“The co-design approach begins
with design research that uncovers
those real needs and daily lived
realities and brings those to the
From May 2009 to October 2013, Sarah served as a creative lead, strategist, and workshop facilitator for the annual Social Capital Markets conference. She aimed to bring design to the world of impact investing and social enterprise.
Every year, the conference creates a place to look at “the intersection of money and meaning,” and investors, philanthropists, and funders meet with social enterprises and entrepreneurs to discuss challenges. They work to develop, build, and fund marketbased solutions to systemic social issues.
Sarah first helped develop a social media strategy, and then helped SOCAP livestream the meeting globally. But she realized that she needed to do more to bring design more centrally into the convening.
“I wanted to know how the power of design for social impact be meaningfully integrated into the SOCAP community,” she says. “Design was very new to the social sector in 2009, and my interest in bringing design to the table was to counter balance an approach of funders —and sometimes the social entrepreneurs that we often think we know best how to solve problems for people in economically disadvantaged communities. We need a co-design approach that takes as a starting point the tenet that people are experts in their own experiences, and any design interventions ought to be developed in partnership with what the community wants.”
Too often, well-meaning initiatives fail because their intended communities don’t embrace them or they can’t be practically sustained in the areas they’re meant to serve.
“The co-design approach begins with design research that uncovers those real needs and daily lived realities and brings those to the forefront,” she says. “That was my interest in bringing design to the social sector—turning around the we-know- best behaviors of well-meaning philanthropic funders. And that was the mission of the SOCAP conference as well. They just hadn’t had design as a piece of the puzzle and toolset before I showed up on the scene.”
In 2011, she organized a six-session track titled “Design for Social Innovation,” which brought together 24 design leaders from leading product and service innovation firms with subject-matter experts to talk about markets for good, blueprint to scale, gender lens, blue economy and redesigning finance.
Each session explained and workshopped a phase of the design process. The sessions were a huge success and served to broaden the sphere and reveal the power of design for social impact, which led to design being even more interwoven throughout the 2012 and 2013 conferences.