Global Leadership Summit

Crushing design thinking challenges at the 2022 EF Summit

When an ambitious group of eight high schoolers met for the first time on Friday, July 8, 2022, they had no idea that by Sunday, they’d have created an innovative, winning prototype designed to help people manage dietary concerns. How did they accomplish this? Well, that’s part of the magic of an EF Global Leadership Summit.

EF Summits combine an EF tour with a three-day leadership conference, all designed to help students create big ideas to solve some of the world’s biggest issues through design thinking challenges. This year, the focus was on sports and wellness, and the winning team (Alejandro P., Augden T., Ariana G., Sarah P., Shaun J., George P., Nikolas F., and Jessica C.)—along with 800 other students—spent the weekend in Berlin, Germany. There, they ideated around global health and wellness issues and learned from thought leaders and industry disrupters.

This year's winning team of EF Summits' design thinking challenges
George P. presents his solutions to design thinking challenges on stage

Teammate George P. joins his group on the EF Summit stage to present their prototype.

Students were randomly divided into teams on Friday night. Then, they were tasked with defining a problem related to sports and wellness that someone might have, as well as creating a solution through prototyping. After two days of brainstorming and ideating (and sometimes starting over from scratch), each group shared their solutions to peers and teachers. The ten highest-scoring teams then presented on the EF Summit stage to a panel of distinguished judges. The extra-sweet cherry on top? The winning project would be exhibited alongside the winners from past EF Global Leadership Summits at the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

Graphic depicting the six stages of solving design thinking challenges

Shifting focus from solving a global problem to helping a single person

When you’re asked to find and solve a global issue around sports and wellness, it’s impossible to know where to begin. Luckily, that’s where the design thinking process comes in. Students began by identifying one hypothetical issue related to sports and wellness that one hypothetical user may have—for example, a three-sport athlete who can’t afford all their gear, or someone with a peanut allergy who doesn’t know what foods are safe to eat. As they worked to define that singular problem and further understand their user’s needs, they then started ideating a solution, developing possible prototypes, and evolving their ideas from there. Students learned that the design thinking process is cyclical, not linear. If they began to get off track or have a wild breakthrough, they discovered that they either needed to pull back and revisit their user’s initial problem, or rethink who their user was entirely to match that new idea.

As for our winning team, the design thinking challenges weren’t a walk in the park at first. “On our first day, we had no concept of what we were going to do. We were struggling to create a story and build a question to make a prototype off of. We were wondering if we were even going to finish it,” said teammate Sarah P. from Virginia.

Students ideating and prototyping around solving design thinking challenges

“Aha!” moments and finding the magic

At EF Summits, revelations fly around faster than glowsticks at Sunday night’s silent disco (which, yes, was how the students celebrated their last night at Summit). And once the A-team’s “aha!” moment hit, everything clicked into place. “I had this sudden sprout of an idea, and then everyone just sort of popcorned thoughts of what we could add to it to make it even better. It was really exciting to see that we could all contribute,” remarked George P. from Michigan.

So what was the winning idea? “Our product, Nutri-Cart, is a basket for grocery stores that considers your dietary needs. For example, if your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle, the basket scans the food you put in. It tells you what categories of food you need to accomplish your goals, how much you have in your basket currently, and how much more you need of each type of food group,” explained team member Augden T. from Colorado.

But what’s arguably even cooler than coming up with a winning design was how Team Nutri-Cart used each other’s superpowers to their advantage. “We came to realize that we’re really different. But that’s why this all came to be. We found out that Shaun is really good at engineering, so he helped us build the entire basket structure out of popsicle sticks, paper, and tape. And then George was really motivational and kept pushing us to make our idea better. We figured out what we’re good at, and we all complemented each other,” said Ariana G. from Puerto Rico.

We came to realize that we’re really different. But that’s why all this came to be.

Ariana G.

Students presenting their prototypes that solve design thinking challenges

Change that travels home

While Team Nutri-Cart found and fostered the unique spark in each other, they also discovered themselves along the way. “I can’t thank them enough for helping me find my own leadership style and letting me contribute to the group—I’m just in awe of everyone. It’s been such an amazing opportunity and I’m so proud of my whole team,” reflected Sarah P.

And as they exchanged phone numbers and a final group hug before parting, they reflected on what they’d learned from their weekend together. As Ariana G. explained, “Sometimes, I have a difficult time sharing my ideas. During this entire process I really learned how to use my own voice, listen to others, and work as a team. I think that’s a really big and important lesson in life that I can carry everywhere with me.”

The winners of the design thinking challenges
A key part of EF Summits are participating in design thinking challenges

Wild ideas. Wilder breakthroughs. Inspire what’s next at EF Global Leadership Summits.

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Maddie Poulin

Maddie is a copywriter at EF. She loves dissecting movies and TV shows, making playlists for every mood, staying active, and dreaming about her next trip.

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