This Plan To Bring Sesame Street to Refugee Children Just Earned $100 Million

By Ben Paynter

The MacArthur Foundation just announced the $100 million grand prize winner of its inaugural 100&Change competition: Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee will receive the windfall to create a television show along with plenty of supplemental educational materials and a kid-friendly coaching and support system for the children of Middle Eastern refugees from conflict zones in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.


The MacArthur Foundation received more than 1,900 proposals for the award, which launched in June 2016. It’s purpose: to reward whatever group could come up with the most “meaningful, verifiable, durable and feasible” solution to one of the world’s most vexing problems.

The contest probably drew so many entries not only because of the cash at stake but because the application process was so open-ended. Contestants first had to define what problem they thought needed addressing before sharing their plan to fix it. For a foundation with the broad mission of building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world, that’s a great way to avoid institutional blind spots.

In total, the collaboration between Sesame Street and the IRC will reach roughly 9.4 million kids who are not only evacuated but battling toxic stress from horrible things they’ve seen and felt during that upheaval. But the solution is more than just offering muppets with subtitles. Sesame Workshop and IRC will work together to create a custom-tailored show that teaches the show’s core basics like reading and math, while also offering emotional adjustment lessons to help everyone heal. “Embedded in the content, Sesame’s Muppets will model inclusion and respect, and gender equity,” says MacArthur in an announcement.

That programming will be delivered through television, and complementary mobile and digital lessons. At the group’s proposal states, there will also be a caregiver training component, with healthcare workers visiting families and relaying messages via mobile services to encourage more healthy readjustment activities perhaps inspired by the programming.  In addition to locally aired programs, the groups will develop more educational content, including some lesson plans for preschools or places that can be transformed into community development centers for kids to meet, learn, and connect with each other.

Here’s a look at their mission:

Other worthy proposals from the contest can be found at the 100&Change Solutions Bank, a searchable database that MacArthur developed with the Foundation Center for nonprofits and funders to check out what others in their cause area are doing, and potentially partner or make a grant. For would-be investors or groups trying to audit the economy of these approaches, MacArthur has also collaborated with the Center For High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania to develop another list of the 81 groups best able to articulate their goals and expected benefit, including a top 11 of those with the “greatest potential for impact.”


The need for change in these areas won’t stop because someone just won $100 million. If anything, the contest’s biggest return is highlighting the need for more investment and obvious ways to get started.




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