Young Climathon challenges kids to make Milan more mobile

On 25 October 2019, the Young Innovators programme organized Italy’s first Young Climathon, challenging teenagers to boost soft mobility in their city of Milan. A total of 70 students participated in the climate hackathon where they pitched creative innovations for long-lasting climate actions focused on sustainable transportation.

In the week leading up to the event, three classes from G.B. Vico Science School of Corsico participated in a 4-hour workshop co-organized by the Cariplo Factory and EIT Climate-KIC. Here, the facilitators introduced the Young Climathon rules, the challenge proposed by the Municipality of Milan, and methodologies to facilitate the creation of solutions.

“There was a strong reason for the preparatory activities,” explained Gianluca Avella, scientific coordinator for the Milan Young Climathon. “We were warming the students up before the Young Climathon.”

At the Young Climathon, teams would be challenged to develop, refine and pitch an innovative solution that enhanced the safety and livability of Milan while contributing to its efficient environmental transition. In preparation, the workshop also provided students with a crash course in ‘soft mobility,’ or a sustainable and climate-friendly approach that involves any non-motorised transport and only the use of “human energy”.

“From this exercise, we understood that the topic of ‘mobility’ is not a structured issue that is part of the typical curriculum,” noted Avella. “But we also understood that most of the concepts were there, and the function of the workshop was to connect these issues, challenges and solutions.”

After dividing the students into 10 teams, the groups worked together to develop a shared narrative based on their personal knowledge of mobility systems. The groups were provided a visual mapping tool to facilitate the brainstorming session. Blank canvases quickly were covered in colorful Post-it Notes scribbled with facts and feelings concerning climate change.

“The purpose of the mapping tool was to bring students with different skills, different knowledge, and different technical languages around the table, and allow them to have a conversation around sustainability,” explained Avella.

The ideation process continued at the Young Climathon event where teams had eight hours to perfect and pitch their solutions to a panel of judges from Milan’s mobility and sustainability departments. Overall, the jury was most impressed with the feasibility of the student’s solutions, such as color-coded bike lanes that could redesign city streets for cyclists.

“It’s hard to measure success in this kind of environment,” remarked Avella. “But, for these students to come in with a biased knowledge on the topic and come out with ideas that were grounded and achievable — that’s success!”
The Milan Young Climathon represents only one of many activations on the Young Innovators’ agenda. The programme aims to create a movement of empowered climate champions to innovate and activate the systems thinking needed to address climate change challenges. Training young people into becoming more effective system thinkers is the ultimate goal.

“In my experience, environmental education is introduced to students through specific topics like waste, biodiversity, energy, or water,” remarked Avella. “There are few moments and few tools that allow students to see these topics from a distance, as part of a greater system. We hope that seeing these interconnections can help us all design solutions to produce more impact.”

This year, EIT Climate-KIC sponsored Young Climathons across 14 different cities, spanning 10 countries and two continents, with the intent to turn education into a tool for youth empowerment. Young Innovators is a learning experience that puts climate change theory into practice.

“The experience, in itself, produces an alignment around the challenge,” said Avella. “Students go back home with a much clearer idea of what they can do in their daily life.”

Following the event, 58 of the students participated in a feedback questionnaire that affirmed: general climate awareness greatly increased thanks to experience; and participants will now take environmental issues more seriously than before. In fact, over 90% of the respondents said the event empowered them to engage in climate activism in the future. Mission accomplished for EIT Climate-KIC!