Gen Z Innovators Shine at T-Mobile's Changemaker Challenge Lab
While spending her childhood summers visiting her grandmother in India, Rashmi Alawani, was captivated by how her grandmother used aromatic spices and herbs, like turmeric and rosemary, to help keep food fresh.
Now a high school student in Aurora, Ill. and an aspiring scientist, Alawani wondered if this ayurvedic practice that is steeped in the Hindu tradition could, on a greater scale, keep meat, produce and bread fresh longer and prevent spoilage. Earlier this year, she and her friend, Shria Halkoda, founded Tobelli, a startup that combines biodegradable food packaging and repurposed cellulose found in tobacco, to create a thin, safe material that helps reduce food waste.
Reducing food waste, which the United States Agriculture Department estimates between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply, is just one of the big ideas from youth teams attending the Changemaker Challenge Lab held this week at T-Mobile's headquarters in Bellevue, Washington.
The young women are one of 15 teams of youth entrepreneurs whose projects made it into the final round of the Changemaker Challenge, the culmination of T-Mobile’s nationwide contest focused on mobilizing youth between the ages of 13 and 18 who have developed bold ideas to create positive change in their communities. The Changemaker Challenge sponsored by T-Mobile, the T-Mobile Foundation and Ashoka, empowered the teams to develop projects focused on three categories: Digital Empowerment, Equity in Action and Thriving Planet.
“The Changemaker Challenge Lab is always one of the most fun T-Mobile events of the year and the energy and passion behind these BIG ideas is incredibly inspiring," said Janice V. Kapner, chief communications officer for T-Mobile. “These bright young entrepreneurs will make the world more sustainable, equitable and connected for us all and it's why T-Mobile invests in youth - they are our future and are confidently tackling some of the most pressing issues we are facing in the world today.”
The three-day immersive experience featured the top 15 teams selected from 203 submissions across three categories – Digital Empowerment, Thriving Planet, and Equity In Action. Each of the 15 teams pitched their idea to T-Mobile executives for the chance to win the grand prize: $5,000 in seed funding, bringing the total amount to $15,000. These impressive ideas left T-Mobile executives no choice but to award a grand prize to Safe Teens Online (Digital Empowerment), MiSendero (Equity in Action) and Tobelli (Thriving Planet), with all three teams receiving an additional $5,000 each in seed funding for their projects to help turn their ideas into reality.
These Generation Z leaders are advocating for online privacy and safety education for teens, integrating Latin American English learners into school communities in more meaningful ways, and amplifying African American literacy and diversity in books featuring Black and Brown characters through a virtual, and in-person, book club.
Equity In Action category winner Romy Greenwald’s grandparents immigrated from Mexico and Cuba and she remembers her mom sharing stories about having challenges learning English. Motivated by her family experiences and hearing from immigrant Latino English students that they felt isolated, sparked the idea for MiSendero, a student-led program to help immigrant Latino students integrate fully into their school community.
“We help integrate Latin American English learning students by creating mutual educational experiences with our members tutoring students learning to speak Spanish,” said Romy Greenwald founder, and president of MiSendero. “It’s a win-win giving Spanish students extra language practice and a chance to get to know native speakers. The support from T-Mobile and Ashoka through the Changemaker Challenge has empowered us to make our dreams come true. We’re already bringing our program into school districts across the country and as a result, we’re helping change how Latin American immigrant students are succeeding academically and socially at school.”
Since the launch of the Changemaker Challenge four years ago in 2018, T- Mobile and the T-Mobile Foundation have invested over $2.5 million to support these bright young leaders. To date, about $414,000 in prize seed funding has gone directly to winning teams for their projects. Former Changemaker Challenge winners have made notable impacts on society, including 2020 winner Ian McKenna, who was recognized as a finalist for the TIME Kid of the Year for helping to reduce hunger through edible gardening and Ian’s Giving Garden. In the past two years, his project has provided more than 20,000 pounds of organic produce to families in need and food pantries in Austin, Texas.
The Changemaker Challenge is part of T-Mobile’s commitment to being a force for good. To learn more about this year’s Changemaker Challenge Grand Prize winners, see below:
Safe Teens Online
A global, youth-led peer-to-peer initiative that educates teenagers on online privacy and safety, encouraging inclusivity, safe habits, and emotional well-being.
Equity In Action
MiSendero works to meaningfully integrate Latin American English learners into their school communities by facilitating mutual learning experiences for all students.
Biodegradable food packaging that repurposes the cellulose found in tobacco to create a thin, safe material to help reduce waste.