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How can art and creativity empower students? Destination Imagination and NFTE World Series of Innovation challenge students to creatively solve problems. 100cameras and Faces Up Uganda use arts to help students process and express difficulties they have undergone.

What is the most important skill for children to develop for the future? For Destination Imagination, the best way to guarantee success for children is to teach them the social-emotional skills that will help them in any endeavour. That means challenging students to use creativity to solve real-life problems. 

“Understanding, recognizing, and harnessing one’s ability to use creativity is life changing.” - Johnny Wells 

Destination Imagination does this by offering an education experience where teams of students solve challenges and present their solutions at tournaments. These challenges guide students through the creative process and ignite their passions in the arts, as well as science, technology, engineering, and maths. 

“Understanding, recognizing, and harnessing one’s ability to use creativity is life changing. It develops problem-solving abilities, critical thinking skills, and innovative approaches that are essential for navigating an increasingly complex and dynamic world, fostering innovation and progress, and promoting personal growth and well-being,” explains Johnny Wells, Director of Education of Destination Imagination. 


City Shiners Team Presentation

For example, in a Service Learning Challenge, teams had to choose a community need and create a project plan of the activities needed to carry out the project. One team from Pakistan, the City Shiner team, worked on a project to put a crosswalk and traffic light in a busy interaction near their school. They gathered people to sign a petition to get the light installed and presented their solution through a creative 3D object, the school bus, which included all the information needed to complete the project.

Challenging students to solve the SDGs through entrepreneurship

NFTE World Series of Innovation also uses challenges to ignite students’ creativity - by challenging them to present entrepreneurial solutions to the UN SDGs. 

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Students pitch innovation at UN Global Goals Conversation in New York

These challenges are hosted for free online and any team of students can register and submit their ideas. Students must explain their target customer, explain the customer problem, their business idea and business model. Winning teams receive prizes; in the past year, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship hosted 6 innovation challenges totaling a prize pool of over $14,400 for young entrepreneurs across the globe.

“By challenging young people to create entrepreneurial solutions to the UN SDGs, NFTE develop their entrepreneurial mindset, emphasizing opportunity recognition, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Participants develop both hard skills and soft skills (also known as noncognitive or success skills) while leveraging their own passions to support their business, education, and career goals,” explains Jason Silveira from NFTE.   

Photography as a means of empowerment

Creativity is also a powerful way to empower youth through self-expression. 100cameras is a nonprofit organisation that teaches youth how to process and tell their stories through photography. Their custom curriculum equips youth with the ability to use photography for self-expression, which in turn improves their emotional intelligence, well-being, resilience, and community-building skills.

“Photography emerges as a beacon of self-expression and reflection for youth”

"Photography serves as a transformative medium, offering young individuals new tools to lean into their voice and to articulate their experiences and emotions in ways that words often cannot. Furthermore, visual storytelling has the remarkable ability to bridge cultural and linguistic barriers, enabling youth to communicate their realities and aspirations in a universally understandable language,” explains Angela Popplewell, CEO of 100 cameras. 

Students taking photos in Kurdistan

Furthermore, their approach has been validated by research. In the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research’s report, “Cradled by Conflict," it found that youth participating in the 100cameras programme were impacted positively over time when given an opportunity to process and share their past challenges. Youth in the programme reported feeling heard and valued and were more likely to become effective contributors to their communities.

"Youth in the programme reported feeling heard and valued and were more likely to become effective contributors to their communities."

Angela Popplewell explains how photography is a tool for youth who have gone through difficult challenges, “Photography emerges as a beacon of self-expression and reflection for youth, providing a creative outlet through which they together can articulate their unique perspectives and navigate their individual life journeys.”

Transformative Art for Psychosocial Support


Student with drawing in Faces Up Uganda programme

Faces Up Uganda is another NGO that recognises the power of art and creativity to empower children from vulnerable backgrounds. They use art education to address psychosocial challenges children face in the education system. 

“We see the power of art as a platform that allows young people to visualize life experiences, emotions and feelings they perhaps can't speak about” 

Their transformative arts programme targets young people and youth aged 5-25 from vulnerable backgrounds to disrupt negative life trajectories. “Based on our work, we see the power of art as 1) a platform that allows young people to visualize life experiences, emotions and feelings they perhaps can't speak about. 2) support fine motor and cognitive skills development and 3) a playful and engaging opportunity to allow children to have fun, and connect with peers while building a supporting community of emotionally stable and happy peers.” 

In addition, they facilitate access to education for financially disadvantaged children by covering their school fees through proceeds generated from the sale of artworks and merchandise featuring their artistic prints. 

These organisations are all doing incredible work to inspire and empower learners through creativity. Their impactful and scalable work across the world has been recognised, with their selection to the Global Collection 2024.

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Jamie Lee