At the recent Social Impact Design Summit in New York, organized by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, one issue that received attention was the need to build local capacity so that projects can be self-sustainable. Any successful model should be built on local capacity, knowledge, and engagement. Designers sometimes assume that local communities cannot come up with innovative solutions to their problems, but the truly limiting factor is the lack of funds and exposure to relevant technology. Another notable issue brought up at the summit was the long-term evaluation of projects – a basis or standard to measure the value of design in communities. In Africa, we have had good projects, launched in a short period of time, which collapse as soon as the donor agency leaves. This is an unsustainable waste of resources. One of the reasons why such projects fail is the absence of local ownership. Funders and organizations need to be more flexible to assess initiatives over the long haul. I would like to see some program of action to carry out the resolutions of the summit, such as the formation of some strategic committees bringing together designers and funders. It would be unfortunate if all of the suggestions and solutions proposed were shelved and nothing happened as a result. This was an insightful and fruitful summit, and I am hopeful that much can be achieved through such dialogues.
Dr. Richie Moalosi is Senior Lecturer of Industrial Design at the University of Botswana and Coordinator for the Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Research Laboratory in Botswana. His research interests include design and culture, sustainability, and social innovation. He has been involved in the Only Planet project, the Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Africa-Brazil dialogue, and Creative Communities for Sustainable Living–Africa.