MakerKids: Building the Next Generation of Inventors

Kids want to be inventors when they grow up, but why wait til then? MakerKids is making that happen for kids in and around Toronto as they spark creativity and teach the technical skills to manifest their ideas. A non-profit workshop space in Roncesvalles, Makerkids is one of the only makerspaces in the world where kids can learn about and get their hands dirty with woodworking, robotics, 3D printing, and electronics. 

I happily stumbled upon MakerKids when searching for summer camps for my nephew, Legend. He's the coolest kid I know, bursting with energy and creativity and technological know-how that never fails to impress me. I find myself scratching my head as he shows me the latest features on YouTube, his photoediting skills, or his recordings of his Minecraft sessions. He lives in a world that makes me - a twenty something Millenial that lives and breathes the online social space - feel old and outdated.

Being the nerd/tiger-aunt person that I am, I wanted to find a camp that would appeal to his strengths and interests, challenge him in a productive way, and make it fun all at the same time. Luckily, I found MakerKids' Inventors camp where they would spend the week thinking up an idea for an invention and building it all from scratch. Everyday I would pick him up from camp and he would teach me something new about Arduino, woodworking, and robotics. By the end of the week, he had built his very own life-size wolf complete with audio howling! And we're continuing the project at home before the summer ends, painting the wolf and adding little details to it to make it even more realistic.

MakerKids is such an awesome initiative that gives kids the opportunity to make what they find in their imagination a physical reality. It fills a serious void currently found in our education system; that is, a hands-on and creative experience that mixes learning and play. The kids go beyond what they would learn exclusively in textbooks, and actually explore science, technology, and engineering in a way that engages their imagination, hands, and brains. They think, design, experiment, and create...all while having fun! Who knew! 

So for all the mommies and daddies in the GTA, check out MakerKids at

Makeshift's Trade Issue: Beyond the Greenbacks and Silver Dollars

Old for new, this for that, goods for cash. Exchanging goods, services, skills, land—even people—has pushed the world toward its current state. And, for better or for worse, it underpins our modern world. The latest issue of Makeshift Magazine explores the intricate labyrinth of trade around the world. But we're not talking about Wall Street here. We're talking about inventive exchanges and backroom deals. This latest issue features everything from analog wire transfers in the Middle East, organ swapping in China, and bustling exchange in the Nakivale refugee camp.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the community organizers behind the Trade School Toronto (TSTO) and write about this growing global network of learning spaces that run exclusively on barter. Anyone can teach a class and students attend with barter items that the teacher requests. Two-hour classes run the gamut from urban forestry to learning the 8-count lindy hop. And you can learn it all for the price of a vegan meal, a song, a baking sheet, or even just the simple promise to try swing dancing again. TSTO and its equivalents around the world is a manifestation of the move away from traditional educational systems to alternative, more accessible learning models.

Get an insider's look at offbeat, dirty, ingenious, and original tales of trade from street levels around the world by grabbing your copy of Makeshift Magazine here.  

Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

I've just recently wrapped up a course with the Institute of Technology and Social Change (TechChange). If you know me or read this blog, it's pretty obvious that I'm deeply involved in the tech space. But recently I've also taken a keen interest in social entrepreneurship, a field that's been increasing in popularity over the past few decades. More recently, there has been a real movement of social entrepreneurs developing technological solutions to complex social problems. Naturally, I had to learn more. I storified what I've learned over the past few weeks along with some of my favorite readings and videos from the course. Enjoy!


Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

Highlights from the Institute of Technology and Social Change's (TechChange) inaugural course on Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship. For four weeks, we explored social media, mobile phone applications, and crowdsourcing tools for policy, advocacy and development.

Storified by Justine Yu · Thu, Nov 01 2012 22:19:23


We kicked off the course with an introduction to social entrepreneurship, deconstructing the term and exploring the current landscape. The article below from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) is one of my favorite readings from the course. Making a case for a definition that sets clear boundaries as to what and what does not constitute social entrepreneurship, it's a great introductory read for anyone just beginning to learn about the sector.
Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition (SSIR)Nonprofits The nascent field of social entrepreneurship is growing rapidly and attracting increased attention from many sectors. The term...
An interesting question was brought up by the TechChange facilitators and moderators: Does the financial model of an enterprise necessarily determine whether or not it is an example of social entrepreneurship? In other words, does social entrepreneurship need to have a profit-generating business model? Some responses...
JUSTINE: "I’m not sure if a profit-generating business model is necessary to qualify an enterprise as an example of social entrepreneurship but I do think that financial sustainability is vital. How an enterprise achieves this (through profits, grants, etc.) is another question. It’s essential that a social enterprise be financially sustainable so that it may do its work without disruption. If, according to the article, a social entrepreneur aims for “large-scale, transformational benefit that accrues either to a significant segment of society or to society at large”, then his or her enterprise must have the financial means to do so. I’ve worked with a number of non-profit organizations that, relying on conditional grants and inconsistent donations, have been burdened with financial hardship and their programs have suffered as a result. It would be difficult (impossible??) to create large-scale social change without a financially sustainable enterprise!"

MANUEL: I have often thought of social entrepreneurship as using business-acumen to fill in the gaps where government infrastructure and provision is failing in order to deliver public goods (e.g. energy, water, healthcare, and education).  In addition, social enterprises should operate with a vision to achieve social impact.  In fact, I tended to hold the view that the enterprise needed to generate a self-sustaining profit, without which they would simply be classified as a nonprofit.
As many of the students in the class are interested in starting their own social ventures, we also discussed the importance of mission statements. Below is another interesting article from SSIR that advocates for organizations and enterprises limiting their mission statements to eight words. I'm a huge fan of Shakespeare's "brevity is the soul of wit" so I'm all for this...though I'll be more lenient and give a ten word allotment!
The Eight-Word Mission Statement (SSIR)Don't settle for more. Whatever windy drivel they might put forward as a corporate mission statement, mainstream for-profit businesses ha...
...and here's Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, on her experience starting up this wildly successful social venture. It's a wonderful TED talk and just full of Jackley's optimism.
Jessica Jackley: Poverty, money -- and lovetedtalksdirector


Design thinking--an approach totally unknown to me before this course--is all about using design techniques to tackle complex social problems. It's about working closely with users to usher innovations from the bottom up. Reminds me of Eric Ries' Lean Startup.
Design Thinking for Social Innovation (SSIR)Designers have traditionally focused on enhancing the look and functionality of products. Recently, they have begun using design techniqu...
A really insightful presentation and chat with Adam White, co-founder of Groupshot, about technology-based solutions for social problems.
TC108:Adam WhiteTech Change
SocEnt and Tech- TechChange and Amani.pdf - Google Drive


We explored various social innovations in the field...all tackling very different social problems but all leveraging technology for solutions.
Digital Green:
Digital Green in ActionAdam Booher
tem_computer_0608.pdf - Google Drive

TC108 Katy PetersTech Change
Social media and advocacy
Katherine MaherTech Change
mGovernment (mobile government) initiatives
Parliament Watch:
Gregor HackmackTech Change


Though we covered high level technological solutions, our class also shared simple, everyday tech tools that we could all use to run our nonprofits and social enterprises more efficiently. Nick kicked off the discussion with a run down of the tools he and his team use at TechChange.
6 Tech Tools for Growing Your Social EnterpriseTech Change
MAX: Evernote is another great one, not just for remembering things, but also for keeping a real-time updated set of notes between team members. We created a username that several of us had access to and could put down anything important we thought of using our smartphones. People at home can log in and check anything we’ve added on computers as well and add their own notes.
- Fluid Surveys: Wonderful survey tool; more functions than SurveyMonkey if you are using the free version.

– Lucid Chart Very quick way to produce flow-charts if you don’t have MS Visio!


- Salesforce Chatter for collaboration and communication

- Ning groups to manage relationships with some customers and partners

- Skype and other VoIP technology to cut communications costs

- WebX for presentations and demonstrations

- Twitter and WordPress for micro-blogging and blogging

- LinkedIn for recruiting (and Twitter)

- Drupal for content management, Intranet


- Google Drive/Dropbox: We’re a pretty dispersed team of people. We’ve got team members working in all corners of the globe so having our working documents on the cloud is essential.

- Google Analytics: Fantastic way to keep track of stats and analytics for our website. Gives us a great understanding of how visitors our using our website: where they are clicking, their paths throughout the website, and how long they stay on the site or when/where they drop off.

- CrazyEgg: This one goes hand in hand with Google Analytics…the tool specializes in eye tracking, generating heat maps for our website showing us where people are looking and clicking.

- Zoho: We are currently in the middle of implementing this CRM software. Before this, we’ve been working to keep track of applications and trip participants through a clutter of Excel files and Google spreadsheets. Hoping this will make our work flow a lot smoother and a lot less frustrating.

- Facebook/Twitter: These two social networking sites have been vital to our success. Our biggest referral source for applications has been through word of mouth and Facebook especially has been an incredible tool to facilitate that. 

- Hootsuite: Use this amazing tool to schedule Twitter posts in the future so that I don’t have to sit on my computer tweeting all day every day. As a dashboard, it’s also a great way to keep track of all the conversations going on about topics we’re interested in as an organization.

- Vertical Response: Email marketing tool.

- We post jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities here.

- Causevox:  A great fundraising tool that gives each person a unique and interactive fundraising page.


- Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, WordPress blog

- File-sharing: SugarSync, Dropbox, GoogleDocs, Jing (for screenshots and image sharing)

- Design: InDesign

- Research: LinkedIn. I admit that’s a strange choice but I find I use LinkedIn extensively to research people I’m meeting.


Armed with this knowledge, we're now off to apply our learning to the real world and begin cultivating our own social ventures. Another tech tool to help us on our way is Ashoka's Changeshop, a global marketplace where anyone with an idea for social change has the opportunity to track their progress, connect to new funding opportunities, and highlight their achievements for the public. Here are some of the inspiring ideas and projects members of the class are implementing...
Terah Crews' Access Elite
Access EliteAccess Elite
Manuel Peralta's Partnering for Vocation and Engagement
Partnering for Vocation and EngagementMy idea is to start an online vocational training/civic engagement match program with multinational corporations (MNCs), universities, an...
Aldo de Pape's aswegrow
aswegrowBuilding Classrooms for Quality Education #aswegrow believes each child has the right to a proper education that matches its needs and ef...

A Tale of Some Children's Books

My mom loves telling the story of when I first learned to read. It’s a simple one, but she loves it nonetheless. When I was a child, she would read to me every night before going to sleep. One night when I was about four or five she was too tired and, jokingly, she asked me to read to her instead. Much to her surprise, I actually did. She always tells the story with such joy and pride, explaining that she didn’t expect me to know how to read already.

I’m guessing my love of reading started with those bedtime stories and for years I’ve kept the books I read as a child. I never wanted to give them away, initially for purely sentimental reasons but after awhile, I figured it would be best to give them somewhere where they could truly be appreciated….to someone who would take the time to read to children like my mom and dad always did for me. 

And so my sister-in-law and I prepared a box full of my books and other educational toys that we could donate to an organization promoting education and literacy for the children of the Philippines. We had been talking about doing something like this for awhile but only now with my trip back home were we actually able to put our plans into action.

Museo Pambata (which translates to the Museum for Children) is one such organization that does exactly what we were looking for.  As the name indicates, it is a museum…but it is unlike all others in that it’s completely interactive and hands-on, promoting an alternative way of learning for children, especially for those who have no access to formal education. What interested me the most though was their literacy program. In addition to their in house library that’s open to all children, the museum also has a mobile library that travels around the impoverished areas of metro Manila reading to the children of those villages. That’s where I really wanted my books to go.

Just before leaving the Philippines, I made the trip over to Museo Pambata where I was greeted by Kikay and Pamela, two street children who were there volunteering at the library to read to other children visiting the museum. And in an instant, I knew my much beloved books had found a home…

Watch the video below for a tour of Manila’s Museo Pambata.

For more information about the museum, visit