Maven: A Cyberworld for LGBTQ Youth

We interviewed Monica Ann Arrambide from Maven.

by The Editor & Monica Ann Arrambide on May 19th, 2014

We interviewed Monica Ann Arrambide from Maven, an interactive virtual community for LGBTQA youth, about gamification, the challenges facing non-profits in the internet age, and how we can support LGBTQA youth through technology. Maven is currently under development and raising funding through a new IndieGoGo campaign – help out today!

Tell us about Maven and the platform you are building.

Maven is a non-profit that provides LGBTQ youth with opportunities to help develop an online gaming platform where they can meet LGBTQ peers, network, organize and educate for social change. Maven works to bridge the technology gap between LGBTQ youth and the non-profits who empower them. We are applying youth development principles and supporting youth leaders in the creation of what will be the future cyberworld for LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ centers across the nation.

Poster for Maven, which reads: virtually every youth has the power to create social change. It has bright colors, a cartoon-like and happy feel, and features illustrations of diverse youth doing various activities like skateboarding and playing guitar.

Non-profits and community based organizations (CBOs) will be able to create a online center that youth inside the game can interact within. Users will have the ability to create an avatar that reflects their identity and explore a cyberworld where LGBTQA resources will be embedded as part of the gamification. Boring non-profits/CBOs websites and tri-fold resource pamphlets will be a thing of the past — Maven will provide youth with direct access to queer resources and services, 24 hours a day. And regardless of where youth are located, they will have the latest resources available with a simple online connection.

What are some of the current challenges that LGBTQA youth face in meeting, interacting and building community online? What benefits can online community offer to them?

As technology advances, the gap between youth and the organizations that are supposed to serve them widens. LGBTQ nonprofits/CBOs are being left behind with limited resources to invest in serving youth through web and mobile platforms. With a growing body of research showing LGBTQ youth turn to the Internet for social connections, identity exploration and support, Maven will become as vital a tool for LGBTQ nonprofits/CBOs as for LGTBQ youth.

Two winners of a Hack 4 Queer Youth hackathon grin at the camera.

Hackers Serena Wales and Ruthie BenDor were both part of the grand prize-winning team at Maven’s Hack 4 Queer Youth hackathon.

Maven is designed to meet youth where they are, providing an opportunity to build community and express their views through online games, virtual worlds, social media and more. Maven will empower youth to express their identities and explore the possibilities of who they are, all within a safe space. The approaches to youth services are evolving, and technology is an essential ingredient for that tipping point towards change.

Maven is particularly interesting in that it has gamification as a core part of the design. Can you talk about a few of the gamification features being built in, and more broadly, what role gamification can play in social justice?

Gamification can be a powerful tool in helping youth solve their problems while advancing young leaders in social justice. Gamification techniques have been proven accelerants for motivation and advancement in learning and achievement. The digital badging system we’re developing will let organizations and individuals document, share and celebrate accomplishments that matter in the LGBTQ community, offering a way to recognize and showcase the achievements of LGBTQ youth. As they progress or “level up”, they can earn digital badges they can share across the web.

The anticipated impact of issuing digital badges is an increase in the use of social and emotional services available to LGBTQ youth, as well as increased engagement in social change campaigns. Ultimately, Maven will enhance the user experience with rewards for social good users do in the cyberworld and outside of it.

Can you tell us a bit about some of the other programs that Maven provides for youth, in addition to the development of the virtual community?

Maven’s first 2014 Queer Youth Tech Camp will be held July 7-18, 2014 in partnership with Mozilla and along with support from GaymerX2 and Lesbians Who Tech. This year’s camp will serve LGBTQ youth ages 15-18.

The three founding members smile and look at the camera. Snacks and a Mozilla sign are in the background.

Monica Ann Arrambide, Ruth Obel-Jorgensen, Lexi Adsit. Founding members of Maven at Hack 4 Queer Youth event in November

The camp is for all levels, from the tech-curious to the more experienced. The camp will be held at the offices in Oakland for one week and the Mozilla offices in San Francisco for one week. Youth will learn and apply tech skills, be exposed to careers in technology, and raise awareness of LGBTQ people in the tech.

After the 2-week camp program, Maven will host the Hack 4 Queer Youth hackathon. This event is open to all LGBTQA youth and adult tech professionals who want to hack for social good. It’s a three-day event hosted at the Mozilla office in San Francisco.

How can community members support Maven and LGBTQA youth in general online?

We’re currently leading our fundraising campaign to continue their development of this gaming platform and other efforts. It’s on Indiegogo and we’re trying to raise $60,000. The campaign will help ensure we can continue offering Queer Tech Camps and Youth internships to build our cyberworld.

We’re also seeking mentors for our summer camp. With the variety of tech experiences of our young leaders, we would love to match them with mentors with a variety of backgrounds. We’re seeking tech professionals over the age of 21 in the Bay Area to contribute by giving a few hours of time to mentor, train and speak with LGBTQ youth, or by hosting a tour at their tech companies for LGBTQ youth. This is a great way to give LGBTQ youth a look into how tech companies work.

If you’re an LGBTQ techie (over 21) and want to help us out,please submit a Mentor Application. Mentors are required to attend an orientation training prior to the camp. For all other roles, please email monica -at-