Written by DesignThinkers Group Team
A story of how two organizations began—and continue—to collaborate. This isn’t a contract with an international donor, nor is it a handout for refugees. It’s a true collaboration where both orgs enjoy a mutual respect and learn from each other.
During 2020, DesignThinkers Group USA (DTG) moved our services fully online, connecting with DTG colleagues in other countries, working with clients across the US, and developing online skills and techniques for collaboration. We even founded and developed a fun, free weekly educational and networking initiative — the Wednesday Web Jam.
Late in the year, we received an inquiry that took us back to the basics while allowing us to incorporate our newfound, extensive experience in the virtual world.
A need for innovative design thinking
Kakuma, Kenya, is the location of one of Africa’s largest refugee camps (the population in January 2021 was approximately 203,200). Within the camp is the Kakuma Vocational Center (KVC). KVC provides training programs for youth in the camp and has organized and hosted Bitspace, fabric tailoring, computer and other educational programs. Founders and staff had heard about design thinking and wanted to develop their knowledge and skills in order to teach design thinking and use some of the tools to improve life in the camp.
In late 2020, one of the co-founders of KVC, Matabishi Narukako John, reached out to Marc Bolick, DTG managing partner, via email. KVC was seeking an organization to provide design thinking training, and, since DTG has worked with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for the past six years, many of our team members and colleagues have garnered extensive international development experience. Marc queried the DTG team and found interest to work on this effort pro bono.
Co-creation process and training
During late 2020 and early 2021, as DTG developed our online training skills and programs, we collaborated with KVC to design a three-week program consisting of six sessions. The focus of this program was to introduce KVC teachers to design thinking. We talked with a few of the 10 participants and asked all of them to fill out a questionnaire.
It was at this point that we discovered the depth of practical experiences this group had. They ranged in age from mid-20’s to mid-40’s. Some were trained as teachers, others had years of experience as teachers, and some were beginning to teach but had run businesses and participated in several online courses (from the US, Europe and the Middle East). Most had been in Kakuma camp for over 8 years.
The program came off on schedule and was delivered semi-virtually. The introduction to design thinking course was a blended platform wherein the participants gathered in person in one location at the KVC while the facilitators “ Zoomed” in. A large screen monitor was used to project the facilitators. Most of the KVC participants were able to attend all sessions, in spite of the hot weather and, for some, the observance of Ramadan. We coordinated schedules to include Kenya, Washington, DC and California DTG staff. Upon the completion of the program, the KVC staff were granted certificates of completion. The final session with the participants included some inspiring statements of what they had learned:
- empathy for others;
- talk with the community and review with the community;
- prototyping helps see problems and understand the situation better;
- collaboration with people takes time; and
- it is exciting to use new tools and understand design thinking.
DTG learned a lot. Here are some of our highlights:
- Team teaching allowed participants to hear different perspectives while helping to balance the workload and building upon each other’s insights and understanding.
- Having a team member involved who grew up in Nigeria provided a resource for the participants to make a connection, and for the DTG team to gain new insights.
- Internet connectivity was doable, but not strong nor reliable. At times we turned off the video connection and conducted the program via audio only. While this didn’t happen often, it slowed response time and required creativity to keep the program moving ahead. We had to be flexible with the agenda while adapting quickly to technology challenges.
- Using additional online collaborative software such as Mural was not a strong option given the connectivity issues and the limited number of computers at KVC. Therefore, DTG returned to the basics—paper, pen and markers. We made the decision not to have all things prepared and the graphics not looking too professional. We drew things on cardboard and flip charts in front of the screen in real time. We demonstrated doing something with the same few materials they had in the classroom. Prior to each session we had the KVC coordinator briefed on the next program, and he managed the expectations and resources.
- Given the limited resources in the refugee camp, we learned not to take basic infrastructure and materials for granted; tables, secured classrooms, paper, etc., may or may not be available.
- As some of the DTG can now be defined as “geriatic millennials,” we bridge the divide between digital and analog learning. We used our online skills while, at the same time, using some of the basic tools and skills that are required to thrive in a refugee camp.
Our collaboration is continuing. DTG is developing another program using design thinking tools, and we are helping them develop new vocational programs—such as chicken farming and soap making—in conjunction with resources in other African countries.