“Building a Better Future” is a free, eight-day, residential programme run by Leaf that allows bright and curious 16-18 year olds to explore ideas, methodologies, and opportunities for helping others and building a better world.

The first programme was run in October 2021 with 15 participants. At the end of the programme, we invited all attendees to enter an essay competition.

We received seven essay competition submissions, which we think is a great submission rate, given that this was an optional follow-up to the week-long programme. (A couple more participants started writing essays that they hope to finish at later dates.)

We had suggested a number of potential essay topics, but most submissions were actually on modified topics proposed by the participants themselves. We love this as it shows that our participants were engaging critically and pursuing their own interests or priorities, rather than deferring to the suggestions of Leaf’s facilitators.

Contributions were judged roughly against our impression of the standard of a median post by a salaried researcher focused on topics relevant to cost-effectively improving the world or the future (e.g. at an organisation like Rethink Priorities): a score of “3” out of 5 on any of the five criteria would represent a median post by a median researcher at such an organisation. We don’t think any of the entries quite reached this standard (i.e. an average score of 3 across the five criteria), but awarded all seven submissions prizes of some magnitude, because we believe that they demonstrate the participants’ potential to make strong future contributions (with an average score of at least 2 across the five criteria).

Here are the 7 essays:

We hope you enjoy these and find them useful for thinking about building a better future.


Thanks to:

  • Leaf’s wonderful participants for their interest, effort, and submissions.
  • Alex Holness-Tofts who set up the first Leaf programme, conceived of the essay competition, and helped to mark the submissions. 
  • Charlotte Darnell who has helped to organise and manage Leaf and the essay competition.
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