This 11-day course focused on design thinking and human-centered innovation promoting solutions to social issues.
The course was held at the very impressive Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa City where we got to eat lunch everyday in the school cafeteria and interact with their impressively smart high-school students!
Recently a friend in Portland told me that the characteristic in any group that engenders the greatest diversity benefits is age. I experienced that insight directly at this course.
Included among the 20 participants were a group of excellent Middlebury graduate students (mid-20s), 3 students from the Aga Khan Academy (age 17), representatives of local civil society organizations (late 20-30s), representatives from the Aga Khan Foundation (age range 30-50) and myself, the only post-graduate mid-career professional, age 48.
Together we learned about systems thinking, design strategies, how to conduct empathy interviews, how to prototype innovations and work through complex issues to create social value. Having the opportunity to learn these kind of collaborative thinking skills while innovating solutions to real world issues was totally awesome; the edge dynamics brought through age diversity were super rich and creativity outputs were high!
While at this course, I learned about His Highness Aga Khan , the Ismaili community diaspora served by the impressive Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). I was shocked at another level of my insular awareness of the world. Community development and global issues have been my core focus for 3 decades and I had never heard of AKF and their great work. I reflected on the extent to which there is scant understanding about the nuances and intricacies of the Islamic world in mainstream US culture and how I perpetuate that through not-knowing. Now I know more!
AKF is a forward thinking large-scale development organization committed to optimizing human potential and improving quality of life especially for women and girls. Munir Ahmad, Global Innovation Lead for Aga Khan Foundation, taught the design-thinking course (along with Matt Reeves, Global Civil Society Lead). I was super impressed by his teaching style. I loved learning that AKF actually employs someone in the role as Innovation Lead at a humanitarian organization. Disruptive!
I was fascinated learning about AKF in terms of organizational design innovation and their internal commitment to transmitting skills sets necessary for dealing with complex global-local social issues. I think Munir’s work is cutting-edge in every way because the kinds of thinking methodologies we need to effect substantive change facing complex issues requires a shared framework of understanding and a shared lexicon to speak about the work. Shared thinking skill sets make it uniquely possible for people to rapidly prototype meaningful paths forward.
This kind of approach to social system development has got to be the future of all organizations business and otherwise (anyhow, I think all organizations are becoming businesses,) so that systems thinking and applied systemics* can become the foundation for collaborative engagement and strategic innovation solving for authentic human needs and ecological vitality.
* Although systems thinking and applied systemics and design thinking are distinct categories of approach, from a social science perspective, I see them as facets on the same cognitive gem stone. They are highly interchangeable and interoperable methodologies. We need to think differently to navigate the now that will plant a different future.