The Design for Giving Contest for Riverside School

Developing rules, tools, and platforms for a nationwide contest that empowers schoolchildren to effect social change in India

Designer turned educator Kiran Bir Sethi started the Riverside School in 2001 in Ahmedabad, a large city in the northwestern state of Gujarat, India. She created her own K-8 curriculum, based on six beacons of learning, with the goal of “infecting children with the ‘I Can’ bug.” Sethi’s thinking was that, by blurring the boundaries between school and life, young students would become aware, enabled, and empowered to effect change in the world. Nearly 300 children now attend the school, which has also widely shared its lesson plans with other institutions.

Last year, Sethi sought to spread her can-do message to millions of children across India through a contest called Design for Giving. She tapped IDEO and the d.school at Stanford to join as “knowledge partners.” As such, the group collaborated on the contest rules, tools, and platforms, shaping the steps of the human-centered design process so that they’d be accessible to children and teachers in various conditions throughout India with little or no previous exposure to design.

To do so, the team created various drafts of the competition’s process and tried the tools with kids and teachers in various school settings (urban and rural, public and private). The team also interviewed students, teachers, and principals in order to understand their needs, perceptions, and abilities to conduct a design process in which kids were asked to make changes in their communities. Based in these experiences, the group refined the framing of the contest to be about four simple, actionable steps:

1 Feel. Kids were asked to go into their communities and “feel” the problems around them, and the needs that people have who face those problems.

2 Imagine. Then, they were asked to brainstorm the many ways they could address these problems based in people’s needs and wants.

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Project date: 2009


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