Early Entry Prize Winners: Project Happiness and iLead+Design

Early Entry Prize Winners: Project Happiness and iLead+Design

Kristie Wang's picture

More than 200 entries were received for the Building Vibrant Communities competition!  We’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who entered. Due to the overwhelming response, we are pushing back our timeline one week and will be announcing Semi-Finalists on July 24.

Video caption: A trailer for the film produced by Early Entry Prize Winner and Semi-Finalist Project Happiness. The film is part of Project Happiness' set of tools for helping young people and adults strengthen the skills of empathy, emotional resilience, and self-awareness.

Semi-Finalists will be notified by email, and will be asked to participate in a peer review. Peer review gives you the opportunity to refine your entry and to explore and review the work of 4 -5 similarly qualifying peers. From the pool of Semi-Finalists, 15 – 25 Finalists will be selected to go on to final judging by the Building Vibrant Communities panel of experts. Please see the Deadlines and Procedures for a timeline and more details.

We are also thrilled to announce the two Early Entry Prize Winners of the competition! Congratulations to:

Project Happiness



Project Happiness (PH) teaches students the skills to build emotional resilience, self-awareness, and empathy. Informed by neuroscience, positive psychology, and mindfulness, PH program’s “teach kids to be happy and strong from the inside” and help adults strengthen social and emotional skills as well. Founder Randy Taran strongly believes that tackling the increasing levels of suicide, aggression, low self-esteem, and low-graduation rates among young people will require teaching students empathy skills and helping them strengthen those skills through practice.

“Bullying and the issue of empathy is not going to be solved by telling people what not to do,’” Taran said in an interview. “We have to address it at the root level. Individuals—whatever their age—would greatly benefit from the skill of self-awareness…it creates that pause between action, the trigger or stressor, and the reaction…it allows a person to consider and respond, rather than react, which promotes kindness and connectedness.”

A growing number of innovative schools across the US are recognizing the importance of social and emotional learning for student health and achievement. Recently, a large scale study found that preschoolers who improved social and emotional skills were more likely to be engaged in learning. For more on how Project Happiness teaches empathy skills, check out the project video:


iLead + Design is a “community action studio”—an intensive 2 week summer course in human-centered design—for high school students.  Based on IDEO and Stanford Design Studio’s principles in design thinking, iLead + Design enables students to partner with real life community clients in order to define and solve a problem.

Through the program, students learn how to walk in the shoes of the people that they are trying to help--including the client partners who will be implementing the solutions that they design. With empathy as a lens, the students then assess the resources and opportunities available and generate a real world solution. The studio’s student teams have already helped the Monterey Bay Aquarium design a Teen Volunteer Classroom and created an awareness campaign to help the SPCA increase spay and neuter rates.

“It’s absolutely amazing to see the kids’ response--just how positive they can feel about what they can do,” said Tom Nelson, Executive Director of Lyceum, the educational program that hosts iLead + Design.  Lyceum hopes to develop a curriculum that any teacher can use to equip students with design thinking and the skills to solve problems in their very own communities.

For more on what happens during an iLead + Design studio session, check out the project video: