Reaching Untapped Markets for Food Systems Change

3 Dec


Thought I’d leverage the #givingtuesday momentum and share students’ proposals for awareness -building platforms for food justice issues.

Who: Student teams in our Course Managing Creative Project Teams course in the Strategic Design + Management MS Program at the School of Design Strategies.

The Course Challenge: Students were tasked with innovating solutions for urban farms challenged by limited resources and low visibility.

Exhibits Overview: The exhibits listed below provide a glimpse into students’ collaborative design thinking processes in generating ideas and strategies for bridging gaps between city farmers and untapped social, cultural and economic capital.

Food 4 NYC
How can the city better leverage its infrastructure to promote healthy eating?

A Mobile Hydroponic Farm Cafe targeting underserved communities that actually generates revenue.

Urban Farming NY
What if there were an economic development organization specifically serving small urban farmers?

Fashion Fresh
How could the fashion industry leverage its vast cultural and economic capital in advancing food sustainability?

Subscribers to urban farms benefit from secret exclusive parties throughout the City.

Feedback welcome!

By Any Other Name… Design Thinking as a Framework for Strategic Innovation

26 Oct

This post was written for colleagues newly minted in Design Thinking Methodology. Enjoy!

By Any Other Name… Design Thinking as a Framework for Strategic Innovation

I imagine that the confusion and ongoing debate on the efficacy of design thinking is simply a messaging issue. Perhaps the key takeaway should be to employ design thinking and jugaad innovation methodologies when needed, but determine the language that best suits your firm (just call it something other than design thinking) and over time work to embed them as core values.


design thinking process

The articles below offer case studies in innovation across several firms. They are essentially employing design thinking methodology (although not explicitly described as such).

Key themes throughout both articles include Empathy/human-centeredness, ideation , cross pollinating (with specialists, decision-makers and customers) flexible incremental transitions (prototypes). – with brief case studies of world’s most successful and profitable firms, recession-resilient firms (Google, Apple, 3M, Proctor and Gamble*) as well as firms in emerging economies (employing “Jugaad” Innovation, which includes the principle of “good enough will do”, as taught through Eric Reis’ minimal viable product in LeanStartup ).

The Global Innovation 1000: Making Ideas Work

Change This Manifesto : Rebooting Amercia’s Innovation Engine

Indy Johar – Global Hub Network
(includes case studies of integrative thinking in problem solving)


Celebrating Smallness in Service

26 Sep

In my last post I provided tips for cultivating funders for large donations, and as promised the following ideas are a complete contradiction. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Fund Development Tips

19 Jun

I had a few minutes to develop a concise fund development guide  for an upcoming workshop, which inspired me to share some key take aways on the blog. Working with social entrepreneurship start ups and traditional non profits over the past few years, it’s as if fund development work should have it’s own R & D division. Thinking back, I think the following sums up what has worked for my colleagues and me:

  • Research the funder , their circles, their board, their donors, their values, and long term goals for their institution
  • Network with them, at conferences and events they sponsor , events sponsored by their donors
  • Cultivate Relationships, invite the the funder to your site, pre-grant cycle and;
  • Demonstrate the Capacity  and Competencies of your organization as well as alignment of goals and approaches
  • Differentiate your approach from other organizations in your field illustrate how your model or procduct is unique or special

and when you do recieve funding, continue work at sustaining the relationship to ensure future opportunities

  • Deliver on your proposed outcomes, stay in touch if you run into setbacks and;
  • Nurture and Reciprocate – Volunteer to serve on a committee, mentor a new grantee, or present at their conference.

it won’t all happen overnight (although in extremely rare cases it verywell could) but this seems to be the formula. Try it out and report back. the next post will contridict contradict this one, so stay tuned…



Fannie Lou Hamer an Unsung Hero in Social Entrepreneurship

17 May


Hamer was a major power broker in food justice and economic development.

She organized Black farmers into “moon farming” cooperatives leveraging collective economic power against discriminatory suppliers. However they still faced harassment when bringing their crops to market.

Hamer founded the Freedom Farm in 1971,  developing affordable housing for 300 families and a large scale farm on several hundred acres of land, empowering women with workforce development and scholarships. Sadly the Freedom Farm eventually closed, becoming over-leveraged. -No government bailout offered to preserve it.

Given what Hamer faced, the work of social entrepreneurs today should be a walk in the park.##


SEEDs of Opportunity in Community Development

29 Mar

I recently attended the Public Interest Design Institute hosted by the J. Max Bond Center on Design for Just City at The Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York.

The audience consisted professional architects (receiving AIA accreditation) design and architecture faculty and students from around the country as well as local NYC community -based organization.

Lead by J Max Bond Center Staff, Design Corp, funders and faculty in Public Interest design, case studies and research presented challenges and successes in the Design for the 98% movement.

As end users of designed products and spaces we (the 98%) rarely have input in the products or spaces designed by others;  with 2% of end users having the money and decision making power to inform the designs they use – and are more likely to benefit from while deriving greater utility.

Public Interest Design and SEED certification works to break down these barriers and promote systems of transparency and accountability in public design endeavors, bringing the 98% to the ideation table.

Public Interest Design is defined as “the practice of design with the goal that every person should be able to live in a socially, economically and environmentally healthy community.”

In my field, housing and economic development, projects developers and architects held accountable to the leadership of the government entities and/or the funders and financiers.  It is rare to see collaboration on idea generation and design between developers, architects and residents let alone structures of accountability. The 2% dilemma can be real for us in this sector.

For blighted occupied buildings set for redevelopment the public interest design and the SEED framework could be useful in planning, implementing and evaluating strategies with tenants are the center of the design and construction process for greater social and economic returns.

Some things that come to mind are:

  1. local tenants’ and residents’ collective memory, if appropriately tapped and harnessed, can educate designers and developers on important building systems issues and social issues that they’ve witnessed over the years, this knowledge can have tremendous economic implications and reduce “surprises” the throughout the development process.
  2. reduced long- term maintenance and operations costs are more likely as tenants and residents recognize their collective ownership of a real local asset, tenants see themselves as stewards of their buildings’ long term success and preservation.
  3. integrating social and economic empowerment programs into the design and construction process (via jobs, training and leadership opportunities) reaps layers of benefits for all parities and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The seal of approval for public interest design comes in the form of SEED certification: Social Economic Environmental Design. A newly minted alternative to LEED certification with considerations for human and economic impact, without the exorbitant cost of LEED certification often cost prohibitive for community- based developers.

Small Next Steps for Big Impact

The SEED network shares case studies of successful projects around the world. With replicable models. While the community development sector looks to deepen services to tenants that have decent housing but limited opportunities for socioeconomic mobility.

Tenants and Residents need not have a role all areas of building design, but could take on landscaping, interior design, façade design, the design of a community room or other smaller design projects within the larger development. These activities could wrap into job training and workforce development and could include technology training, shop drawing, GED preparation and other skills building programs.

There are also models of K-12 classrooms taking on design challenges for their neighborhoods as service learning exercise. This could cross many disciplines including STEM, STEAM and social studies with lasting benefits for students and the communities they call home.

My colleagues and I are brainstorming the use of SEED as well as Human Centered Design  tools in some of our projects. Stay tuned.##

Design Thinking for Social Impact

12 Mar

Design Thinking for Social Change

IDEO’s Human Centered Design resources have come in handy as I facilitate strategic planning activities with two social enterprise clients. The goal is to hack traditional strategic planning models to transition beyond the top down, beyond funder-centric  to empowering, and inspiring customer/ user/ client- centric models.

I find these tools useful in measuring and tracking accountability.