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The Beauty of Design - King Fok

The Beauty of Design - King Fok

Co-creation, ideation, growth-mindset, design-thinking... Are we speaking the same language here?

Before taking the International Development and Design Thinking course, I only had a marginal idea of what these words meant. I will admit it was a little embarrassing for me, as I was a senior coming into my last international development course and having spent two summers conducting field research in Ghana, so I wasn’t sure what I expected from the course and what I hoped to learn. Little did I know that these same words and concepts would give me a framework to talk about how I view the world and a foundation to “design” my life going forward.

By taking this course, which has proven itself to be one of the most hands-on and practical classes I have taken so far at the University of Notre Dame, it has allowed me to understand how everyone can apply design-thinking concepts to not only global, societal development topics but also in the mundane, routine aspects of our daily lives.

When I first joined the course and looked at the syllabus, I felt a little lost in the design-based jargon. I didn’t know how I could engage in the conversation given that I have never done this type of work before nor felt that I was a creative person. However, as the class progressed,  I quickly realized that the core principles which guided the design-thinking class were the same principles that I’ve used throughout my life to view and interact with the world. I have always approached challenges and topics from an angle of curiosity and bewilderment, and I embraced failures and shortcomings as insightful learning opportunities to how I can improve. I just didn’t know there was a word for this same perspective until we did the class called Growth Mindset: a mindset that views our skills and talents as dynamic, and that they can be ever-improved upon through hard work, feedback and input from others, and from our personal experiences of failures and successes.

This spirit of peer mentorship, continuous feedback to refine our skills, and mutual growth was embodied in the relationships in the course between my classmates and also with my mentor, Jenna Ahn, who has previously taken the course four years ago. On our first meeting, I told Jenna about I am learning things about myself that I never really thought about or revisited since I was a child in elementary school. How can I learn and view challenges in life? How I can be creative and express my creativity?  How can I work well and communicate with others?

These were all topics which shape my daily interactions and worldview, yet I haven’t really studied these topics in an academic manner such as exploring Tom and David Kelley's Creative Confidence to nurture our innate creativity or  Chip and Dan Health's anecdotes on how to work with others to find solutions to complex problems.

Jenna and I joked that these were “academic-adult works” which essentially engaged with childhood topics that everyone knew about growing up. As opposed to the calculus or organic chemistry courses I took as a pre-medical student, this class does not require prior knowledge because it draws on the universal aspects of our humanity. It asks questions that are rooted in our everyday experiences as a human being, which is why this topic so approachable to everyone.

And that is the beauty of this course. It allows people to interact with these principles whether they are from different disciplines, ages, and cultures because it revisits topics that are universal. The inviting nature of it has allowed me to find the relevance of how “design” can fit into my own life. I’ve found my experience in the course to allude to the bigger message of the potential of development: the underlying, transcending ability to unite all human beings regardless of geo-political and social distinctions.

Bridging the gap: a fresh approach in International  Development - Kristin Andrejko

Bridging the gap: a fresh approach in International Development - Kristin Andrejko

How often are students provided the opportunity to collaborate with a client on a real life challenge? In my experience, the answer is not often, and perhaps this deficiency contributes to the common inability of students to translate classroom knowledge into tangible business practices. However, Prof. Reifenberg’s class flips the traditional classroom model upside down by presenting students with a unique platform to collaborate with an international development partner on a specific project.

I have spent the last two months working with Partners In Health (PIH), and my team has been tasked with the goal of strengthening the organization-wide understanding of their value of “accompaniment.” This is a value that stresses “walking with” patients, colleagues and clients during periods of adversity. For many PIH employees, accompaniment is an elastic term with a wide range of applications in their daily work. To others, accompaniment is a more murky concept because they fail to see its applications in their work. Despite some commonalities in the definition of accompaniment across staff members, there is no general or universal agreement. We have been provided the unique opportunity to work with PIH to develop and implement training tools on the concept accompaniment for both the Boston and Sierra Leone PIH sites.

I had the opportunity to travel to Boston with Caroline, one of my teammates, to meet employees at the Boston PIH office. Our goal was to expand our understanding of accompaniment at PIH and to discern how our team might create a concrete, easy to use deliverable for our client. During our time in Boston, Caroline and I interviewed employees across the organization -- from Supply Chain to IT Management.

In every conversation, Caroline and I learned that each employee had a slightly different touch point with accompaniment. While some employees learned about accompaniment through conventional means like readings and videos, others simply grew to understand the concept through informal conversations with senior leadership. One employee remarked how a “weird and wonderful dialect” around accompaniment pervades the non-profit’s organizational culture.  For example, the adage “you always have to give the ‘H of G’ (the hermeneutic of generosity)” when working with your colleagues is shared by employees at PIH. This common language unifies employees at PIH and serves as an informal means to spread the organization’s values. These nuanced expressions of accompaniment both demonstrate how the value of accompaniment is instilled in PIH’s organizational cultures in unforeseen ways, and also epitomizes how meeting with a client face-to-face elicits productive discoveries.

In an increasingly digital world, I forgot the added value of face-to-face interactions with clients. Not only did our in-person interactions in Boston allow us to form deeper and more meaningful relationships with our client, but we were also able to exponentially increase our contact network at PIH. Through networking with employees at PIH, we have discovered the invested champions on the ground who will actually implement our strategic recommendations. Thus, developing relationships with the various accompaniment champions at PIH has allowed me to deeply understand how an accompaniment training might be best implemented in both Boston and Sierra Leone.

I have learned an incredible amount in my two short months as a consultant for Partners In Health, but the most poignant lesson I have taken away from this experience is the power of listening. Up to this point in the arc of our journey, we have spent almost all of our time understanding the opportunity statement PIH initially presented to us. Through listening deeply, we have learned about the various ways accompaniment is operalizationzed across the organization. At the tail end of this experience, we are just now at the point where we are developing our strategic recommendations for PIH. Yet despite the fact that our due date is just weeks away, I do not feel as if we are behind. If anything, due to the amount and quality of contacts we have engaged with at PIH surrounding the topic of accompaniment, I feel incredibly confident that our end product will ultimately be something that is implemented at PIH.