Does the 10-year mark officially make something a tradition? In Upper School English, it does. The 2020-2021 academic year marks the 10th year of the Global Action Project (GAP), a capstone unit for seniors who have to create a sustainable social enterprise and documentary and pitch their idea to a panel of experts from the business community.
This year-long class taught by JK-12 English Department Chair Lynn Mittler focuses on the study of documentary filmmaking and learning how to create an endearing character with a compelling story arc and then translate it all into a business solution. To that end, students had to identify a problem in the world that has not been satisfactorily addressed, examine the systems involved, and then create an innovation that will uniquely address the issue.
Mittler shares, “When considering sustainability, students realize that their efforts to create an enterprise may not result in a fully independent business, but the goal is to limit the need for charity as much as possible by creating some form of a revenue model.” Each group created an enterprise utilizing the Design Thinking process, followed by writing a business plan using the Business Model Canvas format as a guide. Additionally, they created a documentary explaining the issue, presented their materials, and participated in a Q&A session with the panelists in a webinar format.
The presentation topics included:
Investree – Investree creates investment opportunities to help slow the continual acceleration of deforestation. They propose offering clients incentives and lower interest rates by using a percentage of their investment to purchase tree saplings or support an organization combating deforestation.
Complete Revolution Recycling – Their goal is to engage river and waterway communities throughout the recycling process by turning locally reclaimed plastics into products that can return to benefit the same communities, such as St. Louis.
Rehabilitated Convicts Placement Organization (RCPO) – To combat recidivism, RCPO is a staffing company that exclusively works with rehabilitated ex-convicts to help them earn degrees and certifications and find jobs once they are released from prison.
New Life Financial Services – Almost half of the opioid addicts in America never seek treatment due to cost. This financial advising company strives to help ease the financial burden of the rehabilitation process for individuals and families struggling with opioid addiction.
Illuminate – When many foster youths exit the foster care system, they face the inability to support themselves. Illuminate aims to provide training, mentorship, and entry into the workforce for these young adults through candle sales.
NicNoMo – This company hopes to change the perspective and presence of teens vaping and using nicotine. They want to develop a mobile app to provide sobriety contacts and support, direct contact with therapists, craving evasion games, and advice and scheduling for sober success.
Mittler reflects on this year’s format, “I could not be more proud of how the students responded to the challenges of the pandemic. I was thrilled they could present in person and live over a webinar, unlike last year, but there were still hurdles such as masks and various technology glitches to overcome. The students were remarkable in how they maintained their composure through it all. They have exhibited tremendous resilience throughout the year.”
Mittler feels it’s essential for students to pitch their ideas to individuals with real-world experience in different fields, so the alumni panel provides the perfect platform to test and address pressure points. Each panelist was asked to hypothetically approach the presentations as an “impact investor” and determine if the group should continue research and development to “de-risk” their enterprise, if the group will get limited initial support from an investor, or if the group will receive full support.
“I was so grateful to our panelists for giving time back to the students. They were truly invested in this experience and so supportive of their work. It was great for me to see both sides connect and reminded me of how MICDS creates a powerful bond. I also appreciate the willingness of our alumni to be on Zoom when they have so many other responsibilities in their lives,” Mittler shared.
The panelists found the experience equally rewarding:
“It was impressive to see the students think beyond traditional models of adding charity on top of business and rather explore ways in which they might harness the power of business to create sustainable social change.” – Christina Bryant Herbert ’02, Co-Founder, CEO, & Creative Director at St. Frank
“I found all the project proposals engaging and inspiring, but the confident professionalism consistently displayed by each group member was perhaps the most striking. Despite all the challenges of presenting remotely, each student spoke knowledgeably and passionately, fielding questions from the reviewers with aplomb. A true testament to the students, their group dynamics, and, of course, their teachers. I am grateful for being part of the experience; it was a highlight of my week!” – Raj Tailor ’92, Designer & Broker/Owner of Portica Real Estate
“The student groups did an excellent job developing business concepts around the theme of sustainability this year. I was impressed by the high-quality content and presentations and their professionalism and preparation, which allowed them to easily and thoughtfully respond to panelists’ questions. I was thrilled to participate on the GAP panel again this year and be reminded of how remarkable MICDS students are and the bright future that lies ahead for each of them.” – Amanda Peters Brennan ’96, Brand Director at Freely Pet
“The students were incredibly professional, irrespective of age. The prepared documents, content, and presentations were at a collegiate level, if not of a master’s program quality. I was warmed to be reminded that MICDS has such high caliber students learning in such a well-organized curriculum and by such devoted teachers. It was a treat and an honor to participate.” – Turner Peters ’01, CEO, Truck Driver Power
A senior took the opportunity as well to share the impact of this project during her final days at MICDS:
“I have learned a lot from this project by coming up with an idea from scratch and learning how to scale a business. Our project was based on combating deforestation. We tried to find a way to incentivize people to plant trees or save them because most people don’t want to cut down trees, but they will do it if it is beneficial to their businesses. I learned that when trying to expand a business or appeal to an audience, we can’t necessarily make them “care” about the issue, but we can make them aware of the impact an individual can make.” – Gretel Wurdack ’21
Congratulations to the student teams for their successful presentations, and thank you to our guest panelists for their time and feedback!