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Toying with failure, empathy and creativity

March 11, 2015

Twenty One Toys’ founders met with The Honourable Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment & Infrastructure while he visited the Centre for Social Innovation in downtown Toronto on Feb. 19. Photo courtesy of OCAD University.

“Toys are the new textbooks,” according to the Huffington Post and Twenty One Toys founder Ilana Ben-Ari, who is working hard to “refashion play” as well as start a 21st century educational revolution.

Twenty One Toys designs toys that teach empathy, failure and creative collaboration. In its second year of operation, the company‘s first product, the Empathy Toy, is already in hundreds of schools, homes and offices worldwide. It was featured in the September 2014 issue of TIME magazine as “one of six new education tools shaping classrooms of the future”.

The Empathy Toy is an award-winning tactile puzzle game originally designed as founder Ilana Ben-Ari’s industrial design thesis at Carleton University. During development she worked with staff at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to bridge the gap between visually impaired students and their sighted classmates. The toy has since been turned into a learning tool designed for students of any ability and is accompanied by a guidebook containing a range of workshop ideas.

Ultimately, Twenty One Toys is a toy creation company that is designing a new category of toys re-imagined as serious learning tools for all ages. The company’s creations challenge players to hone and practice complex skills like empathy, creativity, failure, communication and collaboration.

Founder Ben-Ari, who was recognized internationally as an Ariane de Rothschild Fellow in 2014, found a home in Toronto in the Imagination Catalyst Incubator at OCAD University where she is surrounded by fellow designers and social innovators. Imagination Catalyst receives funding as part of the province’s Campus Linked Accelerator (CLA) program, managed by Ontario Centres of Excellence.

For Twenty One Toys the answer to most 21st century problems can be found in the design of toys that can be used as tools for social change.  

Last month, Twenty One Toys’ founders met with Minister of Economic Development, Employment & Infrastructure Brad Duguid while he visited the Centre for Social Innovation in downtown Toronto to announce new funding for social innovators in Ontario. The future looks bright for Twenty One Toys as they enter their third year in business. What’s next? Development of a Failure Toy designed to nurture innovation, which everyone knows requires a willingness to take risks. 

This story was provided by OCAD University.