The Global Learning XPRIZE is an incentive competition that is calling on teams from around the world to build a software platform that can teach children literacy and numeracy, in 18 months, without the help of a teacher. Our project has decided —due to the close similarity to our short term goals— to register for this competition. However this has now caused many folks to ask the question, "How will the competition winnings be distributed if we were to win?"
That is a very good question and one we have been thinking about since the Global Learning XPRIZE was launched a few months ago. Our project was started well before the XPRIZE was announced and before there was any financial reward. We came together and started this community to solve the problem, not win a prize and this created a powerful culture, one we want to nurture. Our mission will take us well beyond the XPRIZE timeframe and we want to continue building a community that is focused on the long term, focused on these children. We have tried to come up with various options but only one made any sense. We will treat the XPRIZE competition just like any other grant, and distribute it to our 501c.3 non-profit and use the funds to further this cause.
But to fully explain this answer I'm going to need to explain the background of our project, why it got started and how.
The Moonshot Education Project
The project kicked off over a year ago as a side project. I was creating something for my daughter (4) and my son (2). A somewhat autonomous process where I could help them learn whatever they were interested in. From personal experience I know how ineffective traditional education was at fostering this type of learning, and I wanted my kids to have something better, something that could prepare them for today's world. With a background in entrepreneurship and through the experience of recently building some education technology solutions and then an education technology company, I created a somewhat crude process that really worked well. It allowed my daughter to learn things on her own, and she loved it because she was learning about things that mattered to her. At the same time I was following the work of Sugata Mitra, the Global Literacy Project and some others who were creating solutions to help children teach themselves, and I wanted to join that effort, as this could be far bigger than something just for my own kids. I naively started to venture down this rabbit hole and over time got passionately transfixed at the potential this could have on these kids and for the world.
Throughout my career working for, or building, for-profit companies, the culture of short term mindedness really got to me. I expected things to be slightly different when I entered the education technology space 5 years ago, but It was much of the same —if not somewhat worse, because the people most affected here are not stockholders but children. In most of education the focus is squarely on short term ROI, politics and protecting the status quo rather than focusing on the needs of the kids. And I did not just want to stand back.
I started the project back in 2013 as an experiment, and looked for people to join me. We would focus on the children that nobody else was focused on, we would offer the platform for free and build it open source, we would fund this ourselves and through donations, grants and appropriate partnerships. We would use the cognitive surplus of the many people who wanted to work on this challenge to expand on what the core team could do by crowdsourcing help. If we could deliver an educational solution that focused solely on the needs of these children, not their schools, not their parents, not their governments and educational ministries. If we could stay away from the politics, the protectionism the dogma, then we would be able to do something revolutionary. A solution that works for children in the most challenging of environments, could work for children in any environment, including our own. And so with that spirit the project was born.
Over time more and more people who shared our passion and belief joined the project. We started to reach out to others working on similar projects with a lot more credibility than ourselves, suggesting that we could help. We wanted to pull together projects and create something greater than the sum of our individual efforts. And because we were an open philosophy project, building open source, without any financial incentive, this collaboration was natural. Over time some highly credible people and projects started to respond positively and we began collaborating, and it worked. It worked because we all have the same focus, these children.
The Global learning XPRIZE was announced and suddenly thanks to their amazing work and their following, this challenge has gotten a whole lot more attention, and rightfully so. We see this XPRIZE as an amazingly fortunate short term milestone, and something we are excitedly focused on leveraging. But it raised the question we are answering here.
Our project has a mission to provide these children all the education they need to succeed. It was started well before the Global Learning XPRIZE was launched, and will continue well beyond its close. This long term focus is core to what we are doing. In addition, the team was started by people that wanted to work on this challenge for the sake of these children. We started without any incentive reward and we will continue long after the incentive reward has been won. This is a powerful culture. It is something we want to continue to encourage and nurture. We need folks who are focused on these children, who want to solve the problem for the long term and want to see this as a sustainable solution for many generations to come. This is why we are continuing to structure our project so that all funds go to the supporting of our mission, these children. We are therefore treating the XPRIZE competition just like any other grant, with the funds distributed to the project which includes, in small part, to support a core teams non-profit salaries.
We realize this will limit who would be interested in working with us, but those no longer interested would not be the right people for our project to begin with. We really are a group of parents, teachers, engineers, artists, designers and do gooders that want to solve this challenge for the long term.
What is most liberating about this approach is that we can work with anyone, even those that are in 'competing' teams. Our focus is on the Children, not the XPRIZE, not the winnings and not even on being the ones to solve it. We just want to be part of the solution, we want to help these children, and there are many people like us!
If you are one of those people who share our conviction, please join us