“STEAM education with a purpose” 

When we first started the Maker’s Asylum a decade ago, we were excited to share our love of making and getting our hands dirty with other like minded enthusiasts in our tiny maker space. As the years passed, and the Asylum grew bigger, we realized that we could channel this amazing energy and collaborative intelligence of the makers to make a difference to the world around us.

And so, in 2016, we created “S.T.E.A.M School” – an experiential program for youths to immerse themselves in hands-on learning and problem solving by collaborating with a diverse group of individuals. But we soon realized that instead of working on problems at random, we needed a program aligned with the ideals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aka the Agenda 2030. And so, S.T.E.A.M. School morphed in to “SDG School” – a global immersion program for Youth Change-makers (18+) to learn “STEAM education with a purpose”.

The SDG School framework is quite simple. Bring a bunch of youth together. Get them to come up with real-world problem statements based on empathy and field visits. Give them a crash course in skills such as design thinking, problem framing and assumption testing, rapid prototyping and frugal innovation. And then stir them up to create some magical solutions within a week.

The results have left us amazed and proud. The program brings interdisciplinary and multicultural groups together to work on problems and take ownership for community led action towards UN Sustainable Development Goals. It gives the youth a framework to fit themselves into the larger global goals and exposes them to a real life network of organizations, mentors and peers to start their sustainable journeys.

Over the years, we brought the SDG School to locations around the world such as Paris, Mumbai and Grenoble. But then the pandemic hit the world, and we had to re-think about how we could continue the program while everyone was under lock down. Thanks to everyone suddenly becoming savvy about remote, online collaborative work, we were able to successfully conduct a couple of completely remote, online SDG School programs over the last couple of years.

But things are improving in 2023, and earlier this year, we conducted our first “hybrid” SDG School program. The first phase of the program was held from 20th Feb to 3rd March 2023 in an experiential online format consisting of team work, presentations, workshops, mentorship and more. The program ran for ten days, with sessions planned from 5.00 pm to 8.30 pm IST.

The second phase was an “Acceleration Program” hosted in Goa from the 13th to 16th of March 2023. This was a physical residency at Maker’s Asylum. We had three select teams come over to our maker space to build on and prototype their solutions. It was amazing to see all of them progress so quickly on their ideas – from modular solutions for safe sanitation for construction workers, to a board game for kids to learn about composting to an AI/ML based data map for medical strips waste collection!

During phase 1, we had 50 participants who formed 9 teams, each team working on a specific problem spanning one or several SDG’s. Our SDG Challenge panel then selected three teams to visit the Maker’s Asylum in Moira and prototype their project with the guidance of our team and mentors.

Team “Black gold diggers” chose to focus on
* SDG #4 Quality Education,
* SDG #12 Responsible Consumption & Production and
* SDG #13 Climate Action,
to create “Awareness to mitigate food wastage in school kids”. They did this by creating an interactive board game called ‘Black Gold’, which educated kids about the importance of converting waste food to composted, natural fertilizer aka Black Gold. By introducing the fun and interactive game to students, they leveraged awareness, accountability, and action for the future generation toward a responsible and sustainable consumption mindset.

Team “Safe Snann – Dignity for Her” chose to focus on
* SDG #3 Good health & well being,
* SDG #6 Clean water & sanitation and
* SDG #12 Responsible Consumption & Production.
The problem they identified related to migrant women residing in urban construction sites who lacked access to safe private bathing spaces, resulting in unhygienic & unsafe living conditions. Additionally these women may not be empowered to take decisions to improve their sanitation needs in a male-dominated construction site. Their proposed solution is “Safe Snann” which aims to improve hygiene, agency and safety among women labor workers by empowering them to build their own DiY women-only bath houses using readily available raw material found commonly at construction sites.

Team “Preset” chose to focus on
* SDG #12 Responsible Consumption & Production,
* SDG #11 Sustainable cities & communities and
* SDG #17 Partnerships for goals.
They addressed the problem of improper disposal of medicine strip and blister pack waste which poses a significant environmental challenge, as these materials cannot be effectively recycled due to their plastic and aluminum foil composition. Their solution proposed the implementation of a user loop that collects empty medicine strips at the source and re-purposes them into useful lifestyle products. Their flagship product is a “Preset” organizer that utilizes medicine strip and blister pack waste material to create a storage solution.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of our fantastic partners:

and an equally amazing group of advisors:

backed up with a whole bunch of Mentors and Experts who provided their time and expertise to guide the SDG School cohort.

To put the last four years in perspective in terms of numbers, we now have over 2000 alumni who have benefited from the SGD school program, coming from over 40 nations across the globe, and having brought to life over 300 social innovation projects to address the UN SDG’s. SDG School solutions have cut across sectors such as healthcare, education, energy, waste management, sanitation, responsible consumption & production and many others in the last couple of years!

Sometimes it’s hard for us to explain what the SDG School really achieves, but when we see the impact that it makes individually on everyone part of the program, we know something beautiful is happening – “STEAM education with a purpose” !

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