Francisco Noguera

Guest Post: The Role of Design in Social Entrepreneurship

SamiGuest blogger Sami Nerenberg is an adjunct faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design, teaching the advanced studio Design for Social Entrepreneurship. She also is a member of the Grain collaborative and previously worked for the nonprofits, Design that Matters and Greenblue.

Co-contributors to this article include Alan Harlem, Caitlin Cohen, & Marina Kim.

By Sami Nerenberg

This weekend I had the honor of participating in Brown/RISD’s first ever Better World by Design conference as both a workshop leader and panelist discussing the role of design in social entrepreneurship. This year’s Social Entrepreneurship Panel?was moerated by?Alan Harlam, Director of Social Entrepreneurship at?the Brown Swearer Center. Joining the panel were Caitlin Cohen, Co-Founder of?Mali Health Organizing Project, Marina Kim from?Ashoka’s Global Academy University Program?and myself.

Three panelists and one moderator, all from different backgrounds, came together and set out to discuss the following:?

  1. What is design?
  2. How does design play a role in social entrepreneurship?
  3. How do interdisciplinary groups of designers, engineers, business men/women and more, come together to work effectively?

Well, there are some simple and not so simple answers to these questions.

First, we had to recognize the difference between design, appropriate technology and engineering, as these terms are often used interchangeably. To borrow from IDEO’s language, in design we “Hear, Create, and Deliver,” with design expanding to products, experiences, services, and strategies. To this extent, everyone at the table was a designer- all with a focus on designing “with” the communities we work with, as oppose to just “for.”??

RISD’s Design for Social Entrepreneurship students have all been participating with a variety of local nonprofits as a jumping off point for their final design project, investigating products/services/spaces to increase the social impact of these organization. Caitlin designs with Malian communities to develop strategies to improve their health.? And Marina, through her work at Ashoka, is a meta-source of collective action for all global efforts and provides design strategy for the collection and dissemination of world changing ideas. A common theme was the importance of collaboration, empathy, and iteration/prototyping.

As to how interdisciplinary teams work together, I recommend everyone who works in collaborative teams invite Humantific to your company/organization for a workshop. Humantific, among other things, works to identify team members’ preferences in the design process. From Generators, Conceptualizers, Optimizers, to Implementers, it is critical in a team setting to understand what everyone considers their skill set to be and facilitate a group dynamic that allows all team members to contribute in a meaningful way according to their strengths and weaknesses. Some people might be great at coming up with innovative ideas, but bad at implementing them. Others might be great at implementing, but lack the creativity to develop something new. Other team members might be great researchers, while others might be strategic thinkers and planners. With a well-balanced team, anything is possible.

This is what we set out to discuss, and with questions from the audience, we also talked about creating a system of scaling that is not reliant on the founder, but rather is replicable and does not rest on the shoulders of one charismatic leader. Great examples of this are Cameron Sinclair’s Architecture for Humanity, Paul Polak’s D-Rev, and Barack Obama’s grassroots campaign that mobilized the US, by creating a platform for communication and the tools needed for individuals to be their own leaders in the campaign.

So the question is – is social entrepreneurship solely for the charismatic leaders, or can we ALL be changemakers, as Ashoka strives toward in their Changemakers program? To leave you with one of my favorite quotes, “I ask you to join in the work of re?making this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hun?dred and twenty-one years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.” Barack Obama.