Redesigning Philanthropy

Last week we were thrilled to have the chance to share the design thinking process with three of the nation’s most influential philanthropic organizations: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The foundations are collaborating on solving a critical failure point in community college education: nearly 60 percent of students languish in the long developmental math sequence that they must pass in order to move on to a four-year college.

More than two dozen folks from all three foundations working on the community college issue joined us for a one-and-a-half day intensive workshop. Every time Our Short-Format Program team designs a workshop, they look for a juicy analogous challenge: a problem that participants can connect with, but that isn’t too close to their day-to-day focus. In this case, the challenge we designed was increasing blood donation by graduate students.

We were absolutely floored by the passion, depth and agility of these teams. Just 24 hours after their first interviews and observations, they’d presented their prototypes and were working on an even bigger challenge: how to take the design thinking process back to their own work.

“So often, policy fails because it doesn’t work for the people who are the end users,” says Vic Vuchic, a Hewlett Foundation funder and graduate of Stanford’s Learning Design and Technology master’s program. “My hope is that design thinking can help us to have empathy for students and teachers, and really connect with their needs so that we can develop innovate solutions that have a huge impact.”