Celebrating Togetherness

Reminiscing on moments of community in the past year in honor of our 9th birthday.

Today marks IDEO.org’s 9th birthday. This year has been one of growth spurts, retrospection, and ample use of the term “unprecedented.” We've been tested in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and when we look back, our moments of togetherness are the ones that stand out (even when that meant being physically distant). Today we celebrate the power of collective learning, of community, of critical mass, and the moments—big and small—when bringing people together made all the difference.

Gathering for a Housewarming

Last September, after working in Nairobi for a year, we inaugurated our new, permanent studio home and celebrated the launch with a vibrant housewarming party. The new studio is in the middle of a bustling community, where designers, music producers, and filmmakers can come together and cross pollinate. We’re incredibly grateful for everyone who helped build and welcome us into our new home.

“It was really special to move into a place that felt so uniquely ours. The whole team contributed to shaping how our studio looks today—there’s a mural with an illustration of Nairobi by Edwin, West African masks selected by Linda, and interior design work from Didja, a designer in our compound. It’s a massive inspiration for everyone spending time here.”

Tosh Juma, Managing Director at IDEO.org

Inspiring Empathy

In October, we invited organizations, policy makers, and NGOs to an event at the Women’s World Banking conference, where we shared our report on a year-long research project with the Gates Foundation focused on understanding women’s voice, influence, and control of money across six countries. In addition to presenting the findings, the team developed a series of empathy exercises so people could actually experience the barriers women face for themselves. This included a VR headset that shows you footage of agent shops (read: all men), to immersive audio stories, to a phone app that replicates the frustration of using technology that is not designed for you.

”Financial services are often designed for the literate, numerate, and tech savvy. During the convening, we wanted people to get inspired by women’s financial power, but also experience the frustration of using products that aren’t designed for you. One of the empathy exercises made it difficult to execute simple tasks in a language you didn’t understand. You could see the glimmer of recognition as people realized how gendered and exclusive these services are.”

    Mary Katica, Program Director at IDEO.org

    Learning Through Play

    In January, we held a one-day ​“make-a-thon” in Nairobi as part of the launch of Billion Girls CoLab. The event brought together nonprofit and community organizations, designers, and adolescent girls to build a series of prototypes that would address adolescent girl health and wellness. By focusing on co-design and play, we were able to create a space where girls could open up about the kind of products and services they would want.

      “Girls have so much creativity and know-how. They can set the agenda, drive decision-making, and direct the flow of resources. We’re learning how to start practicing design, building partnerships, and implementing solutions in ways that start to shift that power to girls and their communities.”

      Courtney Chang, Senior Program Lead at IDEO.org

      Uniting Millions

      In March, as our design teams shifted into work-from-home mode and COVID-19 rates were climbing rapidly around the world, many communities where our partners work still lacked critical information and resources to protect themselves. In response to this gap, our friends at Alight invited us to design a global campaign to spread messages of unity, combat pervasive myths about the virus, and provide tips for staying safe. The campaign—titled “In Our Hands”—galvanized a global network of influencers—from Instagram celebrities in Kenya to refugee community leaders in Somalia to Catholic Sisters in Zambia—to share advice and combat misinformation. In July, the campaign reached 100 million people.

      "We are extremely pleased by the reach and impact we've been able to achieve with the IN OUR HANDS campaign—from dense cities to rural farmlands—especially being able to help so many organizations and communities missed by other outreach efforts. Especially impactful has been all the translations into regional languages, removing barriers to communication and unlocking information for so many people."

      —Daniel Wordsworth, Alight CEO

      Reimagining Health Equity

      How might we combat racism and other forms of oppression in a system that’s supposed to promote health and wellbeing? In July, We had the opportunity to bring together a cohort of equity champions to explore this question—from renowned academics to activists to patient advocates and medical professionals. The gathering is part of a one-year program to radically reimagine the future of health equity in the U.S. This multidisciplinary cohort is designing and testing prototypes within institutions to bring this vision to life and tangibly shift the health equity narrative, and we’re been so inspired by the contributions so far.

      “Health and wellness are still predicated on a framework that is riddled with white supremacy. Unless you live in the suburbs in a detached house, making $100K or more, near sidewalks—you are not going to be healthy. That’s basically what the social determinants of health have begun to reveal. If we want to liberate ourselves from that thought, we need to liberate ourselves from the dependence we have on the monetization of wellness.”

      —Health Justice Activist and gathering participant

        Exploring Belonging

        What does it feel like to belong? When you belong—your health, wellness, education, and opportunities are invested in. You are welcomed and invested in. Over the past year, we worked with the charitable foundation and community organizations around the United States to bring together young Black, Indigenous, and Latinx men and understand how institutions foster—or inhibit—belonging. Through in-person and then virtual convenings, young men explored their own definitions of belonging, with the goal of identifying mindsets and behaviors that promote a culture of radical acceptance, interdependence, and more universal participation within institutions.

        “Being an immigrant, it becomes part of your identity to be perpetually outside of your comfort zone. You get used to entering spaces and environments that are not necessarily designed for you. The price of assimilation is high: you’re constantly learning to fit into one place and leaving another behind. I’ve learned that belonging goes beyond being welcomed, accepted, and included. Belonging is about having the power to shape the environments that we are part of and have a say over any decisions that may affect not only my life, but our collective wellbeing.”

        Joan Encarnacion, Senior Designer at IDEO.org

        Illustrations by IDEO.org alumna Riley Gish

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