Near-Peers: Influencing Educational Environments Through Like Individuals

By: Desmond Mitchell

As much as the emphasis on high school was learning from my teachers, what I remember most is the lessons that I learned from my peers. Whether it be in the United States, New Zealand, or Kenya, teachers serve an important purpose in strengthening foundations of knowledge off of which learning experiences can be built. However it is becoming more apparent that the influence of peers and peer learning holds some unique advantages to the growing and malleable minds of teenagers.

The importance of “Near Peers” has become increasingly important in creating efficient educational structures over the past few years. Near Peer Role Modeling, or commonly called Near Peers, relate to people within one’s community who are of similar ethnicity, age, proximity, interest, gender, or ability. These are members of the community that people can see on a more regular basis in order to model them. By involving students that have grown as innovators or ideators within their communities, we are beginning to see that younger students benefit by emulating those who, in their minds, have achieved some level of  “success.” Our observations coincide with studies that have proven that students that benefitted from near peers displayed higher levels of involvement in programs, increase motivation, and efficiency in learning.

Well known innovators consistently play a large role in creating the image of success that so many people aspire to. In the US, stories such as Mark Zuckerberg’s rise is frequently spotlighted and do serve a purpose. But the influence of those around us tend to paint a picture that can be much more closely related to one’s own life. They paint a picture in which one can relate their own struggles. They can relate to their own journey and development given a similar set of circumstances.

As GMin focuses on promoting innovation particularly among youth, the idea that one group of InChallenge or InLabs graduates can serve as role models in their communities is incredibly important to us in changing a culture. While we have encouraged the finalists to share their stories, their growth, and their ideas,we have also encouraged them to proactively share their stories with their communities – particularly with young people. We understand that the finalists serve as great role models for their younger peers, yet we also see that former finalists also learn as teachers through their newfound responsibility as mentors. And more importantly, they enjoy it. In that sense, each and every one of the peers is benefitting, one way or another, from this near peer experience.

In the same vein, looking back at my high school experience, I did gain a significant amount of practical knowledge from my teachers, but the largest influencers were those peers around me. I hope that we can continue to build learning environments where students can look back and reflect, observing that they have positively benefited from their peers and their learning environment.



Lockspeiser, Tai M., Patricia O’Sullivan, Arianne Teherani, and Jessica Muller. “Understanding the Experience of Being Taught by Peers: The Value of Social and Cognitive Congruence.” Advances in Health Sciences Education 13.3 (2008): 361-72. Print.


GMin Co-Founder David Sengeh Wins “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize

GMin is pleased to announce that its co-founder, David Sengeh, has been awarded the 2014 “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize.

In its 20th year, the Lemelson-MIT Program honors established and rising inventors who also serve as an inspiration to young people through creativity, outreach and mentoring. Every year, the “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize awards one young promising inventor from the nation for his or her work on technology-based inventions that can improve healthcare. Currently a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab, David has been recognized for his patented technology in the design of comfortable prosthetic interfaces and his dedication to inspire young people to develop their own innovations for challenges in their communities.

David will be invited to attend the Lemelson-MIT Program’s EurekaFest at MIT from June 19-21st. The multi-day celebration of the inventive spirit is designed to inspire youth, honor inventive role models, and encourage creativity and problem solving.

About the Lemelson Foundation

The Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention based enterprises to promote economic growth in the US and social and economic progress for the poor in developing countries. Established by prolific US inventor Jerome Lemelson and his wife Dorothy in 1992, to date the Foundation has provided or committed more than $175 million in grants and PRIs in support of its mission. For more information, visit

 About GMin

Global Minimum Inc. (GMin) is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to create a human-centered design ecosystem in which youth from all segments of society have opportunities to innovate, effect positive change in their communities and demonstrate thought leadership within a local and regional context. GMin currently runs programs in Sierra Leone, Kenya, and South Africa.


Why Focus on Youth?

By: Desmond Mitchell

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” These famous words, written by Dr. Seuss, reminds us that everyone, regardless of age, has value.  In other words, everyone has the capacity to affect others whether they are young or old.

In trying to change culture of ingenuity and innovation, GMin’s focus on youth in secondary schools stems from a basic understanding of adolescent cognitive development and modern learning structures. As children age, their brains mature and their understanding of self, their capacity for abstract thought,  and their ability to think things through increase. Between the ages of 11-21 there is almost a linear trajectory of growth in those areas.(1) This growth comes as a result from their interactions, what is taught to them, various challenges presented to them, and their perspectives on all of these very things. Adolescence is also the period in which youth move beyond repetition and imitation as means of gaining knowledge, and instead start to internalize information and generate new ideas from what they have learned. However, even with all of the cognitive advancements that occur during this stage, as young people grow older, they also become more risk-averse and limited by the ever-present societal structures that surround them. In other words, budding childhood creative genius gradually becomes stifled by practicality.

GMin’s use of design thinking based workshops perfectly aligns with cognitive development stages in that we focus on creatively engaging youth to think critically with the aim of thwarting young people’s adolescent inclination to gradually become risk-averse. We challenge students to step away from solely reiterating what has been taught to them and instead encourage them to think about how they can utilize their experiences and knowledge to solve problems. This approach can have profound results for young people and their worlds. Through our Innovate Challenges in Sierra Leone, Kenya, and South Africa, we have seen youth articulately identify problems and find creative solutions to specific problems in their communities. Problems like financial instability brought upon families due to the cost of coffins or increases in respiratory illnesses amongst women due to smoke generated from commonly used charcoal stoves are not commonly addressed at a large scale. However children living in these communities are able to see specific issues affecting them and their communities and find solutions that are relevant and sustainable given their unique community circumstances.

From my experience as the head of academics at a small secondary school in New Zealand and as a GMin board member, I have been amazed by the intellectual curiosity and brilliance of secondary school students. I have observed that adolescents, once comfortable, have no problem clearly identifying and discussing issues in their communities. What these students have to say about their local issues demonstrate adolescents’ attentiveness to detail, curiosity in both the present and future, and eagerness to place their energy into a positive passion. The way in which these young people are able to make connections and creatively find solutions for problems shows a lack of fear which is not as present with risk-averse young adults. The adolescent period is such a critical juncture in a young person’s life; it is the time at which it is crucial to hold on to and support creativity before it becomes overwhelmed. It is for this reason that GMin specifically focuses on secondary school students who, if propelled in the right direction, can and will create significant positive change in their communities.

It is our responsibility to create a safe space for this passion to grow so that it does not become overwhelmed by the limitations of adult practicality. If we are able to encourage youth to see that their ability to critically think, be creative, and feel comfortable discussing issues surrounding them, then we can start taking steps towards promoting an innovation conducive mentality and encouraging a culture of change.

1.  Adapted from American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Facts for Families 

GMin's board and executive staff take questions from the public on new initiatives and lessons learned.

Life on Google Hangouts

by Jamie Appleseed, GMin co-founder and entrepreneur who currently runs the Baymard Institute.

GMin's board and executive staff take questions from the public on new initiatives and lessons learned.

GMin’s board and executive staff take questions from the public on new initiatives and lessons learned.

GMin couldn’t have existed 20 years ago. It simply wasn’t possible to efficiently coordinate and connect with one another the way we do today, thanks to the high-fidelity and low-cost tools available.

GMin has been a virtual organization run by volunteers (distributed across the globe) since its inception. Our work isn’t even “remote” because that would imply we have a homebase or headquarter from which we operate. We don’t have offices and we never meet in person when we work. We live on Google Hangouts.

In spite of our lack of office space, we’ve managed to execute successful projects across Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa. Our work that has been recognized by organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, UNICEF and the Clinton Global Initiative.

So how do we work and organize? Well, when we need to have a “face-to-face” meeting, we connect via Skype or Google Hangouts for a snappy video conference. When we need to share files and write documents, we head to Dropbox and Google Drive. Need to ask someone a question or start a discussion? Shoot your teammates an e-mail.

It’s absolutely true that sometimes colocated work would be desirable. Traditional organizations certainly enjoy some advantages to virtual ones, especially when it comes to informal information and knowledge sharing. It also tends to be easier to spot misunderstandings earlier on and sorting them out can often be done instantly, without scheduling a video conference or writing long e-mails. Not to mention the encouragement and motivation that naturally transpire as you work side-by-side with your teammates. Positive reinforcement and relationship building can get lost when all work is mediated through wifi connections and computer screens.

Yet there are upsides to virtual organizations too. For example, you’re not limited by geography, which means you can move from sourcing the best local talent to sourcing the best global talent. A truly global organization like GMin organically fosters and attracts a diversity of cultures, personalities and talents. And because people can work whenever they please from wherever they happen to be, your organization by nature operates 24/7 (there’s a 12-hour time difference between some of our members!).

Indeed, the freedom to work at your own schedule from anywhere in the world is crucial to a volunteer-based organization like GMin because it enables people to put in work whenever it suits them. Got an hour or two of downtime in the airport? Why not put that time to good use? Feeling a surge of inspiration one evening? That’s a chance to source those rare moments of clarity into lasting outcomes.

Virtual work will never be the same as colocated work, and consequently working in a virtual organization will never be the same as working in a traditional office. There are upsides and downsides. You try to play into the strengths of your organization’s nature and attempt to work around or mitigate its weaknesses.

We’re all growing and we’re all learning, but one thing is for sure: virtual organizations are no longer wishful thinking, they are now a viable organizational design – a new way to work and organize. GMin is proof of that.

Innovate Salone 2013 Innovation Camp

Local Solutions, National Pride

by Mahmoud Javombo, who currently leads the Innovation Challenges program in Sierra Leone.

Innovate Salone might be a strange name for people who’ve never been to Sierra Leone, but for nationals, it embodies the creative spirit of our country. Innovate Salone is a Global Minimum initiative which encourages youth to design solutions to challenges in their communities, rather than sit on the sidelines as passive participants.

Two years ago, I joined Innovate Salone as a volunteer to help run the project. Two years in, it is still one of the best choices I’ve made to support the national development of my country. In its inaugural year, more than three hundred students applied in teams of 3-5 to solve a problem within their community. The following year, the number of applicants almost doubled, illustrating the passion of youth to apply science, engineering, design and the arts to local problems. When our volunteers and alumni are on the radio and TV sharing their experiences, they serve as an inspiration to others.

Innovate Salone 2013 Innovation Camp

Over the last two years, Innovate Salone has worked with schools in urban areas of the western region of the country, but not directly with schools in the rural areas. These schools were reached via radio and other means with no face to face contact. This year, we hope to launch the competition in the remotest areas of Sierra Leone. GMin volunteers have committed themselves to discovering at least 50 quality applications from each area- western urban, western rural, South, East and the North. As the InChallenge competition continues to pick up momentum in neighborhood after neighborhood, I’ve noticed that it has not only ignited youth driven change, but empowered communities to transition away from heavily depending on government to solve their problems. “Gone are the days when we can wait for the government to solve our problems, and now is the time that we can identify our problems and have us solve it ourselves”, professed one of our 2012 alumni during the Young Innovators celebration. As youth continue to realize the power of self-efficacy and innovation, Sierra Leone will develop economically, socially and foster a great sense of national pride.

GMin winners and staff at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Next Century Innovators Awards.

Cultivating a Global Family of Youth Changemakers

by David Sengeh

When GMin was conceived in my high school bedroom seven years ago, if someone had predicted that we would flourish into an international youth organization, I might have believed them. However, I wouldn’t have imagined that our work would lead us to receive the 2013 Rockefeller Foundation’s Next Century Innovators Award, a centennial distinction awarded to only three organizations. While there a number of incredible NGO’s working in the international development space, our Innovation Challenges initiative places youth at the center of development by providing them with the platform to solve local challenges and the tools to learn through the process.

GMin winners and staff at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Next Century Innovators Awards.

Our experience at the Rockefeller Foundation made me realize that GMin has stumbled upon something truly special. We have the potential to impact international development and civic participation by supporting youth innovation, a practice uncommonly found in the field. We are rapidly but carefully, expanding our innovation challenges geographically and philosophically, by incorporating a maker ethos which encourages youth in Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa to learn from making and making to learn. Our Innovation Challenges have produced problem-solvers, youth who have demonstrated that they can tackle challenges in their communities and create prototypes which successfully address critical issues, and even potentially scale.

Through our Innovation Challenges, it has become clear that youth are not given the space, freedom and opportunity to use critical thinking skills to grapple with the challenges affecting their lives. Many have never been asked to use local resources to solve local challenges and thus lack the creative thinking skills necessary for anyone to prosper in the 21st Century. These observations have manifested into our newest initiative, InLabs (Innovation Labs), which we’ll be piloting in three secondary schools and one community center in Sierra Leone. InLabs are physical maker spaces, where youth will have access to various tools and workshops on design thinking, engineering, programming, crafts, writing, arts, etc. More importantly, InLabs will serve as a point of entry for youth to gain the skills they need, or build upon the skills they already have to be the designers of their futures.

Our goal is to evoke confidence and encourage more youth to apply to the national Innovation Challenge. On a larger scale, GMin’s goal is to act as a platform generating global youth changemakers. We are confident that when we incorporate learning for youth within a culture of service, our communities will prosper.

GMin Appoints Two New Staff Members: Head of Operations, GMin-SL and Program Director for project “Innovate”.

The things that set GMin apart from many organizations are the people who we work with. We truly believe in peer-to-peer mentorship, collaboration and a relationship of mutual respect and openness. This flexibility within the organization allows for both individual and organizational growth.

As President of the Board for GMin, it is always an honor to welcome new members to our team. It is with pleasure that I introduce Mahmoud Javombo as the new Head of Operations for Global Minimum in Sierra Leone. Mahmoud is a wonderful friend who is a pioneer in many ways in Sierra Leone. As a 23 yr old graduate, he ran for a seat in the Parliament of Sierra Leone for the constituency in which he grew up (Bo Town), because he strongly believed that as youths, it is our responsibility to participate in community development and national leadership. Mahmoud holds a Bachelors Degree in Sociology and is now pursuing a Law degree from the University of Sierra Leone. In his new role, Mahmoud will facilitate the “Innovate Salone: A De Mek Am 2012” competition in Sierra Leone in collaboration with other local partners.

I would also like to introduce Desmond Mitchell who will be serving in the capacity of Director for our “Innovate” initiative. Within “Innovate”, Desmond will facilitate the Innovate Salone and Innovate Jamaica projects. Part of Desmond’s responsibilities involve ensuring that the independent competitions work closely with GMin and other partners including government and non-government institutions around the globe. Desmond’s experience as account manager within Google’s Large Customer Sales department will be instrumental to his new role within GMin.

Both initiatives are in line with our goal to creating a platform on which young people can dream. We want people to answer a simple question and act on it: If you knew that you could do anything without failing, what would that be? We believe Innovation is a culture; individual, community and political and we want to address the first two while giving youth inventors a platform to create without fear of failure.

At GMin, the entire Board and other members are excited about our projects especially as we continue to expand the initiatives we are involved with like Innovate Salone, in addition to solidifying those we are successful at like the malaria campaign. As always, we welcome volunteers from around the globe who are not satisfied with the status quo of how things happen in their communities and need an avenue to utilize the Global Input from our international network for a high impact Local Output on the ground.

the official GMin blog with thoughts and updates by the GMin team