More than 300 people from 70 countries participated in the AFS Global Ideathon (4-6 September) to work collaboratively on innovative ideas for addressing global challenges. Envisaged as a hackathon for ideas – ideathon, this global 48-hour digital event brought forward solutions to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was designed by dedicated AFS volunteers, more than 50,000 strong worldwide, who are deeply passionate about our global impact and mission to make the world more just and peaceful.

This event was a unique opportunity to leverage intercultural learning and global understanding to help the world during this time of crisis. One of the volunteers in the organizing team is Gabriela Herrera, who has been volunteering with AFS in Guatemala for the past 7 years. She explains:

What makes an ideathon different is how flexible it is, it allows everyone to dream as big as they want and be as creative as they wish. This framework enables everyone to work together looking for solutions to current challenges. It allows voices to be heard and motivates us to be active to focus on what we can do during these difficult times.”

Leading up to this global hackathon for ideas, people from around the world submitted challenges they wanted to tackle. Challenges covered a wide range of topics, from international education, youth and inclusion, to the environment, gender issues and more.

Speaking to the 300+ volunteers who attended the virtual opening ceremony, Chair of the AFS International Board of Trustees Vishakha N. Desia said, “There is hunger for interconnection, look at us: we aren’t five people any more. There are hundreds and thousands of us ready to change the world in yet another way.” Watch the Ideathon opening session recording here

Over 48 hours, people connected digitally over zoom, slack, social media and many other platforms to work on their selected challenges. A skilled team of facilitators, mentors and tech-savvy AFS volunteers guided the participants through seven different milestones, including generating a shared understanding of the challenges and collecting possible solutions. 


When asked why she joined such an event, Sylva Choi, a teenager from Malaysia said, “The whole idea of hundreds of people coming together for the same cause is incredible. It’s the joy of connecting with others. It’s just so cool.

And this weekend wasn’t just about hard work: the program was created in a way to include regular check in for meals (breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on your timezone) shared virtually, and a global party with sets from DJs in Bangkok and Asunción. Listen to the Ideathon playlist generated by the participants.

The Ideathon now enters its next phase, in which anyone around the world can discover the challenges and solutions generated during the online event, and vote on the ones they would like to take further. AFS leadership will also carefully study all the solutions presented and define strategic ways this innovative thinking can be integrated into the organization’s future.

 “After this engaging weekend, one thing is clear: global citizenship is no longer optional,” said Daniel Obst, President and CEO of AFS Intercultural Programs during the closing session of the Ideathon. “We at AFS are prepared to use these times of crisis as an opportunity for change, and this Ideathon was perfect for that: it will help us define how we can better achieve our mission and generate impact.” Watch the Ideathon closing session recording here.

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