What kind of world do you want to be a part of? It may seem easy to answer. Many of us would say we want a world of peace, one in which all people and governments affirm the fundamental humanity and dignity of every individual, regardless of artificially constructed borders on maps, on land, in water, in space, or in ourselves.

A world of equality and egalitarianism, of respect and lovingkindness, of clean air and comfortable shelter, of healthy food and health care, of safety and security in all its forms. A world in which personal freedom is humble, kind, and considerate, not pompous, narcissistic, bombastic, authoritarian, and oppressive.

A world in which justice is restorative, not retributive and vengeful. A world in which we never fail to “interfere” in order to liberate the tormented, persecuted, and oppressed, as espoused by the late Elie Wiesel, Holocaust witness and survivor, sage, human rights advocate, writer, speaker, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Some might acknowledge that these are noble ideals while dismissing them as utopian, unrealistic, naïve, and even impossible.

While the answer may seem at once easy to conceptualize and ridiculous in its impossibility to implement, there are public and private institutions and organizations accomplishing what too many others dismiss as too…too expensive, too time-consuming, too difficult…too whatever. We can be overwhelmed considering the Herculean tasks before us.

However, we can learn that, as internationally acclaimed scholar, ethologist, and environmentalist Dr. Jane Goodall asserts, “Act locally first, see that you make a difference—then you dare to think globally.” Let’s examine materials exploring and analyzing how communities around the world have solved local problems, which in turn serve to encourage students to identify their own community problems and to design projects to solve them.

From early 2016 until early 2019, the BBC World Service ran a series it created, “My Perfect Country.” In 22 episodes of 27 minutes each, experts including scientists, researchers, scholars, legal authorities, community organizers and advocates, and citizens examine and debate the implemented policies designed to ameliorate a particularly vexing problem in each country and consider how the policies could be applied to other countries facing similar problems.

“How has Norway managed to have the lowest rate of prisoners reoffending in Europe?” “Does Cuba have the best policy for surviving hurricanes?” “Rwanda has closed its gender gap by 80%. Is it a model other countries should follow?” These are just three of the intriguing topics. Deciding to go local itself, the BBC World Service next launched “My Perfect City,” a series of seven episodes modeled after its previous series. Among the episodes was recycling and sustainable transportation in San Francisco, data used to help Seoul “run smoothly,” participatory budgeting in Paris, and reducing knife crime in Glasgow.

The BBC series’ topics are heady and suited for students with advanced skills. There are other resources for students spanning skill levels. PBLworks.org, formerly the Buck Institute of Education, focuses solely on project-based learning and makes available a wide variety of projects, many of which focus on community improvement.

The compelling topics include, “How can we make change happen in our community?” “How can we use data to tell a local story that will inform and motivate community members to action?” “How can our school best support our overall health and wellness?” “How can we plan and prepare a meal to feed people in our community?” “How can we keep our communities safe in the face of natural hazards?” And most germane for our current time, “Can we predict and stop the spread of an infectious disease?”

Roots and Shoots, an initiative of the Jane Goodall Institute, believes in “Empowering youth to proudly stand for what they believe in.” The initiative embraces and supports “Compassionate Traits” and a four-step model: get engaged; observe; take action; and celebrate. The website has projects searchable by theme (nine themes including education and literacy, peace and hope, animals, refugees and displaced persons, and climate change); group type (including schools, homeschoolers, nonprofits, and communities); age level (from 4 and under to 26 and over); and project status (complete or active). The project map illustrates that people worldwide are involved in Roots and Shoots projects.

Edutopia.org also offers guidance to facilitate authentic problem-solving projects. Although geared to elementary school levels, the projects are adaptable. Dana McCauley, principal of Crellin Elementary School in Oakland, Maryland, observes, “When you can help kids see the impact they can have to solve a problem in their own little corner of the world, it’s an opportunity to learn something. It's an opportunity to make something good happen. That gives them that sense of belonging and a sense of being a part of something bigger.”

PBLworks.org: Selected projects for making something good happen:

Waiting on the World to Change
Community Voices
Make a Difference
Healthy Choices = Long Life
Shrinking Our Footprints
Breaking Bread in Our Community
Eco Writers
There's WHAT in My Water?!
Ready for Anything
Rain or Shine
Taking Care of Our Environment
Making the Grade
Planning for the Future
Lifting Our Voices
Broken Laws
Ultimate Design Challenge
Making Space for Change