In the spirit of trying new things and “building and shipping,” I recently launched a resume review and job search advice service that I hope to iterate and grow overtime as a side-business. Learn more and sign up here!
Forward by Richard Shaull to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1972:
“Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system. To the degree that this happens, we are also becoming submerged in a new “culture of silence.”
The paradox is that the same technology that does this to us also creates a new sensitivity to what is happening. Especially among young people, the new media together with the erosion of old concepts of authority open the way to acute awareness of this new bondage. The young perceive that their right to say their own word has been stolen from them, and that few things are more important than the struggle to win it back. And they also realize that the educational system today—from kindergarten to university—is their enemy.
There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes “the practice of freedom,” the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. The development of an educational methodology that facilitates this process will inevitably lead to tension and conflict within our society. But it could also contribute to the formation of a new man and mark the beginning of a new era in Western history.”
Have you heard the hype about design? It was popularized by IDEO and is well-known as design thinking or human-centered design. It now seems to be appearing everywhere, given the popularity of Acumen and IDEO.org’s now second-installment of their online Human-Centered Design course; examples like the Nike Foundation, which several years ago instituted a design division to better utilize design to develop their Girl Effect programs in Africa; groups like the Design Gym; and increased interest in design graduate programs (like where I work at MFA Design for Social Innovation); among other anecdotal evidence. After learning about design two years ago from the team at ThinkImpact, using the HCD process in India, and working with designers for the past nine months at MFA DSI, here are some thoughts on why design matters.
I just call it design–design of everything, from micro-interactions, to products, services, and strategies, to systems. There are similar processes that overlap with the design ethos and tools in many ways–lean startup, Agile SCRUM, ethnography, participatory development, community organizing, among others. In fact, as this article explores, what we call design thinking is as ancient as Homer’s tale of the Iliad: “For what bigger co-creation of the solution to a public service problem could there be than stopping the Olympian gods spreading disease? Surely inventing the Trojan Horse was the world’s most famous episode of the techniques of prototyping, experimenting and testing that we will be hearing more about over the next few days.”
This Core77 article does a good job of explaining how the design process was used to explore the problem of over-fishing. It discusses not only using the design process for evaluating the problem and understanding the users, but also using it to design human interactions, and prototype a solution, whether that be a conversation or a new product, service, or system entirely.
Three main factors characterize why I believe design has great potential for creating solutions for social impact: identity, context, and making. (more…)
A friend transitioning from the corporate world to the social enterprise space recently asked me how to assess a social enterprise. How do we really know when an organization is doing quality work we should rally behind and having a real, positive impact, versus just using the right buzzwords?
The short answer is you can never really know. But there are a few aspects of a social enterprise, beyond their mission and approach, that you can critically examine before deciding to join or support one.
How do they talk about impact?
There are numerous ways to measure impact, and entire firms dedicated to doing so. There is no one “right” method, but the way a social enterprise talks about their impact may be an indicator of their operations and worldview.
Let’s say there’s a social enterprise that uses all the popularly accepted words about sustainable and holistic community development. And then when they talk about their impact they say, “We’ve built 100 schools in five countries in the past 10 years.” Maybe they have a video or slideshow of “people whose lives they’ve changed,” but not much more than general statements, and certainly nothing to prove sustainability or transparency. Maybe it’s just another case of Three Cups of Deceit. Or maybe they’re revolutionary, but how are we to know?
You’ve seen this type of advertising so many times now that you’re desensitized to it. There’s a sad song playing in the background as you watch a slideshow of dehumanizing photos, while the narrator simplifies the issues and urges you to “make a difference.” You see it for charities supporting public health, orphanages, and even pets. You saw it in campaigns like KONY 2012. It’s known as “poverty porn.” There have been a number of clever video campaigns mimicking or combatting poverty porn.
But I haven’t come across anything as effective, funny, clever, or powerful as this 2012 ad from the Rainforest Alliance. It’s entertaining and relatable. What I love most though is that it has a strong and easy call to action at the end.
To learn more about storytelling for social impact that is not poverty porn, check out the work of the great team at Regarding Humanity.
“Walker there is no path. The path is made by walking.”
From “Caminante” by Antonio Machado
“In order to address our toughest challenges, we must indeed connect, but this is not enough: we must also grow. In other words, we must exercise both love (the drive to unity) and power (the drive to self-realization). If we choose either love or power, we will get stuck in re-creating existing realities, or worse. If we want to create new and better realities–at home, at work, in our communities, in the world–we need to learn how to integrate our love and our power.”
From Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change by Adam Kahane
What follows are very incomplete thoughts and reflections on some recent readings. I would love to hear your ideas and feedback.
The world is a system made of systems, all inherently living–what Donella Meadows defines as “a set of things—people, cells, molecules, or whatever—interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.”
As I’ve come to better understand systems thinking and social change at a cursory level, I’m realizing that change starts within each of us. As we are part of systems, we are part of the problem, and therefore we are also part of the change. That change begins when each of us realize that we create both sides of the equation. (more…)
“There is this plague of sameness that is killing the human joy” says Iwan Baan at the end of this talk, which highlights the ways people around the world work within constraints to make their living situation their own.
“In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.
But technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.”
From Atul Gawande’s “Slow Ideas“
When a child is terminally ill in India, they face a difficult road ahead. Their family is burdened with grief and expenses. Children are segregated from peers in their community due to a culture of fear and taboo for the terminally ill. When families from a rural area travel to a metropolitan city for medical support, they often have no place to live, turning to the streets. The lack of holistic medical and emotional support for a terminally ill child and their family exacerbates the grief and loss of hope. Enjoyable moments in the precious remaining time are limited. Two young entrepreneurs are changing this situation for the better by building India’s first children’s hospice center with the aim of ensuring that children and their family’s last days together are filled with dignity and joy.
Mansi Shah and Abhishek Tatiya are hoping to provide holistic medical and emotional support through Happy Feet Home, a daytime center in Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital (Sion Hospital) that will offer counseling, activities, and memorable moments for children and their families in their last days together. “Even if it is four months, let the child have the best four months ever,” Mansi proclaims. “At Happy Feet Home, we’re giving that kind of support and care. It’s a child-friendly space, colorful, vibrant, and full of joy. You step in and feel happy,” adds Abhishek.
We’re so often “inspired” by the latest social enterprise start-up, flashy idea, and rising stars, but I’m inspired by my friend and StartingBloc Fellow Jessica. Yesterday, I received a touching letter from Jessica letting me know that she is closing her non-profit of four years, Cheti. I’ve known about Jessica’s recent struggles with running Cheti and her incredibly difficult decision to close and let go of something she is so deeply passionate about.
Even more courageous than starting a venture like Cheti, it’s a brave and egoless decision to move on when it’s no longer having the intended impact or sustainability. And it’s thoughtful and important to share the difficult decision, successes, and failures, as Jessica has done with Cheti, and as others have for the Celebrating Failure series in SocialStory.
Being an entrepreneur is difficult. Failure is painful. Letting go is brave.
Jessica allowed me to share her beautiful note about saying goodbye to Cheti below:
In the past few months I’ve moved to a new city and started a new job exploring design for social innovation. Writing has fallen by the wayside. But I recently read three fantastic books that I hope to write more about soon. Check them out!
Note: If you are unfamiliar with systems thinking, I recommend reading them in this order as I did.