Beirut Design Week 2015, DESIGN RESEARCH, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS, RESEARCH METHOD, SOCIAL INNOVATION

Social & Environmental projects win Disrupt!/ Design!/ Funding

_DSF5001 Three minutes may be longer than an elevator pitch, but it isn’t much time to explain the innovation, impact and feasibility of a social design project that’s been months in the making. But that was the challenge design teams faced at the Disrupt!/ Design!/ ideathon this weekend as they sought to convince a panel of experts their projects deserve a $1,000 grant, an advertising budget and mentorship from the MENA Design Research Center. The teams that won funding Sunday proposed projects to tackle a host of environmental and social problem in Lebanon.

_DSF4760Khalik Mitl Sami is a platform for fostering open dialogue on race in Lebanon. Starting with a pop-up stand highlighting the food and cultural of Sudan, the team hopes it can facilitate interactions between groups who wouldn’t normally engage each other. The genesis of the project and its name are rooted in team member Asil Sidahmed’s own experience in which a Beirut service driver upbraided a passenger for racial insensitivity.

“When we look at the Beirut River, what we see is two walls and a sewer,” said Adib Dada, whose team has a master plan for rehabilitating the Beirut River. By creating two parks on either side of the river and building a footbridge connecting Badawi and Bourj Hammoud, the team hopes it can tap into memories of a time when the natural river was a bigger part of daily life. “If we can bring back that emotional relationship, they will fight for it to be cleaner, to be rehabilitated,” Dada said.

Setting out to demystify the Bomb shelter, this team is turning the bomb shelter into an interactive space as it compiles a fresh oral history of the civil war. Tamara Qiblawi said the team hopes the stories of human survival it gathers will fill in the blanks left by war stories that all too often end with “ba3dein zilna 3lmelja.”

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With its plan to make a gray city greener one square meter at a time, the Square Meter team plans to distribute hydroponic kits to bring much-needed plant life to rooftops and unused lots throughout Beirut.

Most important for the organizers behind the Disrupt!/ Design!/ campaign is long-term follow-up, which gives them hope the projects will be self-sustaining. “Great ideas happen all the time, but sometimes they go nowhere,” MENA RDC Director Doreen Toutikian said. Mideast Creatives Project Manager Arthur Steiner said the Disrupt!/ model, which has already succeeded in Cairo and Amman, is proof that fields like design, typography, video gaming and music can be engines of social change and economic development. Although designers had in the past been relegated to the role of facilitators for the stories and ideas of others, ideathon lecturer Richard van der Laken said designers are now claiming new agency to pursue their own projects.

“We have, suddenly, a very different role,” van der Laken said._DSF4954

The ideathon teams not selected for the funding campaign are not walking away from the workshop empty-handed, as all the teams have the option of joining a crowdfunding campaign to take their ideas directly to funders through Zoomaal. The campaign will launch June 1 at the opening of Beirut Design Week, where funders will be able to view the projects and meet the designers.

Over three days at Dawawine, the Design!/ Disrupt!/ ideathon teams also worked with a slate of international mentors specializing in fields as diverse as design interaction, monetization and crowdfunding. The teams have spent months, and in at least one case years, developing their ideas, and feedback from other teams and the mentors helped them hone these ideas.

Paul Hughes kicked off day No. 1 of the ideathon with a lecture on design thinking, and Stephanie Hughes coached the teams through the value proposition. On day No. 2 Richard van der Laken shared his experiences about brand identity and positioning, while Lilian Abou Zeki walked the teams through nontraditional business models to sustain their projects.

On day No. 3 the designers worked with Zoomaal’s Aisha Habli to up their crowdfunding IQ, and they learned from Paul Hughes how to nail the pitch. Ideathon participant Ghinwa Chlouk admitted the workshop’s schedule was grinding, but “throughout this whole process we’re having a lot of fun,” she said.

The ideathon closed with the teams pitching their projects to a five-person jury consisting of:

  •  Hani Asfour (architect and creative strategist, president of the Beirut Creative Cluster)
  • Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes (lead architect at AKKA)
  • Ricardo Karam (talk show host and philanthropist with TAKREEM Arab Achievement Awards)
  • Jimmy Ghazal (innovation director and Saatchi & Saatchi)
  • Carmen Geha (professor specializing in political reform and civil society at the American University of Beirut)

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Deliberations stretched from an allotted 10 minutes to half an hour as the jury struggled to agree on which three teams that would receive funding. In the end, the jury wasn’t forced to make its shortlist any shorter—a last-minute donation of $1,000 by Ricardo Karam on top of the $3,000 pledged by Hivos broke the deadlock and allowed the panel to select a fourth winning team.

More than 90 designers submitted proposals for the Disrupt!/ Design!/ ideathon, and although only 10 teams were selected for the workshop and four received direct funding, organizers found the strength of the ideas encouraging.

“At a certain point, we hope they all fly,” Steiner said._DSF5334

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BEIRUT DESIGN WEEK 2014, DESIGN RESEARCH, DESMEEM, EVENT, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS, RESEARCH METHOD

Design Strategy in Collaboration with AALTO University (Part III)

IMG_3973IMG_3962This is the last piece of a three part blog post concerning the collaboration between AALTO Master students of the Media Lab with the School of Business and MENA Design Research Center. In this post, we discuss the co-creation workshop that was developed over the course of 2 days in the Island of Suomenlinna in Finland. 

After weeks of research and skype meetings, the teams were set to meet their client and engage in a co-creation workshop to further design the services that MENA Design Research Center offers, as well as create new strategies for growth according to the current challenges the center faces (explained in part I).  The coordinators of the course rented out a conference room on the island of Suomenlinna, and accommodated all participants in a nearby hotel on the island for a full weekend. On saturday morning, after getting to know each other with team building exercises (which also included answering embarrassing questions publicly), each team set out to pinpoint 3 main challenges and the potential solutions that were suggested. Those were then further developed with concrete action plans and timelines.

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The system and services which were designed for MENA Design Research Center were based on the yearly cycle of the organization. One of its core projects, which defined the role of the center in the region, was DESMEEM. Therefore research into a newer version of this project is being conducted as a DESMEEM 2.0 with a variety of added features and modification based on feedback from the earlier version in 2012. Moreover, a list of Gatekeepers were deduced as main players in Business, Economy, Education, and Culture. These will be people who will be acting as ambassadors of the Center in the coming years. The entire process of this project will be documented and made public to our audience in Beirut Design Week 2014.

By sunday evening all the team members were exhausted of brainstorming and set out to the nearest cafe for a good old Finnish Kahvi and lighter conversations. The MENA Design Research Center would like to thank Nina Martin, Anna Asikainen, Joanna Saad-Sulonen, Teemu Leinonen,  Andreas Pattichis, Pirkka Aman, and Pouyan Mohseninia for all their efforts on making this project a great success.

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EVENT, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS

Design Strategy in Collaboration with AALTO University (Part II)

demos collageThis is Part II of a three part blog post concerning the collaboration between AALTO Master students of the Media Lab and the School of Business and MENA Design Research Center. This post is about the visit to DEMOS Helsinki, a Finnish non-profit organization that is similar to MENA Design Research Center. (Image sources: demoshelsinki.fi, merijnhos.com, tylkkari.fi, low2no.fi)

As part of their research, the AALTO students were looking for similar institutions and organizations in Helsinki, where potential synergies with MENA DRC can develop: one such non-profit organization is DEMOS Helsinki. They arranged a meeting with Satu Korhonen (Head of Product Development) and Outi Kuittinen (Head of Co-Creation) of DEMOS and Doreen Toutikian (Director MENA DRC) in order to start a personal conversation about the history and development of DEMOS as well as the challenges they have faced in the past 9 years since their establishment in 2005.

“The first five years were the most difficult” confirmed Ms. Kuittinen. The organization was founded by 2 people and now after nine years they are eight full-time employees with a large extensive network of interns and collaborators throughout Europe. Through this network and collaborations, they were able to develop and grow as one of the most prominent non profit organizations in Finland that deals a variety of issues and challenges faced by Finnish and global societies. One of their most famous projects which has now developed into a platform of its own is Peloton. Its focus is to develop innovative strategies for sustainable energy consumption within the Finnish industries and households by changing consumer behavior. Another popular project of theirs is the Koulu Festival which was a weekend long event where anybody can teach a class about anything; this was a great social project that aimed to build interest-based communities and bring people together.

Much of the openness and energy is derived from the team who seem well-grounded researchers with creative sparks that are not shielded by corporate attitudes. They are all very versatile and skilled in many disciplines such as: economy, sociology, political science, design, technology, media, geography, education, philosophy and business. When asked about not having a specific focus for the organization, it did not seem to be a concern as they prided themselves on their versatility and multidisciplinarity. They stress on being a serious research based organization but also enjoy the fun side of interacting with people in the learning process. In fact, since they do not fixate on one topic or theme, they perceive it as an endless opportunity to stay open to new ideas and concepts. When asked about their financial sustainability, they were very transparent about the state, city, and European funding they receive to pursue their projects.

The visit to DEMOS Helsinki was very insightful and comforting. Many similarities in aims and challenges were clarified. A comparison was not the aim behind the meeting, but an understanding of how contexts might differ or influence the process of developing a non-profit organization. One thing was clear as the session came to an end: there are many people who are trying to build better communities and societies in their respective fields, and it is the common ground in between these people and disciplines that can pave the way to real development and growth.

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BEIRUT DESIGN WEEK 2014, DESMEEM, EVENT, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS

Design Strategy in Collaboration with AALTO University (Part I)

IMG_3977MENA Design Research Center in collaboration with AALTO university in Helsinki (The Media Lab and the School of Business) has been developing with its Master students new strategies for the challenges that MENA DRC has been facing as an organization in Lebanon. The course -New Media Concepts for the Third Sector- is made up of interdisciplinary teams of researchers, designers, and entrepreneurs that have been studying MENA DRC and developing service design strategies for growth and development as a co-creative consulting opportunity for both parties. In this first part of this blog post we will be introducing some of the challenges that MENA Design Research has been facing for the past year. 

MENA DRC was officially established in 2012; the first year was quite successful marking the beginning of the DESMEEM project and Beirut Design Week. Although dozens of proposals were written to continue DESMEEM initiatives in the following year, the region’s funding priorities were directed towards more urgent matters. In 2013, the only project that came to full realization was Beirut Design Week. Although it is very important and successful, it is not enough to develop and sustain a design research center. Coming to the end of 2013, some decisions need to be made according to the following challenges:

Growth & HR: The center currently has 2 active working members (Doreen Toutikian & Maya Karanouh). While Maya helps in providing contacts for business development through Lebanese SME’s, banks and organizations alongside managing her company TAGbrands, Doreen builds relationships with international organizations, embassies, and universities as well as handles the daily tasks. During projects, the center hires coordinators for the length of the project. Volunteers are welcome but rare. TAGbrands as an incubator provides office space and services to the center. These services include graphic design, social media, legal services, accounting and PR. We believe that having more full-time employees would be very beneficial to the center, but as it is not financially feasible, should we employ volunteers? How can we grow in our human resources while keeping the integrity and commitment of people that contribute? What kind of benefits can we provide instead for their dedication to developing the center?

Direction & Focus: As far as we know, there are no similar Design related NGOs or non-profit organizations in the region. Therefore, our responsibilities are quite broad. We have still not decided on a certain direction or focus and we are not sure if this is necessary yet. We are involved in all the following activities and initiatives: festivals, workshops, training, user-centered research, publications, conferences, social development, urban planning, urban mobility, community integration, youth& education…etc.  At some point, the center must diverge all its energy towards a pivotal point. Do we just focus on Beirut Design Week, and develop similar events throughout the year (conferences, workshops, talks, exhibitions…etc.)?  Do we focus more on social work? Do we do our own research and publications that concern design in the Arab world?

Community Building & Communication: We have a large network of followers on social media, but they all seem like one group (those who are design/ tech savvy). How do we involve other communities that are not necessarily the hip people of Beirut? How can we reach them? How can we make them interested in what we do and perhaps help them benefit from us? How do we communicate who we are to those who don’t speak our language? How can we make them see that Design is more than just luxury and fashion?

Financial Stability: Since the center is incubated by TAGbrands, we do not have to pay for rent or maintenance. When we realized that funding is scarce for Design in the MENA region, we created Beirut Design Week as a service to Lebanese designers that acts as an annual crowdfunding platform. Embassies and international organizations also help us to bring in professionals from all over the world during the week. This is the main source of income for the center. It is enough to keep it running, but not enough to initiate other projects. Are there other services we can provide that we haven’t thought of? What else can MENA DRC offer?

Space: Unlike many cultural organizations, we do not have a large space to host events, workshops, exhibitions… etc; which could be a way to sustain the center financially. Should we be looking at finding a space for ourselves? Are there possibilities for partnerships with the private or public sector where our presence in a certain space could be mutually beneficial?

Beyond Lebanon: Eventually, we would like to be a regional institution with unified goals and a mission to develop the understanding and awareness of Design in the Middle East and North Africa. We are still very young, and we need to prove ourselves and grow much more to be able to take on such a responsibility. What would be the best strategy to expand within our neighboring countries?

In the next blog post we will be discussing the workshop that took place in Finland as a co-creation session between Doreen Toutikian (Director of MENA DRC) and the AALTO students; where the students took on those challenges and turned them into opportunities for the center.

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DESMEEM, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS, SOCIAL INNOVATION

DESMEEM THEMES: Re-Adjusted

Since all our organizational design is based on the design thinking process, we believe that iteration is a very crucial step towards the most optimum outcomes. Last week we had posted the 10 themes that the designers will be tackling throughout DESMEEM. We then asked our audience, partners, and potential designers about their opinions and suggestions. So we came up with a new and improved list of 10 themes.

Brain drain was added to the list and the Arabic Language removed. We figured that there is a lot being done in terms of Arabic typography in the region and there might be other issues that designers are not tackling at all. We changed social integration to migrant, as our aim is to figure out better way to involve migrant workers in our society and not to handle Lebanese sectarianism. We altered ‘finance’ into ‘personal finance’ because this initiative deals with creating a personal awareness and understanding of finance to the average person. We changed ‘politics’ to ‘democracy, because this cause is not about specific political parties as many assumed, but more about understand human rights and the roles of the people and the government. We added experience to healthcare, so that it is clear that we are not dealing with the design of surgical or hospital equipment as much as we are dealing with the entire patient’s experience in a hospital. Waste control is now sustainable consumerism, because it englobes an issue more holistically. Energy and water were added due to requirements from NGOs who voted on it’s importance and priority for MENA ecology and environment. And finally, noise pollution and urban space were joined together as it came to our attention that the solutions resulting from this team should take both aspects into account.

Lastly, we are now recruiting NGOs, institutions and companies that would like to take on one of the initiatives. They will be providing the design team with support in terms of resources, research data, PR, and general consulting.

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HOW WE WORK

how to illustrate what we do?

The MENA Design Research Center has been BUSY. Within the past 2 weeks we have taken part in conferences, workshops, meetings with funding organizations, new project proposals, new encounters, and ever more questions and interests regarding our work. We have been asked by a local TV station and a few magazines to illustrate what we do and how we work.

So first we mapped out our process (as we usually do) and discussed the goals we would like to achieve by creating awareness about our center. Now we have to visualize it within a video perhaps by providing an example of a problem, and a step by step tutorial. We also thought of some interactive ways of providing the information to the audience. How can we create interest in design research, and show why we need it to create social change? What issue can we use as an example that can clearly lead the viewer from start to finish through the design process? What issues interest the Lebanese audience most? How can we spark ideas and provide insight to the public with this video?  These are questions we are currently discussing, and as we believe in participatory methods, your input is well welcome.

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