In January 2009, Winterhouse Institute began a two-year project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation with a $1.5 million grant
, to develop collective action and collaboration for social impact across the design industry - and encompassing a range of other institutions that work on the needs of poor or vulnerable people. The funding will be used to develop specific programs for social impact by the design community, to host a major conference at Aspen in 2009, to develop case studies with the Yale School of Management, and to create an editorial website to monitor progress in the zone of design and innovation around social issues.
The Rockefeller Foundation
has taken the lead in galvanizing an important and constructive, but uncoordinated, phenomenon: design as mode of innovation leading to social change. We believe designers can make consistent, sustained and human-scaled contributions to solving large social and environmental problems, particularly to benefit poor and vulnerable people in developing countries.
There are an increasing number of examples of design-thinking — or integrative thinking — addressing these problems, whether initiated by design firms, individual designers or NGOs, yet there are only isolated examples of success. All this signals growing interest in harnessing design creativity in areas where massive public sector efforts were attempted in the past. The power of this movement, though, would be amplified significantly with success-sharing mechanisms, documentation of best practices, matching of resources to needs, and promotion of the promise of design as one avenue to innovative solutions.
Effectively, the challenge becomes how to we get the best designers working with the right NGOs towards solutions against large and critical problems? How can we get enough momentum and participation that collective action by the design community is possible and self-generating? Are there models or structures needed to create systematic engagement with the social sector? The Rockefeller Foundation is engaging these issues on a number of fronts. The Design for Social Impact Workshop at Bellagio in June 2008 tapped into a diverse group of design players, addressing different aspects of the opportunity and audience.
Within this context, Winterhouse proposed a two-year engagement 2009-2010, taking a leadership role in this initiative, acting as catalyst, coordinator, community organizer, researcher, publisher and social entrepreneur. Winterhouse will work on a sustained basis to develop collective action and collaboration between known participants, as well as other design leaders, category experts, organizations, NGOs, corporations, and large foundations. Winterhouse will act as a champion of the initiative in the public sphere, writing, attending and participating at conferences, curating events and forums, and interacting with the blogosphere and press to create awareness in NGO and design communities. Specific projects include:
• Winterhouse will identify new opportunities for critical engagements by designers among large foundations, NGOs and corporations through research, network development and personal visits. Simultaneously, Winterhouse will look for collaborative opportunities among existing social networks and online blogs which interact and intersect with the sphere of design and social change. An additional area for exploration will be museums and curators. Winterhouse will encourage each of the Bellagio players to continue their own respective efforts, yet seek to coordinate them in a way that will reinforce individual efforts and provide information to others interested in these opportunities. In this coordinative role, the goal would be to network the players and opportunities — to accelerate the collective network in a way that will allow it to sustain itself over time.
• Winterhouse will develop a larger, post-Bellagio design summit in partnership with AIGA at Aspen in November 2009. This design summit will seek to expand models for partnership between designers and NGOs, as well as to initiate concrete projects to demonstrate the ability of design to lead to concrete solutions.
• Winterhouse will identify and supervise the creation of a number of deep, professional case studies, developed in partnership with the Yale School of Management. Using an innovative, online case study model, these cases will be broadly disseminated, generating both success-sharing mechanisms and documentation of best practices. This is a critical component as the design profession (and its success stories working with NGOs) needs critical appraisal and evaluation in order to increase efficacy and scalability.
• Winterhouse will create a communications platform for the initiative. This will be especially important in the online environment where we see a number of independent projects emerging, yet where a shared online identity could accelerate awareness and participation by many players. Winterhouse will also create the “über” editorial online website to monitor and report on developments in this burgeoning zone of activity. The goal would be to professionally report on successes and failures, new models, places for engagement by NGOs and design firms, inspirational stories and critical appraisals, as well as summaries and guides to resources, tools and related news across the web. This website will generate the online traffic to give exposure to initiatives by other players, including the knowledge system and online case studies, and thus would act as the umbrella site relating many activities, initiatives and programs.
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