Glocal Challenge youth at awards ceremoney

CRLS Students Work to Solve Local Challenges that have Global Implications

Each year, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students are asked to solve a challenge locally in Cambridge that has global implications. Jennifer Lawrence, from the Community Development Department, shares her insights into an innovate program called the Glocal Challange.

What is your job and how long have you been with the city?

Jennifer Lawrence Headshot
Jennifer Lawrence

I am a Sustainability Planner with the Community Development Department, and I have been here since 2012. I am tasked with engaging the community around climate change and transportation planning for the City.

Working on the Glocal Challenge is just one of the many outreach efforts I am responsible for.

What is the Glocal Challenge?

The Glocal Challenge, now in its 6th year, is a partnership between EF Education First, the City of Cambridge, and the Cambridge Public Schools to help high school students learn critical 21st Century Skills, gain global competence and receive real-world experience in Design Thinking and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math).

Each year, we ask Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) students to solve a challenge locally in Cambridge that has global implications. Through the Challenge, CRLS students work in teams over 8 weeks (in-school) to invent a creative idea to solve a challenge in their community (this year the challenge is improving transportation in Cambridge), which they then pitch to expert judges.

The winning student teams receive trips abroad to the EF Global Leadership Summit, as well as funding from the City to kick-start their projects, and paid summer internships with the Community Development Department.

What does the process entail?

Students only have 8 weeks to dive into complicated issues in our community, and they work quite extensively to gather community feedback, learn from local experts, research global case studies, and realize how they themselves are experts, too. Content experts from all around the world work with the students, as well.

For example, this year the topic is transportation, and we’ve partnered with staff from Volpe, state government, Hubway, local and national companies, and many City departments. Students are placed in teams to ensure that every team has a chance to win. They come up with these great ideas on how to improve a challenge in Cambridge, they pitch their ideas live to the community and to expert judges, and then the winners turn these grandiose ideas, such as “let’s build an anaerobic digester on CRLS grounds” into something that is possible to accomplish over a six-week internship with $2,000 funding.

And some students then propose their ideas to Participatory Budgeting, where they can get more funding for their innovative solutions.

What is the origin of the Glocal Challenge?

In 2012, EF Education First, with offices in Cambridge, modeled the Glocal Challenge off the Hult Business School’s Hult Business Challenge, where winning business school teams win $1,000,000 to implement their proposals. Seeing the success of this program, EF approached the City and the Cambridge Public School District (CPSD) about piloting a similar program on a smaller scale at CRLS.

Winning students would participate in an Education First tour, which would coincide with EF’s Global Leadership Summit. In 2014, the Community Development Department realized the opportunity to better engage with high school students through the Glocal Challenge and began working more closely with EF Education First.  The City provides funding for internships and implementation funds.

CDD now partners with the Design Lab at CPSD, as well as with the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program to ensure that students have meaningful learning and job experiences, with the hope that students will feel empowered in their communities and will also want to remain engaged with the City after the Challenge is over.

So far, we have seen students pursuing studies in college related to the work they did on the Challenge, winning Participatory Budgeting proposals, and student participation on official City boards and commissions.

How would you describe the value to the students and the city?

The reason why it’s valuable to the students is that they get real life experience on how to manage a project while also being given free reign to be creative in their thinking.

The prompts each year are based on real challenges in Cambridge. They think about how their proposal is going to impact the community we live in. And they get to make a difference. They learn how to budget, how to procure items, how to interview stakeholders, and how to have a job. The most amazing part is that they actually see their project come to fruition – or not – at the end of the summer.

The “or not” is key to the Glocal process. It’s important to the staff that students understand not all proposals are going to work.  Failure is a great learning tool. Fail often to succeed is one of our mantras in the design thinking process. We want students to see that trying lots of different ideas is important, and to have success, many unsuccessful proposals must first be written.

The program is valuable to the City of Cambridge because we are able to meaningfully engage high school students in our work. And working with the next generation of city planners, public servants, and city councillors is very powerful. These students get to see what it’s like to work for the City and what skills are needed for future potential jobs. They are also empowered to get involved in other City initiatives, such as committees and boards and planning processes.

What is an example of the program’s past success?

One clear example is currently evolving. The first year we created the internship program, a team called The Power Saviors won the Challenge. Through their internship, they worked with the City to research all aspect of installing kinetic energy tiles in Cambridge to capture power from people walking around our community.

They researched procurement requirements and locations for where the tiles Glocal Youth at Awards Ceremonyshould go, took pedestrian counts, researched the different companies that produce the tiles, and at the end of the summer created a report to guide the installation of a set of tiles in Cambridge. They proposed their idea to Participatory Budgeting last cycle, and it won!

The funding was available this fiscal year and now we’re installing a parklet that utilizes kinetic energy tiles for the floor with $50,000 of Participatory Budgeting funding. These students are members of the City team reviewing the designs and hosting community meetings for this project.

What do you wish more people knew about Glocal?

I wish more people knew that these students are coming up with these ideas themselves.

We have experts – for the transportation challenge we have engineers, and planners, amazing entrepreneurs who have come up with new technology, we’ve got software engineers, physical street engineers. They’re going to help guide the students, and let them know what the laws and best practices are, but the students come up with the ideas on their own. They go out to the community and test their ideas: “Would you use this? Would you not use this? How could we make it better?”

They do that all on their own. And I think it’s powerful and humbling that our young innovators are so creative and innovative.

What is your favorite part of the process?

I love working with them in the summer when they come for their internship, because I get them for 20 hours a week for 6 weeks and it’s fun to watch them grow as employees while their proposals become a reality.

I think my favorite part is watching them over the 8 weeks that they’re working on their proposals.

They come in on the first day thinking, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. What is this thing we’re doing?” And then they come out at the Finals event to pitch their ideas in front of hundreds of people, completely confident in their idea because they have done so much work to get there.

More information can be found at

Glocal Challenge Finals & Student Exhibition were held on Wednesday, January 17, 2018.

Glocal Winning Teams

  • Ezra Rudel, Max Katz-Christy, Jessica Paul & Miles Taylor: Live Bus plans to make it easier and more convenient to take transit by mounting real-time transit displays in local business windows facing bus stops.
  • Simon Simpson, Lamisa Jahan, Yousuf Syed, Jeftaline Gay, Alex Henriquez, Rakeyah Ahsan & Sajid Ahsan: Transportation Transformers aims to dramatically increase bike usage among students at CRLS by partnering with the City to promote and offer discounted Hubway memberships for students.
  • Aviva Gould, Nick Howe, Sneha KC, Annie MacBeth & Juliana Vandermark: Cam Tran will create an app that will populate user data and produce the safest bike routes around Cambridge.
  • Ginely Baltodano, Pia Costello & Hayley Swope: Wheeled Empowerment plans to make the Red Line more accessible to people with disabilities by placing convertible seating that will fold up and provide locking mechanisms to hold wheelchairs in place.
  • Anaka Landrigan, Olivia Marinou-Iatridou, Cindya Gao & Andy Naranjo: Team TV would like to install interactive touch screens at bus stops to show where on the route the bus is in real time, as well as a map of the entire route and the routes of the buses that also go through that stop.

Photos are up from the Finals! Thank you to everyone who came, friends and families of the participants! Special thanks…

Posted by EF Glocal Challenge on Thursday, January 18, 2018

Published by

Lee Gianetti

Director of Communications and Community Relations

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