Twin brothers win BYU 2023 Changemakers competition with video game philanthropy idea

Garrett and Jacob Stanford from Encinitas, California run on BYU’s Track and Field team, study accounting and develop apps together. Their ocean-inspired video game concept won first place in the 2023 Changemakers competition. (Garrett Stanford)

The BYU Ballard Center announced twin brothers Garrett and Jacob Stanford as the winners of the 2023 Changemakers competition on Feb. 7.

The brothers were training with BYU’s Track and Field team when they got the news. Jacob saw a notification on his phone and ran to tell his brother and the rest of the team, they said.

“I really couldn’t believe it at first, I didn’t know what to expect,” Jacob Stanford said.

The Stanfords, who are both pre-accounting majors, first heard about the Changemakers competition when they saw flyers posted in the Tanner Building. Only two days before the deadline, they committed to filming and editing a video explaining their world-changing idea: a gaming app that would raise money for charity. 

With some app development experience already under their belt, the brothers decided to create a video game aimed at kids. The revenue generated would be donated to Team Seas, a charity “committed to cleaning oceans all around the world,” they said.

The Changemakers competition is sponsored by the Ballard Center, which is part of the Marriott School and is “the world’s largest university program focused on social impact,” according to the center’s website.

Jess Anderson, the Ballard Center’s managing director of communications and marketing, stepped into her current position almost a year ago. She has worked to rebrand the center’s competitions in an effort to “bring people in across campus, even students who aren’t as involved with social impact,” she said.

This year, Changemakers invited participants to create and share 60-second Instagram reels explaining their social impact ideas. Finalists were determined by a combination of audience voting via likes and shares and by a judge’s score, Anderson said.

Of 64 submissions, three took home cash prizes. The Ballard Center awarded $1,500 to first place, with second and third places receiving $750 and $500, respectively.

Anderson said she and her team were looking for students that had a personal investment in their ideas. “Part of the reason I love working at the Ballard Center is because these students have something they’re really passionate about,” she said.

The Stanford brothers said their years running along the California coastline inspired them to get involved with Team Seas. Now that they have generated interest in the project and have prize money at their disposal, they said they hope to work officially with the charity.

“Our plan is that 100% is going to go towards developing, getting a team and advertising. We’re super grateful for the platform that the BYU Ballard Center has given us to make this dream a reality,” they said.

Garrett and Jacob Stanford explain how they used social media to spread their idea. They were surprised and excited by the amount of interaction their video received. (Emma Everett)

Freshman and second-place winner Emmie Sheets first became aware of the Changemakers competition in her social impact class and felt it was the perfect opportunity to tackle poor literacy levels in the United States. 

Emmie Sheets, a pre-communications major, first explored literacy levels in high school. She said she loved participating in a competition with lots of student involvement. (Emmie Sheets)

“For me, a big thing was finding a solution to the problem that was actually attainable, especially since it’s such a widespread problem,” Sheets said. “I discovered that people just like you and I can donate reading materials and work with existing companies to improve literacy.”

Sheets said she would love to take her idea a step further and author a Ballard Brief at some point in her undergraduate career. 

Advertising student and third-place winner Eli Wright has had water conservation on his mind for a long time. In his household in California, he and his family would collect excess water from showers in a bucket and use it to water their plants.

Wright explored water conservation further in one of his advertising classes last spring. “I thought I could take my idea and turn it into a reel pretty easily,” he said.

In his Changemaker entry, he proposed saving water typically thrown out at airport security checkpoints and using it to water plants within the terminal.

Now, with his $500 prize, Wright said he wants to pursue sustainability and reach out to airports. He has already made contact with Reagan National Airport through social media.

Eli Wright from Santa Barbara, California said he had lots of friends helping and supporting him throughout the competition. He credited Addison Leavitt, Alex Edwards, Sam Rollins and Matt Johnson. (Eli Wright)

“I think there’s a lot of potential to put better messages in the world. A lot of companies are focusing their ads on social issues, and I feel like advertising is an important vehicle to make a change,” he said.

In coming years, Anderson said she hopes that more students participate in the competition. The 2023 finalists established a significant precedent, especially as Changemakers has transitioned to social media.

“People think that because we’re located in the business school, we’re just for business students, but we’re not!” she said. Students from all disciplines are encouraged to share their ideas for social change.

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