Shaping the Future: My Journey with the FIRST Global Challenge

Innovation and technology are reshaping the contours of our future, where international robotics competitions become arenas for young minds to meet, compete, and grow. Among them, the FIRST Global Challenge holds a special place by catalyzing the talents of tomorrow in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Since 2017, I've had the honor of supporting Team Madagascar as a Team Manager, Technical Mentor, and jury member, through the challenges and triumphs of this prestigious competition.

This adventure, much more than mere participation, marked the beginning of a transformative journey, both personally and professionally. It allowed me to forge unbreakable bonds with passionate high school students, develop top-notch technical and managerial skills, and immerse myself in a stimulating international environment. Each competition has been a new page of learning, where problem-solving, innovation, and teamwork proved to be the key elements.

The impact of this experience went beyond the confines of the competitions to become a more sustainable and ambitious approach. Inspired by the dynamics and values of the FIRST Global Challenge, I took the initiative to turn this passion into a long-term commitment by founding an NGO dedicated to promoting STEM education in Madagascar. As the President of the Board of this organization, I strive to broaden the horizons for the youth by providing them with the necessary tools and inspiration to become the innovators and leaders of tomorrow.

This story is not only mine; it belongs to every student, mentor, and volunteer who crossed my path with Team Madagascar. Together, we built more than a robotics team; we erected a community of the curious, dreamers, and builders, united by the belief that technology can be a force for good, capable of overcoming the most arduous challenges of our time. Here is the story of this extraordinary adventure, its teachings, its challenges, and its lasting legacy.

The Beginnings of a Transformative Journey

The year 2016 marked a decisive turning point, not only in my professional journey but also in the perspective of technological innovation in Madagascar. Two years after launching the island's first CoderDojo, a pioneering initiative aimed at introducing children and young people aged 7 to 17 to programming, and the same year as the creation of the CoderBus – an ambitious project aimed at democratizing access to digital education across Madagascar –, an unexpected call further broadened my horizon.

This call came from Joe Sestak, a retired US Navy vice admiral, an eminent and respected figure, who carried a bold vision: to bring young people from around the world together around an annual international robotics competition, the FIRST Global Challenge. This competition would not only be an event but a long-term commitment, spanning at least 14 years, designed to forge the scientific minds of tomorrow. The invitation to create a Team Madagascar, made up of high school students, to take up this challenge was a tremendous responsibility.

Accepting this proposal was a decision guided by a mix of enthusiasm and realism. Robotics, although fascinating, was not a discipline familiar to the curriculum of Madagascar's high schools. The task was therefore doubly challenging: not only did I have to immerse myself in the complexities of this field, but I also had to identify, train, and prepare a team of talented young people, all in less than a year. It was an ambitious bet, fueled by the conviction that Malagasy youth had the potential to shine on the international stage, provided they were given the opportunity.

With Joe Sestak, in Washington DC in 2017.

The quest for team members was a true adventure. It led me to recruit passionate, curious, and eager-to-learn youngsters from across the island. Meetings were marked by rich and inspiring exchanges, revealing a pool of talent and a thirst for learning that only needed to be channeled. The selection was the result of a rigorous process, favoring not only technical skills but also teamwork spirit, creativity, and perseverance.

The team's preparation was a real race against time, filled with intensive training sessions, sleepless nights, technical challenges, but also moments of camaraderie and shared discoveries. Each obstacle overcome strengthened our determination and further united our team, transforming a group of talented individuals into a true family united by a common goal.

This journey, initiated by an unexpected invitation, turned out to be much more than mere participation in a competition. It was the beginning of a transformative adventure, not only for me as a mentor and leader but also for every young person involved. Together, we laid the foundations of a movement that would not only highlight the exceptional abilities of Malagasy youth in STEM but also inspire an entire generation to pursue their boldest dreams in the field of technology and innovation.

Transmission and Acquisition of Technical Skills

Engagement in the FIRST Global Challenge was a rewarding experience, both personally and as a mentor for Team Madagascar. The uniformity of the parts kits provided by REV Robotics established a level playing field, emphasizing ingenuity and creativity over material resources. This constraint not only honed my technical skills but also provided a unique opportunity to pass them on to the new generations of the team, year after year.

Creative Engineering in Robot Design

Working exclusively with the kits provided by REV Robotics, I gained a deep understanding of robot design and engineering. This experience allowed me to develop a creative approach to material limitations, a skill I was eager to pass on to every new team member. Together, we learned to see beyond constraints, turning each challenge into an opportunity for innovation.

Programming and Control Logic

Mastering programming languages was essential to bringing our robotic creations to life. I shared with the young talents of Madagascar the subtleties of algorithms, control logic, and embedded systems, guiding them through the complexities of programming in a robotic context. This knowledge transfer not only reinforced my own skills but also prepared team members to face technical challenges with confidence and creativity.

Principles of Mechatronics

The integration of electronics, mechanics, and computer science in our robots' design was a fundamental lesson in mechatronics. By sharing this expertise with the team, I emphasized the importance of systemic thinking, considering each robot as a coherent whole where each element interacts harmoniously. This approach enriched the team's understanding of the complexity and interdependence of modern systems, an invaluable skill in the engineering world.

Technical Problem-Solving

Each challenge encountered during the competition became a lesson in problem-solving. Guiding the team through complex situations, I highlighted the need for thorough analysis, critical evaluation of options, and strategic implementation of solutions. This methodical approach not only allowed the team to overcome technical obstacles but also instilled a resilient mindset in the face of challenges, preparing members for successful future careers in STEM fields.

In summary, my journey within the FIRST Global Challenge not only allowed me to acquire advanced technical skills but also offered the precious opportunity to pass them on to the next generation of Malagasy technologists. This mentoring dynamic enriched the experience for all, transforming each competition into a platform for continuous learning and personal and professional development.

Leadership and Team Management

Participation in the FIRST Global Challenge transcended mere technical skills to embrace equally crucial aspects: leadership and team management. Leading a team of passionate high school students towards a common goal in the context of an international competition was an experience as rewarding as it was complex, marked by unique challenges and moments of personal and collective growth.

Project Management: From Vision to Reality

The first step in our adventure was conceptualizing our project. It wasn't just about building a robot but about successfully completing a comprehensive project, with clear objectives, deadlines to meet, and resources to manage. Strategic planning, defining roles within the team, and organizing tasks were fundamental. We learned to transform our vision into a concrete action plan, to break down overall goals into specific tasks, and to track our progress, adjusting course as needed. This experience sharpened my project management skills, essential in any enterprise or initiative.

Leadership: Inspiring and Uniting

The role of leader in such a dynamic and diverse team was a deeply transformative experience. It wasn't just about directing or overseeing, but about inspiring, motivating, and uniting team members around a shared vision. I learned the importance of open communication, active listening, and encouragement. By recognizing each member's strengths and encouraging them to develop them, we cultivated a sense of belonging and a culture of excellence. Leadership took the form of mentorship, guiding the team not only towards technical objectives but also towards personal growth.

Decision-Making: Strategy and Agility

In the heat of action, quick and strategic decision-making proved to be an invaluable skill. Faced with unforeseen situations or crucial decisions, I had to weigh options, consider short and long-term implications, and choose the most beneficial course of action for the team. This ability to make thoughtful decisions, even under pressure, is essential in any leadership role, and it proved to be a valuable asset far beyond the competition.

Conflict Management: Harmony and Resilience

Perhaps one of the most delicate but enriching aspects of team management was conflict management. Differences of opinion and tensions are inevitable within a group working under pressure towards ambitious goals. I learned the importance of treating conflicts not as obstacles but as opportunities for growth and team strengthening. By adopting an empathetic approach, seeking to understand everyone's perspectives, and finding common ground, we transformed challenges into moments of cohesion.

Leading Team Madagascar in the FIRST Global Challenge was an incredibly formative experience, which honed my skills in project management, leadership, strategic decision-making, and conflict management. These skills, acquired and refined in the arena of international robotics competition, have become pillars of my professional and personal life, preparing me to navigate confidently the sometimes turbulent waters of leadership and team management in today's complex and interconnected world.

Mentorship and Educational Development

The role of mentor and coach within Team Madagascar for the FIRST Global Challenge proved to be as rewarding as it was demanding. Beyond teaching the technical skills necessary for designing and programming robots, this role immersed me in the depths of educational development, where every interaction with the youth was an opportunity to instill values, skills, and attitudes conducive to their flourishing.

Mentorship: More Than Teaching, an Inspiration

As a mentor, my goal went beyond the mere transmission of knowledge. It was about inspiring, motivating, and encouraging high school students to excel, to explore new ideas, and to believe in their abilities. Mentorship sessions were designed to be interactive and stimulating, encouraging young people to ask questions, experiment, and learn from their mistakes. This approach not only facilitated a deep understanding of robotics concepts but also reinforced their self-confidence and ability to face challenges.

Coaching: Developing Skills and Values

Coaching went hand in hand with mentorship, with a particular emphasis on developing individual and collective skills. This included technical aspects such as programming and mechatronics, but also transversal skills like teamwork, communication, and time management. Workshops and practical exercises were regularly organized to reinforce these skills, thus creating an environment conducive to active learning and continuous improvement.

Facilitating Learning: Creating a Stimulating Environment

One of the most crucial tasks as a mentor was to create an environment where students felt comfortable exploring, innovating, and taking initiatives. This involved providing the necessary resources, structuring activities to encourage creativity, and maintaining a safe space where ideas could be freely shared and discussed. By facilitating learning rather than authoritatively directing it, I was able to encourage an open culture of innovation, where every team member felt valued and capable of making significant contributions.

Results and Impact of Mentorship

The impact of mentorship and educational development manifested in multiple ways. Team members became more autonomous, more engaged, and more competent, not only in technical fields but also in their ability to collaborate, solve problems, and communicate effectively. These skills, acquired in the context of the FIRST Global Challenge, prepared them not only to succeed in the competition but also to become lifelong learners, ready to face tomorrow's challenges.

Beyond technical successes and trophies, it is these moments of personal and collective growth that remain the most rewarding. Seeing a young person gain confidence, overcome a challenge, or have an "aha" moment is invaluable. It confirms the deep belief that mentorship and educational development are at the heart of training future leaders and innovators in the STEM field.

Beyond Technique: Interpersonal and Communication Gains

Participation in the FIRST Global Challenge transcended the mere acquisition of technical skills, proving to be a true melting pot for the development of interpersonal and communication skills. These skills, cultivated at the heart of international challenges, not only shaped my ability to interact effectively with various teams but also greatly contributed to my professional and personal development.

Mastery of Effective Communication

The competition taught me the art of clear and persuasive communication, an invaluable skill in the professional world. Knowing how to articulate complex technical concepts in an accessible way, whether in presentations or written documents, strengthened my ability to convey ideas and engage in productive dialogues. The active listening and empathy developed allowed me to forge meaningful connections, facilitating collaboration and understanding within multicultural teams.

Strengthening Teamwork and Collaboration

The experience taught me the invaluable worth of teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration. Coordinating a team towards a common goal, while valuing individual talents, honed my leadership and team management skills. Collaborating with international teams broadened my perspective, encouraging me to embrace and integrate diverse approaches and ideas into problem-solving.

Expanding the Professional Network

Networking became second nature, allowing me to establish valuable connections with like-minded individuals around the world. Each conversation was an opportunity to learn, share, and collaborate, opening doors to future opportunities and potential partnerships. These interactions reinforced my ability to communicate effectively across cultural and linguistic barriers, an invaluable skill in the modern professional world.

Flexibility and Adaptability

The unforeseen challenges of the competition made me more adaptable and flexible, preparing me to navigate with ease in constantly evolving professional environments. This agility in problem-solving and decision-making under pressure became a key skill, enabling me to respond effectively to changes and unforeseen events in various professional contexts.

Cultural Sensitivity and Intercultural Communication

Interacting with participants from around the world refined my cultural sensitivity and my ability to communicate effectively in an intercultural context. This skill is crucial in a globalized world, where understanding and respecting diverse cultural perspectives facilitate international collaboration and enrich professional approaches.

In sum, the FIRST Global Challenge was much more than a platform for developing technical skills; it was a catalyst for acquiring fundamental interpersonal and communication skills. These skills, essential in all aspects of professional life, equipped me to become an effective leader, a valuable collaborator, and a competent communicator, ready to face the challenges of the modern world with confidence and adaptability.

The Art of Team Travel

Orchestrating the international travels of Team Madagascar for the FIRST Global Challenge was as rewarding as it was demanding. Through the multiple facets of planning and managing these trips, I acquired a set of valuable skills, transferable well beyond the context of the competition.

Expertise in Travel Logistics

Coordinating travel itineraries for an entire team taught me the crucial importance of attention to detail and prior planning. I developed expertise in logistics, capable of juggling flight schedules, hotel reservations, and ground transportation, all while optimizing costs and ensuring the team's comfort. This skill proved invaluable, not only for competition travel but also in my ability to efficiently organize any event or project requiring complex coordination.

Mastery of Budget Management

Managing the travel budget with maximum rigor and efficiency taught me the art of financial balance. I learned to negotiate with suppliers, identify the best deals without compromising quality or the team's well-being, and allocate resources wisely. These budget management skills are crucial in all aspects of project and organizational management, ensuring that resources are used in the most efficient manner possible.

Advanced Risk Management Strategies

Faced with the unforeseen and challenges inherent in international travel, I refined my risk management strategies. Preparing robust contingency plans and the ability to adapt quickly to changes strengthened my resilience and ability to maintain the team's serenity and efficiency, even in stressful situations. This ability to anticipate and manage risks is a valuable skill for any leader, allowing for confident navigation in uncertain environments.

Cultural Sensitivity and Global Leadership

Traveling with a team to various countries offered me a rich intercultural experience, sensitizing me to the nuances and diversities of global contexts. I learned the importance of cultural sensitivity and adaptability, essential qualities for effective leadership on the international stage. This deep understanding of cultural differences enriches my ability to communicate and collaborate with individuals and teams from various backgrounds.

Prioritizing Team Well-being

The most rewarding aspect of organizing the trips was ensuring the well-being and safety of each team member. I developed a strong competence in well-being management, ensuring that all needs, from dietary considerations to medical care, were anticipated and managed with care. This attention to the well-being of others is fundamental in any leadership role, reinforcing trust, morale, and team commitment.

Every step of these journeys was a life lesson, bringing me skills and perspectives that transcend the context of robotics and competition. They prepared me to navigate an increasingly globalized world, to lead with empathy and vision, and to face challenges with strategic planning and unwavering adaptability.

International Experiences and Perspectives

The annual participation in the FIRST Global Challenge, in various host countries, transformed into a series of enriching chapters of my life, each bringing its unique set of experiences and lessons. More than a mere competition, it became a window to the world, a catalyst for personal and professional growth.

Cultural and Human Acquisitions

Each destination was a living classroom, where lessons were not dictated but experienced. Immersion in various cultures taught me to navigate and appreciate the subtle differences shaping our global perspectives. These experiences endowed me with a sharpened cultural sensitivity, essential in my professional and personal interactions, and taught me the importance of adaptability and open-mindedness in an interconnected world.

Expansion of the Professional Network

Meeting like-minded individuals from the diaspora and international communities enriched my professional network unimaginably. Each conversation was an opportunity to learn, share, and collaborate, opening doors to future opportunities and potential partnerships. These interactions strengthened my ability to communicate effectively across cultural and linguistic barriers, an invaluable skill in the modern professional world.

International Standards and Competitiveness

Facing the world's best talents in robotics sharpened my technical skills and understanding of international standards. This experience pushed me to aim for excellence, to constantly elevate my goals, and to adopt a continuous learning approach. It reinforced my ability to analyze and quickly adopt the sector's best practices and innovations, keeping me at the cutting edge of technology.

Global Vision and Commitment

More profoundly, these travels instilled in me a global awareness, an appreciation for international collaboration, and a commitment to global challenges. This expanded perspective inspired me to think beyond my own interests, to consider how my actions and skills can contribute to global solutions. This worldview has become a pillar of my professional identity, guiding my career choices and future projects.

In sum, the FIRST Global Challenge provided me with much more than technical skills; it offered a rich and diverse set of intercultural, professional, and personal acquisitions. These experiences have shaped who I am today, a professional endowed with a global perspective, an international network, and an unwavering passion for technology serving the common good. These journeys taught me that, in the vast world of innovation and technology, borders are not barriers but invitations to explore, collaborate, and grow.

Personal Growth Through Challenges

Engagement in the FIRST Global Challenge, beyond acquiring technical and managerial skills, represented a profound personal quest, marked by challenges that forged my character and redefined my perception of success. This mission, embraced voluntarily, was driven by a passion for education and innovation but also required significant emotional and financial sacrifices.

Volunteer Commitment: An Unshakeable Source of Motivation

Volunteering for a project of such magnitude, where the future and aspirations of young talents were at stake, taught me the invaluable worth of generosity and altruism. Every hour dedicated to mentoring, every training session, and every moment spent solving the countless technical and logistical challenges were motivated by the deep conviction that education is the most powerful lever for change.

Resilience in the Face of Financial Constraints

Financial challenges were a recurring component of this adventure. The resources needed for pre-competition preparation, travel, accommodation, and various incidental expenses often exceeded the allocated or available budgets. Facing these constraints, sometimes dipping into my own resources, strengthened my resilience and determination. These financial sacrifices, far from being a burden, were seen as an investment in the limitless potential of the youth I was mentoring.

Adaptability and Time Management

Navigating through multiple responsibilities, coordinating team activities, while managing my professional and personal commitments, required exemplary adaptability and time management. This experience taught me to prioritize effectively, to be flexible in the face of unforeseen events, and to find a healthy balance among the various aspects of my life. The art of juggling multiple roles as a mentor, manager, financier, and sometimes even confidant was a valuable lesson in time management and organization.

Personal Growth Beyond Skills

At the heart of this experience, the most significant lessons lay not only in acquiring new skills but in the personal evolution it spurred. Patience, empathy, listening, and the ability to inspire and motivate around a common goal became central facets of my being. The satisfaction of seeing team members overcome their obstacles, gain confidence and competence, has been a source of immense personal gratification.

Participation in the FIRST Global Challenge, in such an involved and multidimensional role, was a transformative experience. The challenges faced and the sacrifices made were amply compensated by personal growth, the satisfaction of contributing to the blossoming of young talents, and the conviction of having contributed, at my level, to building a more promising future for them and for the STEM community in Madagascar. This adventure, far beyond robotics and competition, was a journey of continuous learning about myself, about what it means to be a mentor, a leader, and above all, a facilitator of dreams.


The odyssey through the FIRST Global Challenge was, without a doubt, one of the most enriching and formative experiences of my life. Far more than a simple robotics competition, it proved to be the best of schools, a crucible of personal and professional growth where I was able to acquire a multitude of invaluable skills and experiences. This journey not only refined my technical, managerial, and pedagogical skills but also profoundly transformed my view of the world, education, and innovation.

Engaging in this voluntary venture, with all its demands and challenges, broadened my horizons far beyond what any traditional academic curriculum could have offered. The lessons learned in the arena of the FIRST Global Challenge transcend mere technical knowledge; they encompass resilience, adaptability, leadership, and above all, the ability to inspire and motivate the next generation of thinkers and innovators. This experience revolutionized my way of perceiving challenges, transforming every obstacle into an opportunity for learning and growth.

Moreover, this commitment offered me the unique opportunity to pass on these lessons and create opportunities for young Malagasy talents, opening doors that, at their age, remained closed to me. Seeing these young people flourish, develop their potential, and seize these opportunities with passion and determination is an indescribable source of satisfaction. It is living proof that the impact of the FIRST Global Challenge goes far beyond the annual competitions, sowing the seeds of a future where technology, innovation, and human solidarity can truly make a difference.

In conclusion, my journey with the FIRST Global Challenge was much more than a series of competitions; it was a profound transformation, an awakening to new perspectives, and an affirmation of the belief that education and innovation are the keys to a better future. This journey not only allowed me to develop a wide range of valuable skills and experiences but also gave me the invaluable chance to contribute to the blossoming of tomorrow's talents. Ultimately, this adventure reinforced my faith in the limitless potential of youth and in the power of education to change the world, a lesson I will continue to cherish and share throughout my life.

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