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Lokvani Talks To Sanjli Gidwaney

Ranjani Saigal

Sanjli recently graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with a focus on curriculum design and non-profit management. 

She is the Director of Design for Change USA (www.designforchange.us), a chapter of Design for Change World (DFC), a global initiative empowering students to create positive change in their communities using design-thinking principles. Sanjli manages a national team of designers, educators and technologists and has forged partnerships with notable organizations such as Teach for America and Strong Women Strong Girls and Ashoka, Harvard’s Good Work Team and Stanford Design School. She has also collaborated with research groups at MIT’s Media Lab, industrial design firms and various NGOs to develop and conduct several hands on creativity workshops for children around the world including India, Kenya and the Dominican Republic. She believes in a pedagogy embedded in experiential learning and cross-curricular approaches. 

This year, the design for change challenge was won by the students of Crazy Horse School from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota ! Their winning entry, Combating High Dropout Rates, is truly inspirational. Sanjli is planning to take these underprivileged children of American Indian origin to India to the national conference on Design for Change. You can watch a short two-minute documentary and help support the cause here:www.designforchange.us/donate

Can you briefly describe your journey into the field of education? 

After working in the marketing and advertising industry for 5 years, I was left feeling very unfulfilled. It was through serendipity that I joined Professor Anil Gupta from IIM Ahemdabad on a 100 KM discovery walk through the tribal areas of Gujarat in the dead of summer, in search for innovations designed by villagers. It was Professor Gupta who first introduced me to design thinking and innovation. I design a rapid prototyping workshop for kids, which implemented on my trek! I was blown away by the ingenuity of the children I met, so much that I began to research and explore how children develop their creative skills.  Later I connected with research groups at the MIT Media Lab, including Life Long Kindergarten and E-Textiles in an attempt to turn their existing resources and technology into creativity workshops for children living in resource constrained communities throughout India. I then moved to India  and met Kiran Sethi, the founder of Design for Change and the Riverside School. She asked me to bring the movement to the USA! I was humbled and nervous by the opportunity and knew that before I fully committed myself to such a large initiative, I first needed to ground myself in the American education system. As such, my natural next step was to get my Maters in Education with a focus on nonprofit management, curriculum design and service learning. 
It’s now been over three years since I started to pilot Design for Change in the USA and we’re growing very fast! 

Could you tell us a little about Design for Change? 

Design for Change is the brainchild of notable TED speaker and Ahoka Fellow, Kiran Sethi. It is a global movement designed to give young people an opportunity to express their own ideas for a better world and to put them into action. Design for Change is a framework of design thinking principles such as Feel, Imagine, Do, and Share with supporting templates, exercise and a robust curriculum. This year, Design for Change (DFC) reached 40 countries and hundreds of thousands of youth, teachers, parents, and educators around the world. DFC is rooted in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy, be the change you want to see in the world.

At DFC USA, our vision is to integrate the DFC framework into service-learning curriculums across the country. The framework is adaptable to any context: in school, after-school, a club or a team. Our goal is to empower youth with the confidence, compassion, and agency to find solutions to the most pressing challenges in their community. This not only serves to build empathy, it provides them with the opportunity to learn and apply tangible 21st century skills such as creativity, teamwork, and critical thinking. Through Design for Change, we have seen students around the world tackle issues such as child marriage, obesity and water preservation. This year, the winning Design for Change USA team addressed the issue of high school dropout rates in their Native American community. You can watch a short two-minute documentary here: www.designforchange.us/donate.

Why did you decide to establish Design for Change USA?

Although many organizations are striving to teach design thinking to children across the USA, what is often missing in their approach is the critical component of SHARE. At Design for Change, we never want the projects of our students to be the best-kept secret. We want to showcase their projects to the rest of the world! Students across the USA are creating social change every day, but they rarely have an opportunity to efficiently and effectively involve others in their movement– involvement that can only come from being noticed. Design for Change, as such, provides this opportunity and so much more! 

Design for Change provides a process for breaking down community challenges into consumable steps so they can be addressed in a thoughtful and structured way. After spending time with Kiran, her teachers and students at the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, I realized the endless possibilities and applications of the Feel, Imagine, Do, Share framework for students in the USA. That is when I knew I had to bring the movement here. I knew if American students were given the same opportunities to participate in a Design for Change program, they would come up with groundbreaking ideas to improve their communities as well. 

It seems a unique concept that was developed in India and ported to the US . How transferable has the idea been? 

Design for Change is not simply a program, it’s a mindset and a philosophy. Every child should be empowered with the ability and training to break down challenges into Feel, Imagine, Do, Share.

Although the movement was pioneered in India, it has wide spread application in any context e.g., from bullying, to personal relationships to business operations. The process of empathizing with others, brainstorming possible solutions, implementing and sharing those solutions and finally evaluating their outcome is a highly transferrable concept. Students around the world are facing various different challenges in their communities and they all can benefit from this structure. This is one of the main reasons why the Design for Change movement has spread so fast and so vastly over such a short time period. 

While we recognize that there is no one size fits all model, and granted we have had to do our fair share of adapting the Design for Change curriculum to an American context, we believe that design coupled with service learning will continue to be key pillars of our education system. Our goal is to capitalize on the momentum generated by Kiran in India, to empower educators and students with design thinking to spark social change across the USA.  

Could you tell us about the competition how you chose the winner?

Students across the USA submit project entries based on the Feel, Imagined, Do, Share framework to Design for Change USA every year. A panel of industry experts, based on the following criteria, evaluates all the entries for their country:
* Potential to be replicated EASILY.
* Potential to impact MAXIMUM number of people.
* Potential for LONG LASTING change.
* Potential for QUICK impact.

Every participating Design for Change country then selects a winning team who are given the opportunity to attend a global youth conference in India at the Riverside School, called Be The Change; a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet children across the globe who are creating change in their own communities. 

This year, we are excited to announce the students of Crazy Horse School from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, as the winners of DFC USA 2013! Their winning entry, Combating High Dropout Rates, is truly inspirational. You can watch a short two-minute documentary here: www.designforchange.us/donate

Why do you want to take them to India? 

The students of the Crazy Horse School have triumphed over major adversity to execute their project. Teachers and students have worked tirelessly to identify why dropout rates continue to be so high on the reservation. They did this by peeling back the complicated historical and social issues at play in their community, including drugs, alcohol, 90% unemployment and most importantly boredom. 

By identifying boredom as the main cause of high dropout rates, they decided to use the DFC framework to host a community event centered on activities such as sports tournaments, talent shows, a community dinner, and Lakota beading and quillwork. Through this event, the students of Crazy Horse have restored a new sense of hope on the reservation, bringing the community together to discuss important issues and replacing unhealthy youth pastimes with exciting and fun activities. 

They have also demonstrated a strong sense of perseverance in the face of difficult challenges including: disconnected landlines, limited access to computers and the Internet, and limited mobility/transportation. 
They used the DFC framework in ways we could not have imagined. By going to India, we believe the students will begin to recognize that change is possible and they can be the leaders of that change in their community.  We also recognize the value and the inspiration that they can instill in other DFC teams from around the world. 

What can our readers do to help?

1. Join us at the Design for Change Social and Fundraiser: Sunday August 25, at the Cambridge Innovation Center from 11am-1pm. RSVP now: http://d4csundayfundraiser.eventbrite.com/
2. Contribute if you can - Click on the link below where you can use your credit card to donate. 501(c)(3) receipts are available:http://www.designforchange.us/donate.
3. Spread the word - I've attached a sample Tweet and Facebook message you can copy and paste below.

Tweet this (simply click this link):
S. Dakota to India. Join me in sending kids from the Pine Ridge Reservation to India for the Be The Change conf.  designforchange.us/donate

Spread the word on Facebook:
A friend of mine recently reached out to tell me about an organization they are involved with called Design for Change, an initiative set up to give young people the tools to improve their community using design-thinking principles! They are raising money to send a group of students from South Dakota to India to attend global conference known as the Be The Change Conference, in September 2013.

I thought you might enjoy learning about what they do and supporting their efforts! Here is a link where you can get more information: designforchange.us/donate.

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