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Strengthening Solidarity in Civil Society: Lessons from a Design Thinking Workshop

Photo by Civil Society Academy

I have just returned from an exhilarating experience in New Delhi (India) where Civil Society Academy (CSA) together with Welthungerhilfe (WHH) hosted a Design Thinking Workshop for the Social Innovation Challenge 2019. The workshop had a total cohort of 40 nascent and seasoned social innovators and activists from across the globe striving towards the common goal we set out for them.

Social Innovation Challenge 2019: The Goal

From the get-go, our goal was clear - we need to do more to fight social injustice and hunger.

Illustration by Civil Society Academy

We set out two challenges to social innovators from Africa, Europe and Asia - supporting rural women to get access to social services and rights; and empowering social activists to fortify their messages against social injustice and hunger. The challenges to ourselves were: how do we design a transcendental, inspirational and life-changing experience for the innovators that will have a lasting personal and professional impact? And, how do we find groundbreaking innovations and the social activists behind them?

The Application & Selection Process

This year we deliberately avoided asking applicants to submit proposals and lengthy project plans. Focusing on early stage ideas, our interest was on the people, their creative abilities, personalities and motivations. We asked social innovators from all over the world to submit a mood-board or a short video that clearly articulated their idea and their comprehension of social injustice and hunger as thematic topics.

After reviewing over 900 applications, we initially selected the 30 most promising ideas. To add some energy to the clusters and teams we invited seasoned veterans in the fields of disruptive technology, nutrition and agriculture, women rights, design and innovation experts for the duration of the workshop to give inspiration, know-how and great vibes to the event.

The Design Thinking Workshop

Led by Moritz Gekeler, our Design thinking lead, the first three days took on a typical design thinking process, starting with an introduction to design thinking, shifting towards sensitizing the innovators to the target audience and their needs, and finally understanding how exactly their ideas will make an impact. Prior to arriving in India, teams were requested to provide photographs of the life of the people they want to support. During an exercise called 'Whose life is it', these photographs were used to empathise with the target audience - a crucial element in human centered design. Teams were then formed and asked to work on new ideas using a carefully curated design thinking toolbox which included Lego, Ideation cards, Personas, and many fun team games and exercises.

Photos by Civil Society Academy

By day 3, teams who by now had developed their own team names and logos had successfully prepared their new concepts ready to be pitched in the gallery walk to take place on Day 4. Using make-shift cheque books up to the value of 100 €, each participant was given one book and could choose to invest in various ideas. The pitches were 1 minute long and the most popular 12 concepts qualified for the final pitch on Day 5.

Photo by Civil Society Academy

Cheque books out and go! This was impressive! 1 minute to present a concept was no faint task but all managed superbly and the votes were in to be counted.

The 12 Finalists

The finale was streamed live on social media platforms, and with an impressive jury and 12 ideas to pitch, the stage was set for the grand finale and it was the moment of truth for the social innovators. Six of the eight finalists would be chosen by the jury, one by the facilitators and one by the social innovators themselves.

What will be the next steps?

The 12 finalists will take their concepts to the field for prototyping and will receive on-going support from WHH and CSA for a duration of 3 months. Another round of pitches will take place and 4 social activists will receive up to 40,000 € and on-going support to further pilot their concept.

Although most ideas were equally compelling with huge potential to fight social injustice and give a platform to the voices of social activists alike, not all were chosen for the next round. We urge you to continue to support the finalists and those not selected to the next rounds because it's only through solidarity and support that we can have more impact as a sector (see Round 2: Concepts).

Personal takeaways from the event

As a Sector we need:

  • More collaboration instead of competition, especially in new and ongoing innovative projects

  • Solidarity instead of Individual glory - as the adage goes, "united we stand, divided we fall”

  • Strengthen our sector capability on user (beneficiary) centered design and design thinking application

  • Invest in social entrepreneurs (civil society) and connect them globally to strengthen our footprint and impact

  • Promote inclusivity instead of sectorism

  • Celebrate our victories together and promote a sector culture of knowledge

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About the Author:

Ayanda Ntombela is an Innovation champion with big dreams of a world without Hunger, where personal dignity is valued and all can live their best lives. He strongly believes that only through fundamental disruptive innovation can radical system change in our lifetime come to fruition. Working alongside other dedicated social pioneers at the interception between private, public and third sector, he advocates and prototype social innovations with exponential impact. He currently works for German NGO powerhouse Welthungerhilfe and is mostly seen in and around Berlin.

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