No one acted surprised when the lights went dark in Beirut Souks on a Monday night early in June—power cuts are regular enough. But that blasé reaction turned to curiosity when the sounds of the rainforest, not generators, followed, and that curiosity turned to excitement as fog poured in and video footage of a waterfall shined through the mist onto a bare souk wall.
“It’s the rainforest!” one young shopper enthused as crowds gathered with smiles on their faces and cellphones in hand to record the unfolding display.
The dramatic public intervention jumpstarted Beirut Design Week, and showed in a very public way how design can make a social impact in the region. As far as campaigns for change go, that was just the beginning. Only a few hundred meters from the pop-up rainforest, teams of Lebanese designers were busy pitching their own social initiatives.
Tackling a broad swath of social issues, the groups of designers participating in the Disrupt! Design! initiative were appealing directly to Beirut Design Week attendees for the funding they needed to get their projects off the ground. Through the Disrupt! Design! initiative the teams had already been equipped with training from the MENA Design Research Center and the crowdfunding initiative Zoomaal.
The diversity of their projects showcases just how many different paths social intervention can take:
Ensa Project With a 2D-animated series, the Ensa Project is looking to empower young Lebanese to address persistent social issues. One key to the project is the online platform where users can interact, share their own stories, and submit ideas for future episodes.
Beirut RiverLess Having already gained UNHabitat and municipal backing for its ambitious strategy to revive and restore the Beirut River watershed, Beirut RiverLess is looking to change the public’s relationship with a once-vital waterway.
Inara Initiative The Inara Initiative designed and launched pitched BDW2015 attendees on its specially engineered lids—one a lamp, and the other a water filter—for the household jars commonly used in underprivileged communities. While the team was appealing for public crowdfunding, its designers were keen to point out that anyone can fund the project by simply buying an upmarket version of the lids, which subsidize the donation models.
Look Me in the Leg The final crowdfunding project to launch at BDW2015 was a team touting its plan for customized prosthetics that provided enhanced functions such as Bluetooth speakers or cellphone chargers. The team hopes it can alter the perception of both prosthetics and disabilities among the public as well as its users.
Showcased alongside the Based in Beirut exhibition in Beirut Souks, the Disrupt! Design! projects were nested near the heart of Beirut Design Week, and the Ensa Project’s first promotional installment played on the silver screen during the BDW2015 international conference, but all the designers had the chance to meet potential funders: from interested individuals to aid organizations.
As the crowdfunding campaigns continue and the design teams push harder to make their interventions, one thing is clear: they can’t do it without a little help from the public pulling them along.
This project has been developed in partnership with Hivos and Mideast Creatives.