Entrepreneurship, MENA PROJECTS, SOCIAL INNOVATION

Disrupt!/Design! 2016: Sustainability

img_1255For the second year in a row, MENA DRC along with Hivos and Dutch Culture ventured to organize yet another Disrupt!/Design! ideathon for over 3 days during Beirut Design Week 2016, bringing together 11 teams that applied to the program with their ideas on developing a sustainable business. Submissions had to be creative ideas that incorporate sustainability in its core values.

About the Theme

Sustainability means “development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Although primarily focused on ecology and the environment, it also involves social, cultural and economic aspects of life. If the submitted idea was in line with this form of thinking, then the team was eligible to be part of the ideathon. It could be a product, a service, a movement or an awareness campaign that encourages more responsible behaviour for citizens in Lebanon and the MENA region. This can include recycling and upcycling projects, but also services that maintain, support and educate.

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Introducing the Teams

Participation was open to all people currently residing in Lebanon of any age or background. Participants may be primarily designers, but also social workers, scientists, researchers, creatives, makers, techies, or creative people who are passionate about sustainability.

TEAM 1: Amer el Debek and Aisha Habli

Having noticed the difficulty that young businesses face during the setting up phase, this team aims to automate and streamline the business incorporation method all in a ‘one pit-stop’ website, where a startup can get a fixed cost, set-up their business in no time – all happening online for the first time in Lebanon! This will tackle many of the current difficulties in setting-up a business in lebanon such as understanding the legal framework.  Aisha and Amer will combine their skills in the entrepreneurial and crowdfunding realms to bring this platform to reality.

TEAM 2: Maria EL Hajj and Aya Hoteit

CIVVIES is an urban fashion brand that works on harvesting plastic waste before it hits landfills and gives it a second life in the form of uniquely designed graphic apparel. The brand is more than just about the items it creates as it provides a full service based on an application that allows for personalization and customization of a purchase and a stronger reach into the market. Fitted into a sustainable cycle, the brand hopes to also raise awareness about plastic waste and its collection. This female trio will combine their skills in engineering, marketing and project management to bring CIVVIES to fruition.

TEAM 3: Mariebelle Aouad and Reine-Marie Zeghondi

Ex-Décor tackles sustainability with a new angle by addressing the social tradition of household decoration for both traditions and/or religious events. The team has tallied around 10 different yearly events that require their own set of decorations, objects essentially stocked away 10-11 months per years, just to be displayed once. Ex-Décor is an opportunity to sell your old decorations in exchange for somebody else’s; thus avoiding any creation of waste. This dream team of 2 business savy ladies have thought out all the details of their operation deeming it sustainable both financially and ecologically!

TEAM 4: Iskandar Anis Abdallah, Adib Ghaith, Ghaleb Hawila and Farah Mazyad

Ghain design is an initiative that aims to revitalize the craft and tradition of arabic calligraphy by integrating it to the modern household in the form of furniture. Using a mix of Origami and Arabic Calligraphy the team produces unique lighting fixtures. Each item is carefully crafted and designed to highlight both function and aesthetics. This team combines skills in the art of calligraphy, design and social media and together they hope to repurpose an old tradition and reinvigorate it among the youth.

TEAM 5: Ahmad Khouja and Mustafa Nachar

With the current waste crisis, Lebanon’s dependency on plastic bottles and cans is all the more exacerbated. Khouja and Nachar are developing a mobile compactor that runs without electricity and is able to treat both plastic bottles and cans of various sizes. This device will tackle several problems related to recyclable waste such as the lack of a regular pick-up service and the difficulty of storing plastic bottles. This will allow users on multiple scales to increase their ability to capture and redirect plastic and aluminum waste out of the normal garbage stream and into recycling centers. Ahmad has a background in environmental design and architecture that will be complemented by Mustafa’s design and crafting abilities.

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TEAM 6: Renée Abi Saad and Rita Andrew

Donations and charity are an important aspect of today’s economy. Renée and Rita would like to streamline this process to provide more resources to people in need and facilitate the process for those willing to share. They will be creating an application where users can volunteer or donate blood, clothes, money, food, etc. while organizations can build profiles and manage the donations through a merchant account. The app also delivers push notifications to alert users based on their preferences. This duo hopes to truly make a difference in their community by bringing together their passion and knowledge of economy, project management and web development.

TEAM 7‭: ‬Berna Daou‭, ‬Farah Jaroudi and Radwa Rostom

Based on the four dimensions of the Eco way of living, the trio Daou Jaroudi and Rostom imagined a news four dimensional approach to sustainable housing. Their goal is to co-design with communities and a team of experts, using local resources and recycled materials, a house that takes care of its residents. Their approach takes into account the context and the setting, the ecological dimensions of the household needs (such as water, energy,etc.) as well as an economical and a social dimension. All teammates have quit their jobs earlier this year and have decided to dedicate themselves to making this project a reality in Lebanon. They are currently in the data collection phase as they look for ideal sites to implement the pilot project.

TEAM 8: Alfred Bridi and Joseph Sheridan

Joseph and Alfred are tackling culturally sustainable travel with a web platform that can streamline, synthesize, and communicate the soul of cities in the MENA region through the stories of its people. The BETA version will have a specific focus on Lebanon in the hopes of driving more tourism to the country. The platform is a digital and holistic way to experience a city, for travelers and locals alike, through video-based storytelling. An inspired look at a city is provided through curated city guides and editorialized, cinematic-quality content focused on the city, its spaces, and people.  Joseph has experience in building start-ups as well as understanding of middle-eastern real estate; knowledge that will be complemented by Alfred’ experience art directing.

TEAM 9: Haya Farah and Nicolas Maalouf

Tackling social sustainability, the team Farah and Maalouf hope to empower senior school students by building an interactive orientation platform. Based on a narrative format that visualizes the path of several people, the team hopes to create a more approachable format to the data, one that will inspire youth into finding a school major or a career. The website will also be complemented by a youtube channel that prepares them to the job market through passing over the power of storytelling when sharing stories, aspirations, strengths and weaknesses when job hunting or at interviews. This bold “career makeover” will be made available in Arabic and English using Haya’s experience in entrepreneurship and Nicola’s design skills.

TEAM 10: Nicole Fortin and Maya Terro

SOUPer Meals on Wheels SMW is a community-based, volunteer-driven self-sustainable food truck that aims to provide food to those in need. The proposed concept functions on two separate shifts, during day time hot meals are delivered to different communities and at night the truck transform into a traditional street-food service, selling pizza to paying customers! SMW’s mission addresses the issue of food poverty with an emphasis on communities with a high risk of becoming food insecure. In doing so it also highlights the environmental problem of food waste by tackling and raising awareness on the food rescue. As one of the founders of Food Blesses Maya hopes to bring her experience with food and community work into this initiative while Nicole will bring her environmental policy know-how!

TEAM 11: Jesse Bowley, Jeanne Fouchet and Adrian Perez

Harvest is an initiative to develop a DIY kit for indoor and simple mushroom growing focusing on distribution in the MENA Region. This project hopes to tackle the disengaged relationship of the modern urban dweller with the food he consumes. Mushrooms are a high yield crop with a fast growth rate, requiring minimum technology and expertise to cultivate. In addition to its high nutritional value, a great advantage of mushrooms is that they grow primarily on waste material ranging from agricultural waste to cardboard. The main target of this project is educational urban agencies to disseminate the message of urban/indoor gardening to the youth. Adrian, Jeanne and Jesse will be working together bridging between art, design, cuisine and sustainability.

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The Ideathon Program & Mentors

The program of the ideathon is divided into a series of sessions throughout the three consecutive days. The sessions are designed in such a way where the mentors introduce the subject to the teams, and then the teams are given tasks to implement before the next session starts. The sessions include tools from Design Thinking methods incorporated into business models such as The Business Model Canvas, Stakeholder Maps, Product Positioning strategies, Value Proposition, Core Value Summary, Accounting & Financing, and Progress Reporting. The mentors for Disrupt!/Design! 2016 were Diala Lteif, Eric Klarenbeek, Doreen Toutikian, Vrouyr Joubanian, Marc Metni, Waleed Jad, Roy Letterle, Nicole Hamouche, Antoine Karam, and Asil Sidahmed.

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Final Presentation Jury

At the end of the 3-day ideathon, the teams pitched their project concepts using storyboards and prototypes to the panel of jury members, who selected 2 winning projects and rewarded them with cash prizes.The jury members were Ziad Abi Chaker, Nathalie Fallaha, Eric Klarenbeek and Dima Boulad.

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img_1249The Winners

1. Berna Daou, Farah Jaroudi and Radwa Rostom: Sustainable Housing

2: Ahmad Khouja and Mustafa Nachar: Kabseh Kabsten

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MENA DRC would like to thank Hivos and Dutch Culture for supporting the Lebanese community to keep building sustainable projects and helping the youth with developing their ideas into achievable business plans.

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Beirut Design Week 2015, DESIGN RESEARCH, EVENT, MENA PROJECTS

Design Weeks are flourishing in the Middle East & North Africa

When the MENA Design Research Center was launched in 2011, the goal of its founders was to create social impact the MENA region and develop awareness about the role and value of Design. Now four years later, we begin to be able to quantify the growth and impact that the center has partially set in track. One of the most well-known activities of MENA DRC is the Beirut Design Week, which was the first design week to be established in the region in 2012. Now, fast-forward four years later, there are already four design weeks that are right on track, and another two just on the doorstep.mena-design-weekEach Design Week is unique in its goals, features, participants and events. For Beirut Design Week, which is founded and organized by the MENA Design Research Center – a non-profit organization, the goal is to develop local entrepreneurship, provide cultural exchange for skills and experiences, enhance design education, and create awareness about design for social impact. The neighboring design weeks have some similar aspects but to varying proportions.

Soon to follow Beirut Design Week a year later in 2013 was the Bahrain International Design Week which took place in one venue, the Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre. The goals of the event are commercial, promising market share and exposure for all exhibitors.

In 2014 followed Saudi Design Week organized by Oasis Magazine in Partnership with the King Faisal Foundation for Research and Islamic Studies. Closer to the BDW model, the program is divided into curated exhibitions, workshops, and a design forum, showing a more versatile approach that is both commercial and educational.

chronology-mena-design-weekThis month marked the beginning of Dubai Design Week, which took place in various locations and focused mostly around Dubai’s latest large scale real estate project, the Dubai Design District – which is set to be finalized in the next couple of years. DDW is owned and managed by the Art Dubai Group, a joint venture company between the Dubai International Financial Centre and Middle East Fairs Ltd. Bringing in high-end talent as well as established educational institutions from all corners of the world, the Emiratis prove again that high investment pays off.

Next month we will witness the launch of Cairo Design Week, who are already developing a partnership with Beirut Design Week and their near future seems promising. Moreover, talks with Amman Design Week have also been initiated, the event is set to take place in 2016. Can you guess who will be next? I have a pretty good idea…

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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 2015, Design Criticism, DESIGN RESEARCH, EVENT, MENA PROJECTS, SOCIAL INNOVATION

Design is here to Disrupt!

disrupt6 Promoting big ideas to disrupt the status quo, the Disrupt!/Design!/ campaign kicked off Friday with its first training session for ten Lebanese design teams looking to take their projects from the drawing board to the board room and beyond in search of funding.

The teams—which include veterans as well as plucky newcomers in fields as diverse as architecture, engineering and traditional handicraft—are all vying to be among the three teams selected for a crowdfunding campaign that will launch in June during Beirut Design Week.

A collaboration between Beirut Design Week and the Dutch development organization Hivos, in partnership with Mideast Creatives and the crowdfunding organization Zoomaal, Disrupt!/Design!/ will provide the teams mentorship from a panel of international experts. These mentors will push the teams to refine their proposals while addressing the specific needs each faces.

As they hone their pitches, the teams will also benefit from crowdfunding training by Zoomaal, which will include storyboarding, writing, video production and presentation.disrupt1

The teams are:

Ray Chawki Ghafary and Charbel Afif

Recognizing that traditional below-the-knee prosthetics have left many amputees ashamed, the team aims to make a prosthetic that users could wear proudly. With more attractive covers and an emphasis on aesthetics, the team wants to battle the stigma many amputees face. “We’re not reinventing the prosthetic,” Ghafary said, “we’re enhancing its usage.”

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Adib Dada, Yasmina Choueir, May Khalifeh, Raya Tueny, and Alia Fattouh

Though its project is still in the development phase, this team has a series of major interventions planned around the Beirut River. Among them, the team hopes to crowd-fund a project to build a footbridge linking Badawi and Bourj Hammoud, and to build parks on either side of the river.

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Dima Boulad, Pamela Haydamouth, and Celine Khairallah

Looking for a way to convert unused corners of urban sprawl into gardens and green space, the team hopes to partner with the municipality to identify city-owned plots that are currently lying fallow. Boulad said the key to success would be fostering a sense of stewardship among neighbors and allaying any mistrust within the community. “If you give people trust, they give it back,” Boulad said.

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Tamara Qiblawi and Mireille Raad

The KnoozRoom team hopes oral history and creative storytelling can prompt recognition of new memories of the Lebanese civil war. The team plans to screen its 27-minute documentary film in a Spears Street bomb shelter-turned-interactive space in order collect untold stories that upset existing narratives of the war. “The aim of the project is to solicit stories of human survival,” Qiblawi said.

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Fadi Mansour, Karl Hitti and Candice Naim

Inspired by regional refugee crises and frequent power outages, this team is producing portable solar lamps. While tapping into a disappearing heritage of glassblowing within Lebanon, the team hopes to serve underprivileged communities with a safe and sustainable solution to the basic need for light.

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Angelique Sabounjian, Missak Hajiavedikian and Cynthia Raffoul

Perhaps more than any other corner of Beirut, Bourj Hammoud retains a bevy of local craftsmen and ateliers. This team is seeking to build bridges between generations of Bourj Hammoud’s craftsmen and artisans by creating links among the future makers, the established craftsmen, and the suppliers. “It’s creating this full circle in the production cycle,” Sabounjian said.

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Hassan Kanj and Rawad Hajj

Between coders and designers, there isn’t much common ground, which is why this team believes if coders knew the basics of design and designers knew the basics of coding, collaborations would be a breeze. “If they can understand, they can appreciate,” said Hassan Kanj. With a platform for collaboration between the two communities, the team hopes to make it easier for designers and coders to find each other.

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Dina Alwani, Ayman Moadad and Ali Ahmad

With its 2D animated web series drawn from the experiences of daily life in Lebanon, this team of animators hopes to entertain and educate Lebanese young and old about the issues affecting their nation. “It shows what everyone is suffering from,” said Alwani. The key to the series, Ahmad stressed, is that it will draw attention to the issues as well as the inaction that allows them to persist.

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Collette Hogg and Mazin Sidahmed

Seeking to draw a positive collaboration out of the conflict in Syria and influx of refugees within Lebanon, this team hopes to forge bonds around Syria and Lebanon’s shared history of crafting tile mosaics and glassblowing. While traditional methods of producing these tiles and glass have all but disappeared in Lebanon, the team hopes displaced Syrian craftsmen could work with artisans in Lebanon to reintroduce these time-honored techniques while fostering dialogue.

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Cyril Kallab, Iva Kovic, Rana Taha and Laeticia Honeine

Feeling that designers and makers have been left out of the supply chain that leads from craftsmen to consumers, this team hopes to work with established craftsmen to fill in the missing links. By bringing designers into the fold, the team is seeking to influence the market for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Check back for more updates as the collaboration continues!

Special Thanks to our new team member Ian Larson, for interviewing the participants and writing this post.

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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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