Each year, the Aspen Institute, with support from the Bezos Family Foundation, partners with community leaders, educators, and high school students in a different city to confront some of the world’s most pressing issues in the form of the Aspen Challenge. Launched in 2013, the Aspen Challenge equips high school students to become civic leaders, now and in the future, by providing resources and a platform for their engagement in identifying, designing, and implementing solutions to challenges confronting their communities.
Much of the early and ongoing success of the Aspen Challenge results from its partnership with a local school district. In each city, the Aspen Institute partners with an urban school district to invite twenty schools to form teams of ten, including eight students and two educators who serve as coaches, to take on the Aspen Challenge. Over twelve weeks, students are expected to:
- Build Empathy – Develop an atmosphere conducive to positive team interaction and authentic community engagement.
- Get Inspired – Teams are expected to attend a challenge forum where current civic leaders ask teams to create innovative solutions to world problems present in their own communities.
- Design a Solution – After attending the challenge forum, teams have one week to decide upon a challenge, draft a vision statement, and set goals. Teams are encouraged to select challenges based on interest, significance, feasibility, and sustainability.
- Give the Solution a Voice – Teams are supported in the development of branding and messaging to propose their solution to the community stakeholders.
- Outreach and Community Engagement – Teams use small events, surveys, and media outreach to share their solution, gather feedback, and facilitate community buy-in.
- Present and Compete – In a culminating event, teams present their solutions to a panel of community experts who evaluate the teams based on innovation, feasibility, sustainability, and teamwork.
- Reflect and Grow – Teams participate in a post-challenge solution showcase to support their ongoing and collective development as civic leaders.
For the 2021-2022 academic year, the Aspen Challenge partner cities are New Orleans and Miami. While the teams have yet to present their solutions, examples of community leaders’ challenges include:
“I challenge you to design a program that employs kindness interventions – both online and offline – in order to improve the collective mental health of our communities.” – Taylor Parker
“I challenge you to design a solution that will address the mobility and transportation challenges for youth throughout the city of New Orleans.” – Lona Hankins
“I challenge you to collaborate with your neighbors to use your community assets in creating a solution that improves the food landscape and promotes a culture of health in your community.” – Camille Range
In addition to developing new and innovative community-based solutions to longstanding and emergent problems, the Aspen Challenge is also an opportunity for high school students to learn more about their community’s existing resources and how they might be adapted to better support youth and other individuals often left out of solution development. While the Aspen Institute primarily partners with large cities, a similar challenge could potentially be adapted by smaller cities, suburban and rural communities as a way to engage our youth, and the next generation of leaders, about the challenges of today and tomorrow.
For more information about the Aspen Challenge, including past challenges and solutions, visit: https://aspenchallenge.org/