What if we could teach the next generation to design a better world?

The Global Children’s Designathon

A typical starting point in our children’s labs is to ask them: 'What one thing would you like to change in the world and what would you invent to change it?' 

And what do you think the children say, do they say ‘more toys’ or, ‘less school’? 

Not at all. In fact, these are children’s speculative design ideas: A 3D food printer to tackle world hunger; a car which drives on electricity created by the wheels on the road to reduce CO2 emissions; and a pen that writes by itself using Bluetooth for children with Dyslexia. 

‘What one thing would you like to change in the world?’

Worldwide there are 2 billion children of school going age. How can we prepare them to prosper in a rapidly changing, increasingly technological and complex world? And how can they learn to design to a better world for themselves and the planet?

Armed with these urgent questions, 15 years of experience in designing education programs in widely diverse contexts from Afghanistan to the Netherlands, plus a belief that all children can contribute to designing a better world, we at Unexpect are attempting to answer this challenge by sharing our social design methodology developed especially for children to tackle complex issues and prototype their ideas with maker tools and electronics. 

Our design-based learning method

The methodology borrows heavily from design thinking and the maker movement while taking inspiration from prominent education innovators such as John Dewey, The Reggio Emilia approach, Seymour Papert and even Socrates. The methodology has visual presentations, technology explanations and kick-off trainings for adult facilitators. Adaptable for many contexts, we are preparing to scale to schools, clubs and cities globally in the coming 2 years through sharing a DIY Designathon Toolkit.

The Global Children’s Designathon on November 15th, happening in 5 cities worldwide on the same day, is the big launch of this method. Children in each city will design for a better city under three themes: mobility, food and energy in relation to the environment. The cities participating are Amsterdam, Dublin, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi. A highlight during these events is when the children connect via skype to meet and share ideas.


Examples of what children have developed in earlier Labs.

As we continue to improve and share this method, the children’s inventions can also teach us adults a thing or two. What are children revealing, for example, through the problems they choose to work on and how do the problems they perceive differ from city to city? Are children (technologically) optimistic about the future? And do their ideas and inventions reveal trends and possible futures?

We’re thrilled to be supported by Yoxi in this endeavour and look forward to contributing to social innovation through the growing number of child social inventors. 

And now back to playing with electronics, if you want to make a little electric car activated by a magnetic sensor, check our latest guide and video. 

Relevant links



Emer Beamer, social designer and educator is founder of Unexpect and the Global Children’s Designathon.  Inspired by children and their capacity to imagine better futures. Prior to Unexpect, she co-founded Butterfly Works, co-creation studio for a better world, working in 16 countries  and NairoBits, a digital design school for disadvantaged youth in Nairobi, Kenya.