Young Innovators: Get Out of the Garage and Into the Marketplace!

Calling all social media wünderkind, changebloggers, and humanitarian twitterati and digerati of the millennial set (yes, this means you, Alex Steed) there’s ‘gold in them thar’ hills!’ (ok, that phrase comes from either a Yosemite Sam cartoon or a cowboy parody, but either way, it shows it’s in my lexicon, revealing I’m WAY too old to apply!)

HASTAC (pronounced Haystack, as in ‘needle in the…’) and the MacArthur Foundation (Digital Media and Learning Competition) launched a brand new category for 18-25 year old young minds eager to use new forms of collaborative thinking that advance the human condition…The Young Innovators Awards.

Since I’ve floated this to plenty of smart digital wizards in my own youth arena with energetic zeal and been met with a shrug, I decided to distill their criteria into a palatable snapshot…a “DML Cliff Notes” version, at a glance.

This is for all those bright minds who answered my nudge to apply with, “too much paper pushing, I’ll never get it, no time, lots of work for a mini-grant, no partner for the internship yet, and I can’t even tell if I qualify it’s so confusing.” —Okay, ready?

Show Me The Money

First off, ditch the daunting “$2 million” giveaway notion, as that includes the larger competition. (and I’m applying for that, so hey, be kind!)

Young Innovator Awards range from $5000-$30,000 with up to $240,000 awarded in total…no chump change!

Since very few awards will be given at the high end of the scale, (they’re encouraging a diversity of projects, so consider it a ‘jumpstart’ cash infusion in the lower to mid-range realm) that means ostensibly there could be as many as 48 awards of $5000 each…

So you DO have a chance!

If $5K isn’t enough to tap your app into the keyboard, I’ll remind you all that I used a $5K mini-grant from the S.F. Foundation to pilot one of my 8-wk school programs to capture outcomes on film and pitch bigger funders to go digital…

Use your imagination, it’s an INNOVATOR award fer goshsakes!

How Young is Young?

To be eligible for a Young Innovator Award (this is where the app gets confusing as they’ve lumped the ‘Innovations’ awards into the mix, so we’re separating it out here)

Be clear: U.S. residents must be between 18-25 at the time of the application.

If you’re a hair off the mark, (looking at Facebook profiles several social citizens and youth leaders appear to be in the 15-29 b-day bracket, including Alex’s Millennials Changing America: Next Generation of Organizing project) so I say tweak it to their exact DML Young Innovator Guidelines and find one of your lead team-mates in the 18-25 year old demo to formally file and COLLABORATE for the award.

That’s what participatory learning is all about!

MeetUps, Mashups & Match Ups: Internship Orgs

The MacArthur Foundation/HASTAC DML competition for youth focuses on your big idea, support and an internship (online or F2F) with a sponsoring organization to help see your dream through fruition. If you don’t have one, they’ll hook you up with one. Simple.

Internship timelines go from a minimum of 10 weeks to one year, depending on your project.

They are ‘unpaid internships’ meaning the award is your pay, to help you support yourself. Bribes are a no-no, meaning you can’t use award funds to pay off your mentor to place you in their org!

If you have a sponsoring org for your internship who wants to support your idea from the get go, shout it from the rooftops and put the endorsement into official app form! Mentoring relationships might be tech companies, media industries, learning institutions, governmental orgs, or nonprofits. (hint-hint! Ahem, Shaping Youth could use some help here!)

Who and What Are They Looking For?

Young Innovator Awards go to the bold thinking, “what comes next” visionaries that want to take their original ideas in participatory learning out of the garage (or the back of their brain) and move them forward into digital action.

They are individuals. NOT institutions.

Human beings. Leaders and thinkers.

Idea hamsters like me…um…only younger.

Youth collaborators I met at ISDE? Kids on campus that volunteered? You fit the bill. So do you guys at ISIS and Advocates for Youth that I wrote about with your Top Ten Teen Sex Ed Videos on DoGooderTV.

Next Now Collaboratory peeps? Let’s nudge our youth members…NetSquared NP Tech Tuesday crowd? Definite. Our friends at QuantumShift TV? Your U.S. students can “Be the change, share the story, indeed!’

Envirolution, Echoing Green finalists, MediaSnackers, and social entrepreneurs? Ooooh, I can think of soooo many possibilities here.

Daniel Brusilovsky of Teens in Tech? I’d mentor you in a millisecond! C’mon, I know you’re 15, but you MUST have an 18-year old in your posse somewhere—Call me! (I have some work for you anyway!) Go for it gang, and good luck! Consider me a ‘mentor in training!’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Deets: Dates, Deadlines and Doability

Pull your project together pronto and get online to see the app NOW, so you know it’s not as daunting as it sounds.

Register so they know you’re coming to the party.

Final app with electronic signature must be in by October 15th!! (5:00pm PDT/8pm EDT)

Grant term is one year beginning in the summer of 2009 (between June 1-Sept. 1 to initiate your project) concluding a year after you begin.

Budgets should include basics like project development costs, living expenses, and all travel/meals/lodging for the big two-day “showcase” event in Chicago held at the end of the grant term. (Okay, so maybe you want to pad that low range projection a titch to impress them with your realistic grasp on life…)

Young Innovators Are NEEDED On This Planet, Folks!

Looking for a why you/why now call to action? Fine. I’ve got one of those too…

As I said in this BusinessWeek comment on social media and furthering the Age of Conversation, “there are do-ers and there are be-ers” (Saul Bellow from Henderson the Rain King, remember that in American lit class, kids?) —Let’s turn the latter into the former!

Apply today. Make some change. Show us “oldies but goodies” how it’s done!

FAQs here. Details for Young Innovators Here. And the entire DML Competition here.

Reminder: Don’t confuse the two-tiers of the contest…that’s what these Cliff Notes were for! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Related Resources

New DML Scratchpad: A public online communications forum for participants to collaborate

DML Official Application

DML Winners Hub From Last Year

Cathy Davidson’s HASTAC Blog w/videos of 3 winners last year

Particpatory Learning At A Glance:

“Participatory Learning includes the ways in which new technologies enable learners (of any age) to contribute in diverse ways to individual and shared learning goals. Through games, wikis, blogs, virtual environments, social network sites, cell phones, mobile devices, and other digital platforms, learners can participate in virtual communities where they share ideas, comment upon one another’s projects, and plan, design, advance, implement, or simply discuss their goals and ideas together. Participatory learners come together to aggregate their ideas and experiences in a way that makes the whole ultimately greater than the sum of the parts.” —(blurb from DML site)

We are already teaching a generation of students who do not remember a time before they were online…Their social life and informal learning are interconnected.

They don’t just consume media, they customize it. These students bring fascinating new skills to our classrooms, but they also bring an urgent need for critical thinking about the digital world they have inherited and are shaping.

…Participatory learning allows people to work together online toward some collective purpose, sharing knowledge, insights, and expertise, and most important, learning together.”

Cathy N. Davidson, co-founder of HASTAC and John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University

Visual Credits/Millenial Activist Alex Steed’s site: Full feature forthcoming on Shaping Youth

And if you want to know where they got the image for the Youth Innovator Awards contest, check out the HASTAC Channel on YouTube and this street team video called “Couture Guerilla”…



  1. Another viable group of candidates that might want to apply:

    The Youth Dialogue Project at NCDD Austin

    “Finding Our Way: Trans-Generational Leadership:—Although we are inheritors of the future, too often younger people, who are also committed to dialogue as a process for sustainable change, lack a seat at the table and a voice in the conversations that shape our future. In today’s world, as people are recognizing the need for more collaborative approaches to problem solving and decision making, D&D processes need to include spaces for younger leaders to be effective in meeting those challenges. NCDD welcomes the Rockrose Institute’s Youth Dialogue Project (YDP) at NCDD Austin to ensure that the voices of young leaders are included in creative and innovative ways…” etc. etc.

  2. Another idea, per Dave Davison: BJ Fogg’s Psychology of Facebook student participants…all techies at the Persuasion Lab at Stanford…hmnnn….could be a good fit…

  3. Hi, Old School Inventor here with a Digital Age/ New School vision for Education, plus a pathway related to play and communication. Looking for collaborators and readers to look over my site and theoretical papers. Amy, I have written a rant on gaming and learning that I would like to share with you. I think the gaming producers and the academics who have climbed onboard the gaming bandwagon are way off the radar. I am a little mystified as to Blogging. I have a lot of material on play and learning, and intend to apply for a grant in the Partcipatory Learning project. Please get back to me if the spirit moves you.

  4. Hi Jeff, Susan Linn uses puppets in her CCFC work all the time, I know of her success with same on the academic front at Harvard as well.

    I have a potential contact for you that might be the perfect partner for this fit…

    You might want to check into their work? I think they were looking for expansion into the digital education realm?

  5. Amy, I appreciate the referral. I am beginning to partner with puppeteers and storytellers, but….for me puppets are not so much messengers as they are culture changers and portals to play and communication that brings change to the old-school classroom and teaching. Play is the true foundation for learning–Plato said it 2500 years ago and brain scientists are saying it today. Play is also a way to inoculate kids against the media predators. In Puppetools I have created an alternative learning and teaching language, and have moved the concept into the field of brain science….this is not really puppet theater so much as a model for making the learning culture a lot more receptive to the and work of organizations like the CCFC. I’d be happy to provide you with a guest pass if you’d like a closer look.


  6. thanks to the article – now I understand the topic better

  7. Very kind of you to say that…I just like to distill things down to little ‘information nuggets’ that are easy to digest…

    I don’t know about you, but I get a bit overwhelmed with all the verbiage and application gobbledygook…it’s probably why I haven’t applied for grants much as of yet! Thanks for taking the time to comment! –Amy

  8. @Jeff…agree that the medium is the message (as Marshall McCluhan would say!) since play is a brain-based pursuit of necessity for innovation. I think you’ve got a soulmate in Susan Linn and the Judge Baker Children’s Ctr./CCFC crew using the power of play and the case for make believe to stimulate imaginations and learning multifold! ๐Ÿ™‚ Amy

  9. p.s. I’d love to take a closer look…I just can’t get one nostril above the sea of raging deadlines and grant apps to do so right now! sigh…soon, soon…sigh. p.s. Another great group for you, Jeff is ‘Living Folklore’ and their new Culture Collective…check ’em out. Right up your alley…

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