Enabling migrants to apply Design Thinking


«We want to design a solution that allows everyone to be treated as equals, and feel on the same page.» – Hearing Abel who was born and raised in far-away Ethiopia saying this I instantly got goosebumps.

It is Saturday, nearing lunchtime, the sun is shining outside and we, a group of twelve people, are in a room on the top floor of the Impact Hub in Zurich. It’s getting uncomfortably hot - the summer temperatures are clearly affecting us because everyone is sweating. However, the heat is not only caused by the summer weather – there is a sense of excitement in the air and the energy level is still high. Ten people from very different cultural and linguistic backgrounds are working together to challenge themselves and create something new. In this context, SINGA Switzerland asked us to develop a workshop format to enable them – the first generation of migrants - to learn, adapt and use the methods of Design Thinking for their own project.

SINGA is a non-profit startup originally founded in France. The name means “connect” in one of the local languages spoken in the large area located south of the river Congo. SINGA aims to include people with migrant background in Swiss society, especially those who face tougher obstacles compared to those originating in the EU.

Only by talking with Seraina – co-founder of SINGA Switzerland – do you immediately notice how her mission goes beyond connecting Swiss locals and migrants. It is really about creating opportunities for and with them, about unleashing their own potential and turning their story of migration into an inspirational story of personal, social and economic success.

At the workshop, we met many people with strong motivations and reputable college degrees such as Abel from Ethiopia or Victor from Colombia. Both express themselves eloquently, they know how to talk with people and ultimately inspire us. The participants have known each other for a while, they once started as a diverse group of individuals, today they work as a team with a common goal. Eager to learn new methods and apply them on their projects, they fully immersed themselves for 2-days on a fictional challenge: working in teams they had to re-design the experience of commuters on trains across Switzerland.

The speed of the experience was as high as the temperature in the room. As we like to foster learning by doing, short blocks of input were followed by hands-on exercises. After going through various empathy techniques, the participants visited Zurich’s main station in order to interview people. I am amazed to see how cheerfully they set themselves to this task without showing any discomfort. Our next step required us to make sense out of their observations and distill a problem statement from their insights. Once the teams had successfully tackled this task, they went into ideation and applied multiple brainstorming techniques and identified critical assumptions, to finally build, test and iterate their prototypes. The challenge was wrapped up by testing prototypes one more time with commuters on the street.

Victor’s final words encapsulates why we love doing what we do. At the end of the second day, whist reflecting on the workshop, Victor states: "At this event I learnt about the power of why: when we meet our user, we don't want to scratch the surface, we want to dig deeper and find out about their dreams and aspirations. By putting the user's needs at the center of our process, we find problems that matter."

Disclaimer: names of participants were changed to protect their identity.

By Mattis Stolze, former employee


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