The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a once-in-a-generation shutdown of global schools in 2020, a trend that continued into 2021 and impacted each of the last two Technovation Girls seasons. Through collaboration and a co-creation model, Technovation and Shopify launched a successful virtual-learning pilot that sought to address many of the obstacles and shortcomings associated with education during a global pandemic.

Educators, parents, and students know the impacts of remote learning, from rising rates of depression and anxiety to the loss of student learning. Though, at the onset of the pandemic, it seemed virtual education was here to stay. Fortunately, Technovation has developed a successful virtual learning model that has seen remarkable success worldwide.

The organization is known for its agility as an organization and willingness to embrace cutting edge technology. The development and rollout of a comprehensive virtual curriculum for the 2020 season was a first step. However, the organization required great support and input from its army of trusted partners to successfully pivot. A prime example is the development and implementation of the Technovation Girls Ontario pilot program, supported by long-time partner, Shopify.

The Problem

As restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic continued, students felt increasingly isolated. This was true for girls across the 100+ countries, including Canada, which supports eight total Technovation Girls Chapters.

Not wanting to further isolate the girls in the program, the idea to combine forces and operate the chapters in a collective manner emerged. Though logistics were difficult, Shopify approached Technovation and the four Ontario-based chapters with an idea to join together and pilot a new approach to our programming.

“The hope was to show that being virtual was not a barrier, but an opportunity! An opportunity to meet new people, work across borders and still have an impact,” said Rae Samuel, Chapter Ambassador for Technovation Waterloo. “The other parts of our lives got more complicated, and I think that’s true for ambassadors, volunteers and girls alike, so being able to come together for a program that many of these students were used to, helped bring a little normalcy to their routines.”

Mentorship and Collaboration Matter

Bringing the girls together each week as a large group, albeit virtually, prior to individual team work allowed them to feel a part of something bigger. Engagement in the chat, participation in ice breaker activities and submission of team “photos of the week” all helped students feel connected and allowed the Chapters to make the transition to remote/distanced collaboration as smooth as possible.

A screenshot of a video call with members Technovation Girls team Pentastars“Shopify has a co-creation model with the community partners we work with. We take pleasure in being able to support program goals while sharing all of our expertise, knowledge and resources. As a result, we were happily involved in every aspect of the pilot,” said Ewuraesi Thompson, Manager, Social Impact, Youth Outreach at Shopify. “Shopify facilitated the creation of the program and the bringing of the Chapter Ambassadors together. One of the other ways we supported the Ambassadors was in running the logistical aspects of the program, from sourcing the video streaming platform, to speaker content creation with Shopify volunteers, to other resource creation.”

One of the most pivotal parts of the collaboration was Shopify’s ability to assist with recruiting high-caliber volunteers — employees of the company –to support the program. The prime volunteer opportunity Technovation Girls offers is mentoring. Mentors are the main technical support and guide for program participants. In most cases, their technical or business acumen is secondary to their ability to encourage growth and build confidence in the teams of girls they work with.

Shopify’s volunteer mentors met with their assigned teams at least once a week for two or more hours, and were able to help instruct participants and move projects forward. Shopify offered even more support by securing expert speakers to share knowledge on app and business creation during group calls during the season. Shopify also provided additional volunteer support with team members volunteering as coaches and judges for the Technovation Girls competition that ends the season, where they provided feedback on the apps and solutions the girls had created.

Girls and their growth is the primary focus of the program, so everything is done with that in mind. Ensuring the girls in the program feel supported and empowered to do their best creating and collaborating was the main objective for the participants of this pilot program.

“The best part of our collaboration is that we each bring something unique to the table. We built off of each other’s strength and shared the responsibilities,” said Jill Russell, the Chapter Ambassador for Technovation Girls Niagara. “I was able to learn how other chapters in Ontario ran their seasons. We implemented things like virtual office hours with coaches. Ultimately, this is something I probably wouldn’t have done if I had planned and implemented the 2021 season just for Niagara. By using the Technovation Girls Ontario economies of scale, we were able to offer students more opportunities.”

Addressing Learning Loss & Pilot Outcomes

This collaboration was important to launch because it was a precarious time with the switch from in-person to a fully virtual experience for many of the chapters. With that in mind, it was also important to ensure goals of each individual chapter were being considered.

“It was a great way to ease the anxieties or pressures of putting together the program virtually,” said Thompson. “For us at Shopify, this was about the partners we work with. Listening to the Chapter Ambassadors, hearing what potential obstacles existed to running a program and delving in to find solutions that support the partners and the things they—and we—care about. It’s the way we do all of our work.”

After extensive research and discussions with Chapter Ambassadors, it was evident there were numerous overlapping goals, so it was intuitive to bring the Ambassadors together. The logistical and project management support offered by the professionals at Shopify was instrumental from ideation to implementation of the pilot.

“We pivoted online and tried something new,” said Samuel. “Students were engaged, they submitted and there’s been such an outpouring of gratitude and support. We had cross chapter teams, mentors from outside Canada and lots of fun photos to show for our work.”

“We learned a lot about what works to be converted online and what doesn’t,” said Christine Riddell, Technovation Ottawa Chapter Ambassador. “Creating teams, having coaches visit virtual rooms, technical issues and more were all new challenges. It really forced us to evaluate every single thing we did, and think – how can we make this even more accessible to the girls and volunteers.”

The switch to remote collaboration even had some surprise benefits. The completion rate of the program was higher than last year, with 78% of all registered teams in Canada completing the season versus 71% the year before, which is a great improvement. In addition, Shopify could mentor teams based anywhere; not only in the cities where they have offices.

“Technovation Niagara was also able to match our teams with young, female Shopify mentors,” said Russell. “In the past, with our season being primarily in person, we were unable to do this because Shopify doesn’t have an office in Niagara. With the season being planned virtually by Technovation Girls Ontario, we were able to make this happen.”

“I’m hoping that this program helps create that switch for the girls who were involved, where they begin to aim for the stars. Truly pushing themselves beyond the status quo and tapping into their gifts,” added Thompson. ” I’m hoping the girls then go forward and share that excitement and passion for technology and entrepreneurship with other girls that creates a ripple effect of girls supporting and empowering each other to do things that society still doesn’t think they’re capable of.”

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