Caine Monroy's Arcade Inspires Kids Across the World to Create Cardboard Wonderlands

9-year-old Caine Monroy inspired young inventors to take part in the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Little did Caine Monroy know that his cardboard inventions were going to inspire a generation of young inventors. (Photo:

Sep 25, 2012
is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, who writes about economic crises and political snafus.

Inspired by nine-year-old Caine Monroy's amazing cardboard arcade, the Imagination Foundation is launching the first ever Global Cardboard Challenge this October. The Challenge invites the world to play while raising funds to foster creativity.

Currently, there are more than 100 cardboard events in 25 countries worldwide that are bringing kids together to make awesome creations. You and your family have until October 6 to enter.

The event wouldn’t be taking place were it not for a chance meeting last fall. Nirvan Mullick, a Los Angeles filmmaker, says he had no idea how transformative a simple trip to an unfamiliar auto parts shop would turn out to be. “I had never been there before,” he says of an East L.A. shop where he stopped for a car part. “I just wanted a door handle.”

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Instead, he walked in and met a nine-year-old boy, Caine Monroy. Caine had spent his summer building a complex arcade out of cardboard boxes in his dad’s shop. The games were up and running, but the boy, who sat in a little chair outside the shop day after day waiting to sell passes, had no customers. So Mullick decided to do something about it: Through social media he gathered a flash mob that surprised Caine Monroy at his arcade last October. Mullick filmed the event and created a short documentary about the enterprising boy called, appropriately, Caine’s Arcade.

The 11-minute film is heartbreakingly sweet; Caine Monroy is smart little kid and the moment he is recognized for his creativity will bring tears to your eyes. The video has clearly struck a chord in viewers. The first day the film was posted in April, it raised $60,000 for Caine’s scholarship fund (Mullick’s goal with the film was $25,000). To this date, $216,815.69 has been raised, and Caine Monroy’s Arcade has been viewed over seven million times worldwide.

“It resonated with people the way a story can,” Mullick says. Very quickly, Mullick realized that he had something more here than just a viral video. “There are a lot of organizations out there doing great work but they don’t have a story. We had the story.”

Within a week of the film’s debut, Mullick had an organization. The Goldhirsh Foundation offered a $250,000 matching grant to start the Imagination Foundation. The Imagination Foundation is a nonprofit with the mission “to find, foster, and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in kids.”

The young foundation has already made its mark in schools across the country. In its first initiative, the Caine’s Arcade School Pilot Program, over 100 schools in nine countries participated in a viewing of the film to launch fun work with cardboard as a way to teach math, engineering, art, science, storytelling and entrepreneurship.

“Seeing Caine, a peer, a kid their age doing something he is passionate about [that really teaches kids about] overcoming adversity and having their dreams come true,” Mullick says. “I have heard from a lot of teachers, of all grades, who are teaching under very challenging circumstances, that when they show this film the response is that the kids are glued to the screen and quiet and focused. They want to make stuff. It sparked something in them.”

From an orphanage director in Cuba to students in Cape Town, South Africa, Mullick is hearing from hundreds of people working on their Cardboard Challenge creations. On October 6, the anniversary of the flash mob, Imagination Foundation will be hosting an event at Caine Monroy’s original arcade. “Some local schools will bring games over, and we’re having children make their own instruments,” Mullick says. “Caine wants to build a Tactile Dome [like the one he saw at] the San Francisco Exploratorium.”

Learn more about Caine's Arcade and how to participate here!

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