IMPACT Design for Social Change Returns

Announcing the second summer session for the School of Visual Arts’ IMPACT Design for Social Change directed by Mark Randall. Applications are currently being accepted for this limited enrollment program. I asked Randall to discuss the program and what the outcome was in the first year:

What is the goal of IMPACT?

To introduce students to using design as a tool for positive social change. Another goal to to introduce them to ways in which to make this a sustainable activity. To move it out of the realm of what is often considered pro-bono work into thinking about it from a more social entrepreneurial standpoint.

With so many social design initiatives, what makes IMPACT stand out?

The fact that IMPACT takes place in New York City gives the program access to leaders who work in this area. No where is there such a concentration of diverse talent. The program is able to bring to the table a wide range of innovators in the fields of design and social impact. The program is limited to sixteen students which guarantees an intimate and intensive experience. In 2010 there were seven instructors and sixteen guest lecturers – an amazing concentration of talent for just six weeks.

What were the highlights from last Summer?

Since we had never run a program like this before were were not quite sure what to expect. I was surprised by the passion and dedication the students brought to the program. The amount of enthusiasm and energy that ran throughout the entire six weeks was truly a highlight.

Here’s a story that comes to mind which sums up what this is all about. One track of the program are team projects where the students work in small groups for a local New York City non-profit: The BLK ProjeK seeks to address food justice, public and mental health issues as they specifically relate to women of color in Hunts Point, South Bronx, one of the most under served areas in New York City. The students were working with Executive Director Tanya Fields to help her gain visibility in the community. At the end of the program each team made a final presentation on their work to an audience. After the BLK ProjeK team presented, Tanya sat in silence – we were all taken aback – we were worried that she was not happy with what she saw. Eventually we realized that she was trying hard to fight back tears, and unsuccessfully, she was rendered speechless. She said that to the team this was a design challenge to solve – but to her this was her life, this was her passion for which she struggled every day. She said that she could see how the ideas presented would help her move forward and truly support the work she was doing. To me this kind of impact at the human level is what the program is all about.

Honesty, will IMPACT have an impact in just six weeks?

Absolutely, it will have an impact on the participants. It will open the doors of possibility to them and give them the tools they need to chart a course into this kind of work. They will develop a network of like-minded peers which will become – what we hope – are long term friends. The students from the 2010 program all stay in touch with each other.

What is the progress of the projects underway?

Many of the projects developed during the six weeks of Impact! are being realized in a number of ways:

There are over 1.5 million street children in the Philippines. Beyond the Streets a project created by Anna Mae Abia during Impact! is the digital storytelling of former street children in the Philippines who have improved their lives by receiving a consistent formal education. The digital stories, integrated with existing strategies, are designed to create awareness and support for the education of street children. This past fall Anna Mae went to the Philippines to continue to develop her project. She volunteered with two organizations which help street children and orphans.

David Mierke a graduate student from the University of Cincinnati developed Amphibia, a city-matchmaking program that pairs non-profit organizations working in the greater Cincinnati area with local college students and design professionals who share the same passion. He is currently developing the project this year as his thesis.

For one of the team projects the students worked with Democracy Now!  an award-winning, independent news show with over 4 million fans worldwide. The goal was to help attract new audience members for Democracy Now! via a strategic online campaign. Currently Democracy Now is considering ways in which to expand upon and integrate the work of the students into their first major PR media campaign.

Even though this program is only six weeks it is the spark of the match to ignite change. The program will provide students with the inspiration they need to begin to use their talents for social good. To quote one of the students, Sinéad McDevitt, who came from Sydney, Australia: “This program was one of the best experiences of my life so far. Being surrounded every day for six weeks by such high calibre mentors and new friends – all on the same wavelength – was incredibly energising. Impact! left me with a sense of hope for the future of design, rejuvenated my faith in design as a tool for good and filled me to the brim with inspiration.”

Visit the website here to learn more and register.

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