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How I started on the journey of Designing Empowerment

initial research

Hello,
First entry here.
It was in 2009-10 that I went to Singapore to present at a conference on design. The theme was "Our World in 2050". I presented my research on a new method of teaching 3D modelling. I was not happy. I knew what I was doing had value but to a very small number of people.
That conference left me empty. I felt cheated. We were talking about the future and there was no mention of the majority of population.
This incident coincided with me being a father of a two year old. You perspective on life changes, mine did as well. I started thinking about the world my son would be growing up in. I did not want him to be part of a world where almost everyone is poor and a very select few are very rich. We certainly are moving in that direction.

This led to an exploration. Ideas that have had an impact at the grass root level. I looked in teh library, NSF funded projects, USAID and a lot more. The only two programs that I could find that have had any impact, a measurable impact over a long period of time, have been micro financing and barefoot college. Another aspect that I realized which is common in both these initiatives is their focus on women empowerment.

I am not in social work, policy research or work with an NGO. I teach design. This discovery also coincided with my trip to India in the summer of 2010. I visited the Barefoot college campus in rajasthan and also spent about two weeks with Self Help Groups in Microfinancing. It was an eye opening experience for me. I collected some very interesting bits of information and returned to Blacksburg, VA.

The beginning was a small, five week experimental module with 15 students to explore ways to make the micro financing SHG more efficient. We came up with a visual book keeping tool for the illiterate women. The following winter break, we took the prototype back for testing and received some very negative feedback about what we were trying to do.

Long story short. What started as a an experimental exploration, now has faculty from Design, Engineering and computer science. We have had more than 30 students participate in the initiative so far.

This is all for the first post. In the following posts, based on the feedback I get on this one, I will share some of the details.
Sincerely,
Akshay

initial research
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