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Social Innovation and Leadership Program 
YouthSpark Live Workshop 
with Hapnik


On Sunday, 9 April 2017, the TOMODACHI-Microsoft iLeap Social Innovation and Leadership Program YouthSpark Live Workshop with Hapnik was held at Microsoft Japan’s headquarters in Shinagawa, Tokyo.

Held under the umbrella of Microsoft’s global YouthSpark program, an initiative that seeks to provide opportunities for all youth to learn computer science, this event was made possible thanks to a collaboration between Hapnik and the partners behind the TOMODACHI-Microsoft iLEAP Social Innovation and Leadership Program; workshop participants were made up of graduates from this program.

Developed by the international leadership training organization iLEAP, and run with the support of the TOMODACHI Initiative and Microsoft, the program aims to nurture next-generation leaders who will go on to play a key part in shaping Japan’s future, while also acting as a bridge between Japan and the US.
This one-day workshop provided the opportunity for 36 graduates of the iLEAP program—both new and old, and from across all of Japan—to come together, and through a series of activities strengthen their alumni community while simultaneously exploring the potential of technology to assist them in their efforts to positively impact society.

This workshop was comprised of three sessions: a Robot Challenge, in which participants learned the fundamentals of programming and could see the results of their efforts played out in real life; a panel discussion in which presenters shared real-life examples of the extent of the impact of programming on our everyday lives; and a presentation section in which groups of participants shared the issues they would like to tackle and how they would use technology to do so. The overall design of the workshop had community development at its core, with the aim of encouraging the participants to support one another in taking concrete action to contribute to a better society.

YouthSpark Live Workshops

Launched in 2014, Microsoft YouthSpark is a global initiative to increase access for all youth to learn computer science, empowering them to achieve more for themselves, their families and their communities.

TOMODACHI Initiative

The TOMODACHI Initiative is a public-private partnership between the U.S.-Japan Council and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Born out of support for Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake, TOMODACHI invests in the next generation of Japanese and American leaders through educational and cultural exchanges as well as leadership programs. The initiative seeks to foster a “TOMODACHI Generation” of young American and Japanese leaders who are committed to and engaged in strengthening U.S.-Japan relations, appreciate each other’s countries and cultures, and possess the global skills and mindsets needed to contribute to and thrive in a more cooperative, prosperous, and secure world.


iLEAP is an international nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire and renew social leaders and global citizens through integrated leadership programs that ignite hope and transformation in the world.


Using a block-based programming app running on tablet devices, and the educational Bluetooth robot Sphero, participants took part in a Robot Challenge, in which they had to successfully program a Mars probe (played by Sphero) to carry out a Martian exploration mission. This required Sphero to move in precise degrees, carry out loop functions, and send back reports via voice messages played on the paired tablets.

While the challenge may have seemed like a simple game at first glance, it held within it some important lessons: programming is not an inaccessible science to be tackled in a classroom. It can be done with visual apps on the devices in our pockets, and these apps can connect to and power real-world objects. Programing is at the heart of all the technology around us, that which keeps our elevators running and our coffee machines making perfect lattes, powering our instant chat messages –and yes, driving rovers on Mars.

With a strict time limit the challenge demanded a creative approach to completing the mission, and required team strength, perseverance though trial and error, and the ability to identify the essentials.

With the goal of strengthening cross-cohort ties, ten participants who had attended a previous coding workshop were divided amongst the teams, encouraging the practice of seeking advice and knowledge sharing.


The panel discussion, with a theme of Where will technology take us?, was an opportunity for the participants to hear first-hand how coding, and more broadly, technology in general had impacted the lives of the panellists. Aya Hashimoto of the TOMODACHI initiative was joined by Salvador Sanchez of Microsoft, and Joseph, Miwo and Alvin from the Hapnik team.

Miwo shared her story of a recent collaborative art project and how understanding the language of technology and applying her knowledge of programming helped bridge the gap between artists and engineers—two groups who traditionally speak different “languages”. Joseph shared his experience of applying technology to both performance art (e.g. the Running Christmas Tree) and to client projects (web coding, database management). Alvin spoke of his experience founding the start-up “ABC Coffee Club” in Tokyo, and how he has used technology to make his shop more operationally efficient, whilst creating an environment that’s pleasant for his staff to work in.

Aya of TOMODACHI described herself as “the one most unfamiliar with technology amongst the people here!”. Addressing the participants, all of whom had grown up with technology, she shared her hope that when engaging in activities for social change they consciously aim to maximise their use of technology. Salvador spoke of the importance of self-confidence and the support of friends; he shared the story of how despite having no formal training he had been able to solve a problem that had stumped several PhD-holders with the help of colleagues and the application of technology.

During the Q&A session many questions were raised, including why must we pay attention to the newest technologies? Should AI be given the same rights as humans? Is AI something to fear? The responses were varied: technology is now used in so many industries that it is impossible to ignore; thinking from a digital perspective can facilitate a multifaceted viewpoint on analogue things; it is important to find a path where we can coexist with technology and AI. Following the discussion, participants had the chance to see some cutting-edge technology with their own eyes as Salvador gave a demonstration of the HoloLens.


Participants were divided into teams according to their chosen themes of interest. Presentations utilised PowerPoint and skits to share proposals on changes they would like to see and how team members would support one another using technology.

In the process of preparing for these presentations, participants thought about their own values, the themes they would like to tackle in life, and what they would like to create in five years. Brainstorming and discussion was used to identify what would be needed to achieve these goals, and outcomes were shared on post-its that then covering the walls of the cafeteria.


In the final session, the participants were asked to think about how they could collaborate as a community working for social change. Seated in a large circle, everyone shared their learnings from the day, their personal goals and their desires for how the iLEAP Alumni community could work together for maximum impact – and how technology would play a key role.

Below are a few examples of the participants reflections.

In the introduction to programming, I learned about the importance of building your code one step at a time, and when I read the reflection memos others had written I realised that others had felt the same too

I now feel that I can use technology without fear.

I think that what I learned in the workshop can be applied to life in my everyday community too.

It was interesting to hear what everyone thought about technology, such as how some people found it fun to freely use technology, while others feared it.

I’m an analytical person majoring in biotechnology. When I tried using technology this time, I realised that you can’t use technology effectively without understanding human nature.

I realized that if I proactively act on ideas that interest me, I can create something that I have ownership of.

I was able to think about “helping” and “being helped”. I realised that it’s important to ask for help too. I think it’s because all the participants were so diverse that they were capable of offering all kinds of help. It’s thanks to iLEAP that I was able to meet people like this, so I would like to continue developing this relationship where we keep on helping each other.

The passion and enthusiasm shown in this YouthSpark event was a delight to witness, and together, our four organisations—Microsoft, the TOMODACHI Initiative, iLEAP, and Hapnik—will continue to work together to help the iLEAP Alumni community to reach its full potential.