TL; DR: Technovation empowers girls and families to solve problems in their communities using technology. The global nonprofit helps its students learn to code, build mobile apps, and start businesses that make a difference in the lives of others. And, through the Solve It Team video series for problem-solvers, Technovation is providing virtual learning opportunities accessible to students and parents all over the world.
The lockdowns governments worldwide have put in place to control the spread of the novel coronavirus won’t last forever. But make no mistake: COVID-19 will permanently change the world.
Traditional ways we interact with each other — handshakes, packed conference events, crowded arenas — will either fade away or be replaced with safer, modified versions. In a bid to fend off future viruses, our lives will likely be moved online as much as possible.
Navigating this new normal won’t be easy. But it’s perhaps less of a challenge for those who specialize in problem-solving — like the folks at Technovation.
The nonprofit, which empowers girls and families to solve problems in their communities using the power of technology, typically hosts in-person gatherings for its competitive programs. Technovation Girls, for example, teaches young women to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders by working in teams to code mobile apps that address real-world problems.
Instead of canceling this year’s event, like so many other groups have chosen to do, Technovation is moving its learning, judging, and celebrations for the 2020 season online and offering tips for remote collaboration to ease the transition.
“Usually, we have live judging competitions, and we were planning to hold our 2020 Technovation World Summit in Boston to celebrate the finalists,” said Rebecca Anderson, Senior Director of Programs at Technovation. “We decided early on to switch to virtual gatherings, which is cool because we can welcome more participants to the celebrations and workshops. It will be fun to engage with a larger community.”
Tackling Real-Word Problems via a Hands-on Learning Model
Technovation, initially known as Iridescent, was founded by Tara Chklovski in 2006. As an engineering graduate student at the University of Southern California, Tara noticed how few women and people of color were in the program.
“She was determined to change that by getting young people excited about science and technology, and that’s how the idea for Technovation was born,” Rebecca said. “She started on a really small scale in 2007 with her first program, Family Science, at one school in Los Angeles.”
The program eventually spread to additional schools in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area before expanding to New York, Chicago, and Florida. In 2010, Technovation Girls was launched, and by 2013, the programs were featured in schools across the globe.
In 2012, the nonprofit launched a site dedicated to hands-on design challenges for students of all ages, and in 2013, the programs went global. In 2018, the company started Technovation Families, a competition centered on AI technologies, which reached 13 countries in its first season.
To date, girls and families have created more than 9,000 mobile apps and AI prototypes through Technovation, addressing everything from health care to climate change.
“Today, we’re serving people from all around the world,” Rebecca said. “Technovation Girls, our mobile app competition, is just wrapping up, and this year we had submissions from 62 countries. It’s really exciting that so many girls around the world are working to improve their communities.”
Technovation Girls: An App-Building and Leadership Challenge
Each year, Technovation Girls brings together teams of young women — many without previous tech experience — to learn to code mobile apps that address real-world problems. At the same time, the program is designed to reduce the widely documented gender gap and underrepresentation of women in STEM fields.
Since 2010, more than 23,000 young people from more than 100 countries have participated in the program. In 2019 alone, 2,000 teams from around the world came together to tackle problems like bullying, climate change, and domestic violence.
Rebecca told us that the program’s focus on helping others makes young women more engaged. “We’ve found that context-free education that’s not couched in real-life examples just doesn’t attract young women as much.”
About 58% of Technovation Girls alumni enroll in computer science courses after participating in the program. Others go on to start their own businesses based on their projects.
In an April 2016 study on Technovation participants 17% of respondents active from 2010 to 2014 said they continued working on their project for a minimum of four months after the program ended. Some participants said they continued work on their project for up to three years.
“The first hurdle is identifying a problem you care about and can solve using technology, so you’re getting problem-solving and critical thinking practice right off the bat,” she said. “We also have an entrepreneurial bent to the program, so you walk away with lifelong 21st-century business skills.”
Technovation Families: Exploring AI’s Role in Community Improvement
The nonprofit’s Technovation Families program may be newer than Technovation Girls, but it’s already making a significant impact.
The majority (91%) of parents surveyed in 2018, the first year of the program, said they believed their child had developed a sustained interest in AI. A full 89% of parents said they believed their child would be capable of creating an AI model in the future, and 90% said they understood the prerequisites for their child to pursue an AI or STEM career.
“It’s not just a tech program — it’s very approachable, even if you have no interest in learning about AI or don’t think the technology could impact you,” Rebecca said. “First, you learn about how it works, and that helps open your eyes to how the technology can affect the world around you. Again, you’re also gaining problem-solving skills through these cutting-technologies.”
In a 2018 survey, 90% of parents said they noticed improvements in their child’s ability to seek new information, solve problems, and generate new ideas as a result of the Technovation Families program.
Rebecca said many families often end up making their projects available under open-source licensing on GitHub, allowing an entire community of developers to expand upon their ideas for the good of humanity.
Building Out the Solve It Team Video Series
In addition to all the great work Technovation is already doing to teach families and young women about the power of technology, the nonprofit is building a series of virtual resources known as the Solve It Team.
Users can tune in to the Solve It Team’s YouTube channel every Tuesday and Thursday for how-to videos, conversations, and activities that help students and families engage in hands-on problem-solving.
Past videos, which are archived on the Solve It Team site, focused on topics like breaking down big problems, developing ideas, coding a minimum viable product, troubleshooting, and staying motivated.
“So many people are stuck at home, and we thought it would be fun to create easy-to-access resources so people can get a sampling of problem-solving using code, even if they have absolutely no tech background,” Rebecca said.