New York, N.Y.
Objective: Use a role-playing game, World Class, to teach kids about global poverty and development while engaging young people in advocacy for those who are unschooled.
In a Nutshell: Players receive identity sheets that show who they are (with a picture and name of a child in the developing world); what resources they have available to them (money, family members, a teacher or a job); what their dream career is; and how many years of school they will need to achieve it. Players take turns spinning a wheel of everyday events, and each time the wheel stops on a space, the event it describes affects individual youths differently, based on the resources each has available. If the wheel stops on “Hunger Strikes,” students in school but with no money are forced to drop out and help support their families. The game ends when a few youths have “achieved their dreams.”
Where It Happens: NetAid is a New York-based nonprofit that promotes action against extreme poverty. The game has been introduced to youths at 42 sites in 11 states, including classrooms, community-based organizations (such as Pathways for Youth in the Bronx) and school-based after-school programs.
When It Began: The game was developed in 2002 and introduced last spring.
Who Started It: NetAid was founded in 1999 by the United Nations Development Program and Cisco Systems. World Class was conceived and developed by staff at NetAid, with help from the Centre for Social Responsibility in Tamil Nadu, India.
Who Runs It: World Class development and distribution is overseen by NetAid Program Manager Abby Falik and Program Associate Nicki Pombier.
Early Obstacles: Securing funding for launching the pilot. Also, NetAid’s specialty is providing assistance online. World Class was its first venture into offline services.
How They Overcame Them: Falik says that while NetAid used its own resources and some partnerships to handle the game’s development, the agency is hoping that a successful pilot period will help attract more permanent funding. As for developing an offline project, NetAid partnered with New York-based advertising agency Kidvertisers to design and produce the game.
Cost: From its inception in 2002 through the pilot last spring, World Class cost about $600,000 to start up. NetAid subsidizes some of the cost and sells the units for $40 each on its website.
Who Pays: NetAid’s operational budget comes largely from the support of the U.N. Development Program, Cisco Systems and the Woodside, Calif.-based Listwin Family Foundation.
Who Else Has Kicked In: NetAid was awarded a $15,000 grant by the Friendship Through Education consortium, of which it is a member, to create and develop the World Class website.
Youth Served: The agency estimates that NetAid World Class has been played by 2,400 youth ages 7 to 18 in a variety of settings. NetAid’s stateside partners (including Teach for America, City Year and NY Scores) generally facilitate sessions with poor and at-risk youth, while its Angolan partner (the International School of Angola) uses the game to deliver a harsh message about the realities of life in Angola to children from wealthy families. Games have also been sent to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Youth Turn-On: They enjoy the role-play aspect of the game. “The visual representation, and the actual sensation of inequality that this evokes, make the game a powerful, experiential lesson,” says Pombier. “They enjoy getting to be someone else for the duration of the game.”
Youth Turn-Off: Younger kids find it difficult to understand the complex global issues that the game brings up. Youth don’t like being on the losing end of a spin (landing them jobless or out of school, for instance), but Pombier says this unhappiness is a crucial part of the game.
Research Shows: Comprehensive evaluations of the game’s usefulness will depend on further funding.
What Still Gets in the Way: The next challenge for NetAid will be to secure money to make printing and distribution cost-effective, while persuading more educators and youth workers to build World Class into their curricula.