Changemakers in Action: 3D Printing at Dongwan Elementary

To an outsider, saying “our non-profit teaches a 3D printing class once per week at a local elementary school” might sound like a small program. It might result in a response of, “that’s nice.” Anyone who was been a teacher knows how much work goes into a single class and the challenges that elementary school children present. But it’s still not a compelling story. Plenty of companies and non-profits do these kinds of classes. And from a cynical perspective, it’s easy to think of 3D printing as a fad or an excuse to spend money on fancy toys. So how can our Shenzhen partner, SteamHead tell a compelling story through this class?

Our answer was obviously the video above, but let’s break down some of the elements and the work that went into this project and how we want to talk about Changemakers. As part of Mike’s excursion to Shenzhen, China, we wanted to boost the visibility and impact of changemakers like SteamHead. But as I alluded to above, it’s challenging to show and contextualize a program like this, but getting it right makes a huge difference when it comes to the impact and response they get. Even a successful program like this one can only get so far with a few pictures and words saying "we run this successful program..." Now with this video, their supporters can see the kids first hand, understand the teacher's approach, and witness the results.

One of our goals was to show how the class requires work and support from lots of people in several groups. The teacher Luke is part of the SteamHead team with Carrie and James who do a lot of the organizing. The class also gets support from Jane and Mr. Chen, teachers at Dongwan School, as well as funding and support from two other organizations, Moralture and the Shekou Community foundation. The people we feature in the video are all passionate and excited to be a part of this program, and they give a human face to the hard work and enthusiasm of the team. We have these people explain their motivations and passions to give the audience a look behind the scenes.

Speaking of audience, there were several very different groups the video needed to speak to. First of all, this video spoke to the backers and stakeholders of the program. Without them, the class wouldn’t exist, and they need to see this class as a successful program that exceeds their expectations. It can be awkward to talk about money, and even harder to ask for money, but these backers want to use the money they have to support and positively impact their communities. So as long as we’re being honest about the program in our marketing, this is a win not just for our changemakers, but also a win for the backers, who can now turn around and show this video to their teams and supporters as a positive story about themselves.

Next there is the Western audience, who we hope are interested to see how technology is being used in education in China, but may be confused about the situation on the ground there. Dongwan Elementary School is in a strange position as a private school that exists for a charitable purpose rather than as the kind of elite private schools found in China or the West. China has a strong public school system that’s similar enough to Western systems for the purposes of this video, then there are the international schools which are Western private schools who teach kids with foreign passports and tend to be elite and expensive. Dongwan needs to exist as a supplement to the public schools because the kids that go there are not allowed to go to public school. It sounds strange to a Westerner, but essentially a student’s family needs to have a official residence permit to attend their local school, and the Dongwan kid’s parents don’t have these because they’ve come to the city looking for work from other places in China and have only temporary or sporadic employment. It may be helpful to call them “migrant workers,” though that’s not precisely right. Regardless, these kids could not go to school if Dongwan and schools like it didn’t exist.

Hopefully the changemakers in these groups can use this video's impact to go on to do even more amazing, positive things in their communities. At Cultivative, producing this video taught us a lot about what groups like these need, and how we can help them to tell their stories and continue their programs into the future.

We will have more updates and content about our China project soon. You can find those here on the blog, on our Facebook page, Youtube Channel, and on Twitter.