Today marks 2 years since I posted a short film online about a then 9 year old boy named Caine Monroy's cardboard arcade. I wanted to share some of the good things that have happened since.
If you haven't seen the film, please take 11 minutes to watch it.
My initial goal with this film was simply to make Caine's day, share his creativity and possibly bring him a few more customers. As an aside, I invited people to chip in to a Scholarship Fund for Caine, hoping to raise $25,000 at most.
Not in my wildest dreams did I expect what happened next.
The film went viral immediately. Caine's Arcade received over 1 million views the first day, trended worldwide on Twitter and raised over $60,000 for Caine's Scholarship Fund (in the first 24 hours) -- far surpassing my $25,000 goal. To date, over $239,000 has been raised for Caine's Scholarship (!), over 8 million people have seen the film online (including President Clinton's security guard, who cried) and tens-of-thousands of people have traveled to Boyle Heights to play Caine's Arcade.
The response didn't stop there. A community of over 130,000 people connected to Caine's Arcade on Facebook, and parents started to share photos of new cardboard games that their kids made after watching the film.
It quickly became clear that there were kids like Caine in every community around the world, and the question became: What can we do to foster their creativity as well?
Two days after posting the film, we decided to try and start a nonprofit to foster the creativity and entrepreneurship of more kids. The Goldhirsh Foundation believed in our mission, and gave us a $250,000 startup grant to form what has become the Imagination Foundation -- this all happened just 5 days after the film went viral. The timely financial support combined with the viral grassroots support of parents and educators, allowed us to transform the momentum of Caine's Arcade into something that has continued to grow.
Six months after the film went viral, we posted a follow up film (Caine's Arcade 2), which launched our first Global Cardboard Challenge. The Challenge invited kids to make whatever they imagined using cardboard and recycled materials. It culminated in a day of play on the anniversary of the flashmob we did for Caine in the movie. This open creative challenge has been an amazing success, growing from 11,000 participants the first year, to over 86,000 kids the second year.
For me, the growth of the Cardboard Challenge is more meaningful than the viral success of the film. It represents more than a passive view; there are thousands of volunteers coming together to organize events for kids around the world. Kids have used their cardboard arcades to raise tens-of-thousands of dollars for various charities and local causes. Educators have created design thinking challenges and open-source common core aligned curriculum for kids K-12. And the creativity of the kids continues to inspire. Recently I was at a Cardboard Challenge in Denver, where 10 year old Hannah Jenkins used cardboard, nails, some metal pipe, and her imagination to create this fully functional cardboard piano.
In 2014, the Global Cardboard Challenge hopes to engage even more kids, and will culminate in a day of play on October 11th.
Meanwhile, the Imagination Foundation continues to grow under the leadership of Mike McGalliard, who came on as Executive Director in 2013, allowing me to transition back to filmmaking after a year of working on the Foundation full-time. Whew!
The Imagination Foundation will be launching "Imagination Chapters" in 2014 -- a new program that will foster creative play for kids at local levels year round.
How is Caine doing now?
Caine is now 11 and is in middle school. He is doing great!
The impact on Caine has been profound. Caine's dad told me that before the film, Caine was behind in reading and that his school considered him "slow" and wanted to hold him back a year. After the film, Caine became a poster child for gifted children everywhere -- his grades improved and he even stopped stuttering. Caine began to refer to himself as an engineer and a game designer.
Caine is still a regular kid who loves to work on his bike, play basketball and build things. On his 11th birthday, Caine officially "retired" from running his arcade to focus on middle school and his next big dream -- starting a bike shop.
Caine, his family, and I have been invited to travel around the world to share our story and lessons learned at conferences, universities and companies from Google to General Motors. At the age of 9, Caine became the youngest entrepreneur to speak at the USC Marshall School of Business. He was the youngest speaker at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. He also gave a solo TEDx talk in NY hosted by Chelsea Clinton. After a presentation we gave at the Colorado Innovation Network, the Dean of Colorado State University Business School offered Caine a full-scholarship should Caine decide to go to school there!
Caine's future is bright.
I can't help but imagine how bright the future would look if the creativity of every child was fostered. I don't mean that we need to make every kid a YouTube celebrity, but simply that we can do more collectively to foster the individual talents and abilities of kids.
Seeing kids like Caine receive support from a global community makes me optimistic for our collective future.
Follow Nirvan Mullick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nirvan