After over a decade working in economics, international development, nonprofit management, and community organizing, I found my way to the Stanford Design School. The d.school’s methodology felt familiar and related to all the disciplines in which I was working, but the approach simultaneously felt starkly different. I had been taught to think analytically. To synthesize a large amount of information in order to identify trends. Once I identified trends and made assumptions to explain those trends, I then identified appropriate interventions to reach the desired results.
Design thinking provided a new set of tools and a starkly different approach to solving the same wicked systems-level problems. Rather than trying to think my way to a solution – design thinking employs a human-centered approach, which sounds logical when described, but felt radically different when compared to how most philanthropic and nonprofit practitioners currently operate. Design thinking incorporates emotional awareness, creativity, divergent thinking, rapid iteration, prototyping, and radical collaboration. These components make design thinking a powerful tool that all foundation and nonprofit practitioners should use.
Applying Design Thinking to Foundation’s Grantmaking Portfolio
I applied design thinking methods when revising the strategy for the grantmaking portfolio I was managing at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. From 2007 to 2013, I was a consultant program officer for DDFIA’s Building Bridges Program, which aims to improve Americans’ understanding of Muslim cultures through arts and media. I was grateful to work with a talented team at DDFIA, and I wanted to acquire more tools with which to push our grantmaking further. During my fellowship, I was trying to answer the question: How can design thinking improve our grantmaking? How can it be used as a tool to improve the framing the problems we are addressing? How can it help us expand our echo chamber, and increase the creativity of the ideas we are considering? And How might it help us strengthen our relationship with our grantees?
I hope to share my insights, experiments, and learnings on this blog and welcome your feedback, ideas and opportunities to collaborate!