Bridging Art, Technology, and Sustainability to Ignite Change

In this article, we speak to Kay Vasey, Founder of the MeshMinds Foundation, on the transformative synergy of art and technology driving sustainable development.

TFGI: Hello Kay, I recently watched your TED Talk where you described MeshMinds as an amalgamation of art, technology, and sustainability. Could you expand on what this means?

Hello, and thank you for having me. At MeshMinds, we are dedicated to harnessing the transformative power of art, technology, and sustainability to address today’s global challenges. This commitment is exemplified through our creative technology initiatives at The MeshMinds Foundation, such as the ‘Please Insert Human’ incubation program. Through workshops and talent showcases in Singapore, Japan, Shanghai, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, we equip artists and technologists to create immersive digital experiences that drive awareness on issues like climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution.

In our creative technology studio, we collaborate with impact artists, tech developers, and sustainability advocates to produce our own groundbreaking experiences. Examples include Sky Farm Island, the world’s first sustainable urban farming game on Roblox, and Aquasia, a virtual reality experience exploring the ocean as the next frontier of human habitats. Our collaborative projects, include Animaker Asia, an AI-powered experience to inspire change and bridge the gap between nature and technology in the Asia-Pacific region.

We are fortunate to have close collaborations with organisations like the United Nations Environment Programme, Meta, and Apple. Together, through our ‘Art x Tech For Good‘ movement, we have reached millions across the Asia-Pacific region, fostering inclusivity and sustainability in the tech ecosystem.

 

TFGI: Turning to MeshMinds‘ mission, there is a notable ambition to engage 1 million city-dwelling kids in the Asia-Pacific region in cultivating gardens at home or school by 2030. What inspired the formulation of such an ambitious goal, and what impact does MeshMinds aim to achieve through this initiative?

Our journey began with City Sprouts, a Singaporean urban farm. Inspired by their community garden transformation, we created ‘Urban Farm Run’ for COP27, an AR game where players tilt their heads to help a farmer overcome challenges. After learning about Singapore’s ’30 by 30′ initiative and innovative vertical farms in Tampines, we expanded our vision.

This led to the creation of Sky Farm Island.  Our goal to use Roblox to engage one million city-dwelling kids in the Asia-Pacific by 2030 goes beyond cultivating gardens; it is about planting seeds of change for sustainable living. Encouraging kids to grow their own food fosters an understanding of food security, promotes plant-based diets, and reduces individual greenhouse gas emissions. We hope to nurture a generation with healthy hearts actively contributing to a healthier planet.

 

TFGI: MeshMinds created Sky Farm Island, touted as the world’s first sustainable urban farming experience on Roblox. Could you walk us through the ‘Play, Learn, Grow’ method that MeshMinds employs?

Sky Farm Island, combined with real-world seed packet distribution, forms our ‘Play, Learn, Grow’ approach — a dynamic blend of digital learning and hands-on gardening, designed to transform urban areas into sustainable, food-secure garden cities for future generations.

In the ‘Play’ phase of Sky Farm Island, children claim a plot and explore sustainable farming practices within the captivating world of Roblox, sparking curiosity about the future of food production beyond traditional classrooms.

Transitioning to ‘Learn,’ kids gain knowledge about growing food at home, plant-based diets, and the environmental impact of their food choices. We are very proud to be  featured in Roblox’s Education Lobby, which helps our message reach a wide audience of educators and learners..

Lastly, the ‘Grow’ phase connects the digital with the physical. Our dream is to be able to distribute real-world seed packets and urban garden starter kits to players through government collaborations. This tangible approach will foster a deeper connection to the environment, allowing children to witness their virtual farming skills come to life and contribute to a sustainable future.

 

Empowering Youths through Technology:

TFGI: Given that youths play a pivotal role in driving the sustainability charge of the future, could you elaborate on the significance of employing augmented reality, games, and social media to empower them in activating their own networks for sustainability?

Empowering youth for sustainability is vital, not just MeshMinds’ mission but a necessity for our collective future. In the digital age, AR, games, and social media serve as potent platforms for education, engagement, and mobilisation. Inspired by artist Olafur Eliasson, who firmly believes that art has the power to change the world, we prioritise ‘starting with the art,’ emphasising the transformative power of visual storytelling.

AR overlays digital info on the physical world, making sustainability tangible. Our projects vividly illustrate climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable living for young people. For example, some of our AR projects have allowed users to visualise the effects of plastic pollution on marine life and understand what climate actions they can take, making the consequences of their actions more immediate and personal.

Similarly, games, especially on platforms like Roblox, are a universal language for youths, offering a fun way to learn about complex issues. Through gameplay, players explore sustainable practices, like managing a virtual farm on Sky Farm Island, fostering critical thinking about a more sustainable world.

Social media amplifies impact by providing a platform for young people to share experiences, learn, and mobilise for change. Engaging with sustainability content and sharing achievements from AR experiences and games create a ripple effect, fostering awareness and collective action. This peer-to-peer influence is powerful, rooted in authenticity and shared values.

 

Gen AI and Game Development:

TFGI: Touching upon the role of Gen AI in gamification, how does MeshMinds foresee the integration of generative artificial intelligence shaping the future of game development?

Integrating Gen AI into game development not only enhances immersion and engagement but also deepens educational impact. In an environmental sustainability-focused game, Gen AI could dynamically generate challenges based on real-world data, ensuring players engage with an evolving narrative reflecting the changing state of our planet.

I look forward to a future where Gen AI personalises gaming experiences, adapting difficulty and content to suit each player’s pace and interests. This level of personalisation makes educational content accessible and engaging for a wide audience, maximising impact.

In today’s world, Gen AI streamlines development by generating art, music, and code, allowing creators to focus on core messages and educational goals. Used extensively in Sky Farm Island, Gen AI enhances player engagement and retention by creating dynamic dialogues and suggesting new features.

Looking ahead, I believe Gen AI will lead to more efficient production of high-quality educational games, addressing the urgent need for sustainability education. MeshMinds will continue to harness Gen AI’s power to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards through innovative gaming platforms. This transformative experience, where players ‘build the game as they play it,’ signifies an exciting shift in gaming, fostering collaboration among future generations caring for our planet.

 

Global Reach and Cultural Adaptation:

TFGI: Exploring MeshMinds’ global reach, are there plans to scale the current initiative beyond the Asia-Pacific region?

MeshMinds, rooted in the Asia-Pacific region, has a global appeal due to our commitment to leveraging technology for sustainability and education. Our free-to-play digital experiences have reached audiences worldwide, including the Arctic region, during the ‘100 Days to #BeatPlasticPollution’ campaign. This global reach is a testament to the universal relevance of our themes in sustainability and creative technology.

Despite our global impact, the Asia-Pacific region, with over 1.3 billion gamers and the largest mobile gaming market, remains our primary focus. Our mission is to amplify youth voices from this region, a hub of digital innovation and sustainability solutions. Our approach to scaling globally involves expanding our impact without shifting our focus, embracing the cultural diversity within the Asia-Pacific. As we continue our work, we stay true to our mission of using art and technology to inspire positive action towards a sustainable future, regardless of the audience’s location.

 

TFGI: Lastly, could you share any final words to inspire youths and changemakers today to drive the sustainability charge?

Young changemakers, your actions, voices, and contributions shape a vital role in addressing challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss. At MeshMinds, art, technology, and sustainability combine to inspire tangible action. Embrace your talents, stay curious, and never underestimate your impact. The path to a sustainable future depends on today’s choices—harnessing technology, arts, and shared humanity for a world we pass on with pride.

 

About the organisation

MeshMinds is a non-profit foundation that invests in Games for Good. The foundation brings together impact artists, tech for good developers and sustainability advocates to build immersive and interactive experiences on the world’s largest gaming platforms, such as Roblox and Fortnite, to support climate action and behavioural change amongst youth and communities online.

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Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.

 

Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.

 

As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.