In the past year, the COVID-19 crisis has made the business imperative of making changes in education clear. In 2020, we all realized that we will need to tackle tomorrow’s problems — like climate change and global health — now. Nations need to alight efforts as our problems today transcend borders. Creative minds and people skillful to function across multiple disciplines will be the heroes of tomorrow.
As my generation is now responsible for inspiring tomorrow’s leaders, how do we rethink the educational practices that date back to Plato’s Academy in Ancient Greece? How do we celebrate the diversity of thought, skills, and people? And how do we use technology to bring us together rather than divide us?
How do we start to answer these questions? Who do we ask for help?
I would start by asking Pier De Coupertain and Dimitrios Vikelas (the founders of the modern Olympic Games). What would they say? Well, their answer to inspire youth back in the day was to revive the Olympic Games. There answer was inspiration, deriving from humans’ pursuit of excellence.
Looking back at how the dots connected for me, I can say with certainty that my Journey would not have begun if it was not for inspiration. The fuel for igniting one’s values and aspirations into action is — inspiration. In 1997, the city of Athens, Greece, was granted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host the 28th Olympic Games of the modern era. As a young Athenian citizen at the time, I was inspired by the momentum of the moment, filled with a sense of civic pride that my city would host the Olympic Games. Five Olympics and three decades later, I still remember 1997, and my first moment of inspiration moved me to see the world and discover my story.
Fast forward from 1997 to 2013, I arrive at another moment of inspiration. The plan to transform another city under the veil of the Olympic aura. 2013 was also the year I first learned about the new US Olympic and Paralympic museum (USOPM). And an overall $2.2B real estate development effort that would forever transform Colorado Springs’ heart — to what we have come to know today as Olympic City USA. I felt inspired to be again at the starting line of another city’s Olympic Journey. Yet, I saw a gap in the story similar to what I had seen when I first came to America — How will the Olympic story be relevant and inspire the general public? Back in Greece, as I enjoyed the benefits of a classical education, the Olympic Games were a common reference point for Greek’s identity as Plato and Socrates. Yet, in the US, the Olympic story is vastly unknown to people. In the US, pro sports like football and basketball run on an annual season.
“It is a numbers problem, the chances of someone to ever meet in person in the US an Olympic athlete — gold medalists is 0.000014063%.”
The Olympics appear in people’s living rooms and TV for 20 days every four years at best. On the other hand, the numbers of Olympic Ambassadors among the general population are meager. The US sends on average a delegation of its best 800 athletes to the summer Olympic Games, out of which only about 120 will gain a place on an Olympic podium, with only about 45 athletes bring back home a gold medal. Any accounting professor will tell you that for the US population of 320 plus million people, the chances for someone to ever meet in person an Olympic athlete or even a gold medalist is 0.000014063%. It does not take long to realize why the Olympic Games do not enjoy the popularity they do in other parts of the world. A true lack of Olympic Ambassadors among us exists. Yet, the Olympic and Paralympic stories are an endless montage of moments that move us and can be a trustworthy source of inspiration for forwarding movement at scale.
Rethinking Olympic Education and Rule 31, 2. 1
“Olympic education” is a term that first appeared in sports education and Olympic research only in the 1970s. In a 2004 article by Dr. Norbert Muller, the author asks whether “Olympic education” means the revival of ancient Greece’s educational ideals, or is its purpose merely to bring credibility to Olympic symbols’ marketing? Dr. Muller reminds us; the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, saw himself first and foremost as an educator, and his primary aim was educational reform. Initially restricted to France and the French schools, he aimed to make modern sport an integral part of the school routine and introduce a sports education that would embrace both body and mind. He had learned from the modern sport in England, especially from his knowledge of public school education at Rugby, that the young’s moral strength can be critically developed through the individual experience of sporting activity and extended from there to live as a whole.
Today and since 1961, the International Olympic Academy (IOA), which has steadily developed at Ancient Olympia, Greece as the main center of Olympic education, professes a total commitment to Coubertin’s mandate. Typically at a county level, Olympic education occurs through National Olympic Academies (NOA’s). In the US, Olympic education does not exist in an organized national form. The new US Olympic & Paralympic museum (USOPM) could serve in the US such a role. But the USOPM’s current priorities remain in reproducing the content of Olympic stories and delivery of Olympic moments that moves us within its walls, thus, struggling to be relevant to a broader audience.
For a broader appeal, the challenges the USOPM has is shared with all other institutions around the world responsible for Olympic education. Their questions about how to best cover the gap between content delivery and authentic engagement are still not answered. It seems it is a matter of focus and ground realities. All involved are consumed by how to deliver Olympic content best and are left with little or no energy for how to engage and be relevant to a broader audience.
“The time has come to rethinking Olympic education and Rule 31, 2. 1 of the Olympic charter.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter obliges the National Olympic Committees to promote Olympism in all areas of education and adopt independent initiatives for “Olympic education” through national Olympic Academies (Rule 31, 2. 1) yet, does not offer specific guidelines or leadership how to go about it. Thus each nation essentially is left to make its interpretation on the matter. IOC also implemented several of its educational initiatives to realize the Olympic ideal of building a better world through sport through Olympic Day programs and the Olympic Values Education Programme (OVEP). All education IOC initiatives to-date focus first on Olympic values and not the individual, plus they are felt open to interpretation. And this is why, I firmly believe, we need to be rethinking Olympic education and Rule 31, 2. 1 of the Olympic charter. Shining examples in the movement are the International Olympic Academy’s educational initiatives, yet still not implemented at scale.
And the notion that exerting an Olympic education influence on the public at scale can only succeed through the media or sponsor activation programs is no longer valid based on the knowledge and technologies we have today.
It is time to celebrate the individual’s treasures as to who we contribute and augment the Olympic values to push humanity forward.
It is time to act on Coubertin’s call.
Citizens Diplomacy; How do we go about finding answers?
My concerns and surprise around the Olympics’ lack of awareness among the general public hunted me ever since I arrived in the US in 2006. As I talked to sports executives and even Olympic Hopefuls, they would all ask me similar questions like; What exactly are the Olympic Games, why every four years, what is the big deal, how is responsible for them? So, in 2013 when I first heard the Olympic Museum was coming to town, I started to see the dots connect. On the other hand, the project called for a $90 million-plus construction bill, yet the prevailing view that we would start thinking about how we will get people to it after the structure was completed. In 2013 was the time when the idea to marry Olympic and Paralympic based inspiration with leadership education at scale came to life. It all started with the notion of establishing a sister city relationship with Ancient Olympia in Greece (the Olympic Games’ birthplace). The idea was simple; people would start to care if they felt inspired and connected with the Olympic Movement as part of their civic identity, as the Greeks felt associated with the Olympics throughout the millennia. One hundred twenty-five years earlier, Pier de Coupetain and Dimitrios Vikelas — the founders of the modern Olympic Games — activated this idea by starting the modern Games in 1896.
In 2013 I knew nothing about civic engagements and how things work in a city. But this Olympic awareness problem transcends through all that. I felt the Olympic museum and this sister city idea could be the answer to design the framework for a one-of-a-kind education program capable of delivering social impact at scale.
In the spring of 2014, as I arrived at Ancient Olympia with the Colorado Springs delegation, everything was green, the flowers were in full display of their colors, and our spirits were high.
In one of our meetings with the city delegates of Ancient Olympia, sending a young citizen to partake in the Olympic torch relay was presented as a result of the sister city relationship. This concept gave birth to the idea of an Olympic Ambassadorship program or, as we call it today, a young champion ambassador. After then things crystalized. Over the following years, a signature Olympic education program came to life that will eventually enjoy support from the Olympic Museum (USOPM) and Olympic City USA, and by 2020 start to scale internationally.
Needs and Aspirations — First
We augmented our perspectives as we unearthed problems and opportunities across the educational system in our pursuit to develop a one-of-a-kind educational program. The initial intent was to select a young citizen of Olympic city USA to serve as a city ambassador and participate in the torch relay that begins before every Olympics in Ancient Olympia, Greece. It quickly became evident that the task was not as easy as one can imagine. How do we engage schools, develop relevant, resilient curriculum, what will our brand system be, how we go about organizing an international trip, and where do we get the funds to execute all this properly? One of the first lessons was to dive into what the students, parents, and the general public expected from such a program. The underlining finding was to develop a curriculum that enables participants to be part of something bigger and make a real practical difference. And to-date, Olympic education initiatives are blind to this problem as their only solution is to offer new content and repackage its delivery mediums and not focus on the individual’s needs and aspirations.
We had to learn many hard lessons in the first years. You can see the key takeaways from each cycle in the graph below. Each year as the program expanded its reach, we would make improvements based on what we had learned.
A significant discovery we made was the gap the educational system has between theory and practical application. In research, my creative partners Jeremy Reeves and Martin Drexler unearthed that the actual problem exists between endless academic requirements teachers have to fulfill and state/government guidelines school administrators have to follow. As a result, students get lost in translation.
Thought a problem for the educational system, this presented an opportunity to connect the dots. We felt that the YCA program could offer a balanced approach between digital and educational modalities that will enable participants to be inspired to find their voice by first leaning into who they are.
The approach to lead first with the participant’s needs and aspirations enables us to develop a one-of-a-kind curriculum that transcends beyond the border of the Olympic realm and setting the foundation for our ability to scale.
These discoveries also lead us to name the growth outcomes participants would experience and own by completing the YCA program. What is an ambassador? What is a leader of tomorrow? How do we inspire the next generation? The answers started to appear.
Words of so many creators like Martin Drexler start to become true for us as; good design is obvious, great design is transparent
In 2019 a visionary newly arrived leader of the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) from DC became aware of what we had done until then and decided to support the program. His endorsement enabled us to invest in branding and educational infrastructures.
At the time in a joint press release it was stated that; “We are delighted to join with the YCA team as we seek to engage young people throughout the Pikes Peak region in the education and demonstration of leadership ethics, along with the values of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. Olympic City USA has many inspiring partners and we are excited for the future cooperation between the USOPM and YCA as we seek to enhance community participation and connectivity to the incredible stories of Team USA athletes and partners” said USOPM CEO Chris Liedel.
Today our experience over the years has empowered us to clarify our education space position as great minds from the education and creative space offered their wisdom. Today, a five-step framework guides our tactical objectives each step of the way; a. Overall Reach, b. Industry Impact, c. Spirit Of Innovation, d. Future Readiness, e. Market Demand
As depicted in the graph below about how we know, our methodology, combined with our positioning, mission, values, education approach, filter throughout the cognitive bias codex, enabled us to set the foundation of a resilient educational system that ultimately becomes relevant to participants.
Looking deeper, one can ask how do we combine all the information and move from theory to application while staying relevant for our participants to the point they want to keep engaging and share with others their experiences in the program. YCA programming and materials have come to utilize the backdrop of the Olympic moments that moved us while applying, in our favor, the cognitive bias codex. All thanks to Jeremy Reeves’s great work while trying to explain the YCA story during the early stages of our partnership with the Olympic Museum.
Based on Terry Heick Founder & Director of TeachThought, A cognitive bias is an inherent thinking’ blind spot’ that reduces thinking accuracy and results inaccurate–and often irrational–conclusions. Much like logical fallacies, cognitive biases can be viewed as causes or effects but can generally be reduced to broken thinking. The pattern is to form a theory (often based on emotion) supported with insufficient data and then to restrict critical thinking and ongoing analysis, which is, of course, irrational. Instead, you look for data that fits your theory. In sum, confirmation bias is a killer of critical thinking.
“Education from the time of Plato’s Academy to today is full of cognitive biases as stability is the celebrated value rather than innovation and critical thinking.”
Following this methodology, we were able to perform the balancing act between analog and digital modalities. Developing engaging educational material.
Digital Agility & Branding in the Post Covid Era
As we look into the future of a post covid era, we reexamine our approach and relevance theories. In a recent brand spirit I took hosted by a newly found hero Scott Galloway — a bright branding mind of NYU — new frameworks reveal new truths. What is our brand essence? How do we remain relevant? And above all, how do we scale? Questions like this keep me up at night as we have passed the point of no return.
One thing that covid taught was to move fast digitally. And in the dark hours of April and May of 2020, we focused on developing and launching a learning management system (LMS) from scratch. Developing an LMS would have been impossible if we did not have our position approach, curriculum frameworks, and branding elements in order.
The YCA LMS serves as a virtual campus, but instead of attending classes, students/participants are accessing educational content remotely through their unique login, which gives them access to their training materials. Further, the ability to facilitate discussions through the YCA LMS helped social learning. With the YCA LMS, anyone can have a separate conversation for each lesson within a course or a general discussion board.
As YCA expanded its reach in 2020 beyond the US to India and Europe, we had to make sure the LMS supports multiple languages and automates the Certification process. With the YCA LMS, participants automatically receive their dashboard, their certificate of each course they complete, and their final certificate for completing YCA. This feature was a key component of our ability to scale and start our first India program in 2020.
What participants are saying
Ria Paradkar mentioned — “The Olympics had always been iconic — a universal symbol for peace, excellence, and a celebration of diversity. I couldn’t believe that I, a high school student from the other side of the world, could be a representative for something so sacred. “
Atharva Vispute would say — “one of the biggest takeaways I had was how the Olympic Movement leaves a lasting legacy upon all of us — regardless of what role we play in the world. No matter what aspect of the Olympics it is — the competition, the emblem, or the people, the Olympics leaves behind a legacy of unity and global culture. “
Shreya Krishnan stated — “I am inspired by the determination and the will of my predecessors to achieve excellence through hard work. I will live my life built on the strong foundation of tolerance and hope and fill it with robust friendships. I will respect others and have the courage to promote equality.”
Open Invitation — Rethinking Social Impact at Scale
Education worldwide remains more than ever at a crossroads as educators of all levels struggle to be relevant to students and the economy. Market forces and policymakers challenge schools to offer programming that prepares students to meet tomorrow’s problem-solving needs. Yet, students seek inspiration and personalized, value-based options to engage with the real world. Bright minds and companies are starting to rise to this challenge. Companies’ like Rethink Education from the VC side of things set the bar by supporting some of the industry’s best minds that make us all rethink education. And the evidence is mounting. Another newly founded hero of mine, Scott Galloway, a New York University professor, author, and tech entrepreneur, just took the wraps off a $30 million Series A round for his newest company, Section4, a platform for executives “upskilling.” As Connie Loizos mentions in her article in tech-crunch, “whether that thesis proves out remains to be seen. But Section4 — whose new round was led by General Catalyst, with participation from Learn Capital and GSV Ventures — says early indications are good and that it already has 10,000 alums from dozens of countries.”
“Students seek inspiration and personalized, value-based options to engage with the real world.”
Resiliently and relevant programming will flourish if it; a. fosters self-awareness, b.teaches design-thinking, c. enables collaborative team-building, and d. connects participants with moments that move them. Such a programmatic vision will require a unique balance between online and analog experiences while run by a dedicated team capable of integrating learnings across disciplines.
Based on key market indicators and VC trends all around us, the institution (or partnership) can meet the challenge of producing education programming — relevant and engaging — to youth across many nations will have a historic opportunity to grasp significant market share and deliver social impact at scale. Yet, the questions still stand;
- Who will inspire and act beyond their neighborhood and regional reach to disseminate the Olympic promise’s legacy and values beyond sports at scale?
- Who and how will step up to serve as a bridge between the K-12 educational realm and the Olympic and Paralympic world, offering unique perspectives and solutions to the world’s educational crossroads at scale?
It is time to act on Coubertin’s call.
”You cannot use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have” — Maya Angelou