. After Peace Corps we founded Think Unlimited to continue empowering youth be change makers. Our passion for building minds in this part of the world has only grown as we have watched the Arab Spring unfold. In the Middle East, education will almost certainly be the pivot point on which the future turns.

Sustainability
Tell us about your partnerships

For each of our three programs we have one key local partner.

Brain Camp: Through Peace Corps we train volunteers living in under-resourced villages throughout Jordan to implement free summer camps at public schools and public youth centers.

Brain Builders: We partner with Madrasati, a royal NGO, to train teachers in public schools. They interface with the Ministry of Education to broker permissions, and they fund the trainings and materials provided to teachers.

Minds in the Making: We offer parent training jointly with We Love Reading, a Jordanian NGO, who recruits groups of mothers

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]

We are currently an administrative staff of two (a husband and wife team who are co-founders and co-directors). We are quickly moving toward needing three additional staff members, one to run each program. This will free us up to focus on longterm strategy, brokering partnerships, and finding ways to meet our fundraising needs.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list
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