The event that got 300 Kendall Square tech and life science workers outside for an afternoon of fun — to benefit six nonprofits.
Tech and life science workers weren’t the only ones to take part. At one point, Team MIT wanted to try the tug-of-war — but decided to move on upon realizing they’d be up against a muscular group of construction workers from Team DPR Construction.
But from our perspective at the Kendall Square Association, the mix was exactly right. We wanted to get all those who conduct business in Kendall out for a meaningful day of collective fun. To do so, we created the Kendall Square Challenge.
This May, 33 teams (about 300 people) from Kendall businesses including Google, Facebook and Johnson & Johnson each selected one of six local nonprofits to champion. On the day of the Challenge, they had just two hours to select from over 50 “missions” to win them points. (This being Kendall, the points were all recorded via mobile app, with features such as a constantly-updated leaderboard, and photo and video uploading.)
The three highest-scoring teams got to award their nonprofits grants of $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000, respectively. The top team (this year, Alexandria Real Estate Equities) also received the Kendall Cup, which it may proudly display in its offices — for now. The Cup must be returned in a year’s time for the next Challenge.
But what did the Challenge actually consist of? Some of the missions were purely entertaining. Ski walking. Block puzzle-solving. Robot pen mazes. Missions you can’t hope to understand unless you see them in action.
But many of the missions went deeper. They aimed to connect the 300 participants to six local nonprofits in some way — though never by getting preachy or forgoing fun.
For example, CASPAR, substance abuse and homelessness prevention nonprofit, helped create three of the missions that benefited its clients directly. Teams variously made 50 pizzas (enough to feed everyone in CASPAR’s emergency shelter), 160 sandwiches (enough to reach 160 unsheltered people through its FirstStep outreach program), and potted 150 flowers (enough for each person in its five residential programs).
Other nonprofits helped us create missions that “showed” rather than “told” what they do. InnerCity Weightlifting uses the gym to disrupt youth violence and the cycle of incarceration, both by selling workouts to fund its program, and as a means of connecting with high-risk youth. They led one of the most intense (and popular) of the missions — over the course of two hours, team members did a total of 26,400 squats at the InnerCity Weightlifting mission.
Similarly, teams got a kick out of taking the same science assessments used to measure the progress of Breakthrough Greater Boston’s 9th grade cohort. Breakthrough works to shrink the achievement gap through intensive after-school programming.
And teams discovered more about all six of the nonprofits through the power of the good old American cheer. Teams uploaded short videos of themselves performing a cheer celebrating the nonprofits. Each nonprofit elected a “cheer rep” to orient the teams on what they did, and to answer questions, such as, “Do you do anything that rhymes with ‘great’?”
As measured by a post-event survey — and by the number of gleeful smiles on team member’s faces at the post-event BBQ — the Kendall Square Challenge was a slam-dunk success. 96% of participants said they were highly likely to take part next year. And all of the nonprofits reported that they’d partner with the Challenge again.
The results are in: Kendall Square employees may love their research, their labs, their code, their apps, their science. But the Kendall Square Challenge has proven they also love playing, competing, and giving back.
So, we say, “Game on!” The second annual Challenge on May 16 will be twice as big and even more fun. Pump some iron and reserve your spot today!