Students scoop national prizes at The Big Idea creative thinking awards

Powerful problem solvers and creative critical thinkers – students from across Ireland have learned one of the most in-demand skills in the world, as teams from Carlow, Offaly and Kilkenny have won the top prizes in Ireland’s national creative thinking programme The Big Idea.

Team Community Cara from Borris Vocational School won the overall award having journeyed through the 14-week problem-solving programme, exploring the issue of hidden poverty and developing a solution with potential for real social impact. They developed an idea for an app to support people living in poverty in Ireland to help connect them with local support.

The standard of projects submitted this year in the Youthreach and Community Training Centre (CTC) pilot programme was outstanding and in recognition of the innovation shown across this programme two additional Big Idea national prizes were awarded.

The Youthreach & CTC Climate Change winner was Team YR – Kilkenny Youthreach, who designed an app that would use augmented reality to educate primary school students about the impacts of climate change in their local environment.

The Youthreach & CTC Mental Health Award was won by Team HopOut from Tullamore Community Training Centre in Offaly, who proposed a community hub promoted by a drink’s coaster with a QR code to help support younger men with their mental health.

The winners were announced today (Friday, 12 May) at the end-of-year online Big Showcase for the multi-award-winning programme.

The Big Idea is delivered through the Leaving Cert Applied (LCA) and Transition Year (TY) programmes, as well as an expanded pilot Youthreach and Community Training Centre (CTC) programme. It was delivered across 22 counties this year, with a successful pilot programme trialled in Northern Ireland.

Students were tasked with working through the four Ds of the creative process – discover, define, develop and deliver – focusing on solutions for issues they identified as major stressors in their lives. These were mental health, climate change, hidden poverty, displaced people, and diversity and inclusion, all aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the help of hundreds of Big Idea mentors from a range of sectors, they develop a digital experience, product, service, space or place, or a tech solution to tackle that issue.

Winning ideas

The Climate Change Award went to the Eco Activists from Scoil Bernadette in Cork, who delivered the idea of a wildflower garden at the school, which is a safe space for students and their hero Brian The Bee.

Sarah’s Strength won the Mental Health Award for St Patrick’s College Dungannon in Tyrone for the website ‘It Takes Strength’, which would support university students’ mental health and wellbeing by offering relevant information and peer-to-peer advice on topics such as financial worries or time management issues.

Team Immoderate at Mercy Secondary School in Ballymahon in Longford won the Hidden Poverty Award for their development of an idea for an app ‘Incognation’, to build an online community and provide information, resources and support for people experiencing hidden poverty.

Borris Vocational School in Carlow had a second winner as Team Cabhrú wanted to develop a comprehensive multi-lingual website for the Displaced People category to support refugees to Ireland and offer information on education, housing and employment, as well as a guide to help them settle in.

Meanwhile, Team The Bois at Meánscoil San Nioclás in Waterford won the Diversity and Inclusion Award for an inclusive mental health journal called ‘Mind Bloggling’,  which supports the emotional wellbeing of young people from all backgrounds.

Teachers and tutors were also celebrated, as teacher Patricia Dunphy of Mercy Secondary School in Waterford was crowned TY/LCA/NI Creativity Champion, with tutor at Tullamore Community Training Centre Lynsey McCabe winning the Youthreach and CTC Creativity Champion award.  

Elevating the national skill base

Founder and CEO of The Big Idea, Kim Mackenzie-Doyle says the winners were selected by judges based on the recognition and celebration of their journey through the creative Big Idea process, in addition to their innovative and inspiring ideas which have potential for real social impact.

“A massive congratulations to all of the students across the 22 counties who have journeyed through the 2023 programme. They have learned transformative creative skills and thanks to the help of our industry mentors, they can continue to think big and use creative thinking to solve problems and develop solutions – whether in life, college or work.”

The award-winning product designer who founded Ireland’s creative thinking programme, The Big Idea in 2021 says it is more than just an educational programme, “it’s a movement to elevate the national skill base and democratise the world’s most in-demand skill – creative thinking.”

Kim says the programme is brought to life by the Creativity Champions, teachers, staff, facilitators and coordinators who bring the Big Idea to life across classrooms and workshops across Ireland.

“They create a safe space for students and learners to experience creativity in action. They empower young people to find their voice and share their Big Ideas.”

EPAM Ireland is a partner of The Big Idea and provided 13 mentors to work alongside the students, helping to bridge the gap between industry and education by providing practical advice on how to develop their innovative ideas and projects. Commenting on the programme, Martin Byrne, VP and Country Manager at EPAM Ireland, said: “Partnering with The Big Idea was a no-brainer for us. Equipping the next generation of students with high-level problem-solving skills to tackle complex global issues like climate change and hidden poverty is exactly what Ireland and the technology industry needs right now. Highlighted by the fact that climate change was the #1 topic that these students wanted to address, sustainability is a huge issue in modern society and one that we are passionate about in EPAM. Our mentors and I are very excited to see how some of these Ideas progress, and we look forward to continuing the relationships we have built after the Showcase.”

Since the programme launched in 2021, it has already reached 6,500 learners, supported by over 750 industry mentors globally to help unlock valuable industry knowledge to help build the confidence and problem-solving skills of young people.

The winners, along with a selection of Big Ideas from the programme will go on to take part in a Big Idea accelerator in September. The Big Exhibition which includes every project submitted this year is now live at, where schools and mentors can also sign up for the next term.

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