Progress by Design – This Designer is Building Her Business on Creating Solutions for Pakistan’s Poor
Posted March 3, 2017 by +Acumen in Student Success Stories
Komal Faiz, a young designer from Lahore, Pakistan, knew her design skills could be a huge asset to solving Pakistan’s persistent social problems. But she hadn’t been able to fully articulate her vision until her involvement in +Acumen’s courses helped her get her first project moving. Now she’s spreading the virtues of design to help move her country forward with Design Pakistan – a socially minded design firm.
After earning a degree in visual communications design from one of Pakistan’s most prestigious design programs, Komal knew it was possible to apply the principles of design to better facilitate social change, but didn’t quite know how to go about it.
“As designers, you aren’t taught to be entrepreneurs or social designers. I wanted to learn how to bring ideas to execution, but I hadn’t learned about human-centered design from my design classes.”
She was still wrestling with this issue when she founded a social enterprise, Design Pakistan. Komal struggled to develop programs for Design Pakistan that effectively leveraged the principles of design such as empathy and listening to stakeholders. What were the “user’s” needs and preferences? How could programs be structured to more effectively attract the target client population and to more effectively help create the desired outcome with that population?
Komal was asking all the right questions, but could not adequately articulate why these were the right questions to be asking with others.
The +Acumen courses she took in human-centered design and social impact analysis contributed to the development of the vocabulary necessary to communicate Komal’s vision for Design Pakistan’s client-centered programs and services. The courses also helped her understand methodologies for measuring what kind of progress her programs were making towards the desired client outcomes.
In addition to the overall concepts Komal learned in the courses, the specific content itself was inspiring. The class readings and case studies used in the course were pulled from real-world examples of individuals and organizations utilizing human-centered design and impact assessment in the field.
“There are real people doing real things with this. It’s real; it’s possible!”
Through her involvement with +Acumen, Komal was able to advance her work with Design Pakistan and implement many of the ideas she learned across the social enterprise’s programs.
One program was created to promote female health and hygiene among high school-aged girls in rural areas of Pakistan. Other programs run by Design Pakistan included a pen pal project that connected orphaned children and abandoned elderly, a program that used religious art to teach tolerance and peace amongst members of four different religions, and a summer camp for underprivileged children to empower them to grow up to be local leaders.
This summer camp program was particularly significant for two reasons. First, education is a huge issue in Pakistan and this program taught students how to educate themselves without needing to spend (and therefore acquire) a lot of money to do so. Second, such value was seen in this program that after Komal moved to Toronto to advance her studies, a team of volunteers and interns that had been working with Komal stepped up to the responsibility of maintaining the program themselves. “Many children growing up in slums grow up thinking that they are incapable of changing things for themselves or for others,” Komal explained. “This program encourages them, with examples of real people from local history, to educate themselves and to find ways that they can improve things for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.”
These were not personal causes or pet projects but rather projects born from real needs in the community that Komal and the Design Pakistan team were able uncover through the design process.
Building a Community of her Own
“+Acumen was a cool way to bring people together – to build a community based around sharing ideas with engaged people.”
It wasn’t long after she completed those initial classes that Komal began facilitating +Acumen courses for people in her community. These free sessions were open to anyone interested in attending, and included brainstorming, discussion, and written coursework with other engaged local individuals. Just like the online courses, these sessions used real work being done around the world as examples of practical applications of the skills being taught in the course.
“It was a good, healthy, easy way to build a community of like-minded people.”
Komal realized she wasn’t the only one in the Lahore who was interested in how others are pursuing social impact around the world and how that could inform what they do in Pakistan.
Honing Her Craft to Expand Her Reach
Komal is presently pursuing a Master of Design (MDes) in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University in Toronto. Her masters’ thesis is a research project on impact assessment for social enterprises, a field she first really explored in her +Acumen course on social impact analysis. Komal’s thesis will consider whether there can be a framework designed which makes impact assessment accessible and easy to use for social entrepreneurs, while also being valuable to impact analysts and investors.
She may end up creating the very tools she wished she’d had as a social impact-minded design student!
While completing her graduate degree, Komal is also working with the Impact Collective Lab on Social Innovation and the Strategic Lab at OCADU. Thus far, Komal has written a literature review of social innovation, and is currently working on a visual map of social innovation for the Impact. With the Strategic Lab, she’s helped organize Design Jam workshops, where students and instructors can use the principles of human-centered design to create designs for social benefit and social development. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Design Jams are very similar in structure and purpose to the in-person sessions Komal facilitated for +Acumen in Lahore.
After graduating, Komal hopes to start a career as a design researcher, which is a new field that adds design methodology to more traditional research methods.
Chris Frascella is a software marketer who moonlights as a changemaker-in-training. He is passionate about digital marketing, volunteering (especially as a means of community-building), tabletop games, U.S. education policy, Social Impact Bonds, and horror movies. He is also a member of +Acumen Corps. You can find him on Twitter at @cfrascl