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The Bindi Project: collaborating between NY and Kathmandu (Feb 2015)

Our idea is a service and associated toolkit which tackles the problem of information sharing and community building by creating a new role.

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This seems like an impossible story: a moment when you might feel unable to develop your idea further when the context is so far apart from our everyday reality. Yet, such a story that took place between two cities, Brooklyn and Kathmandu: between the Design Tinkering club at NYU and the Women for Human Rights organization. During the Women Safety challenge sponsored by Amplify on openIDEO, these two groups connected through the platform during the ideation phase and ended up collaborating, building upon each other’s perspective and expertise, and eventually morphing their two ideas – the Bindi idea and the Chhahari idea - into one. As the evaluation phase takes place, and reflecting on questions paused to them by the OpenIDEO team, the two groups have been reflecting upon their experience:

Design Tinkering, why were you interested in partnering with an implementing organization?

As a student club based in New York, we knew from the beginning that we would need to work with an NGO working with women if we wanted our idea to be implemented. Even if some of us might decide at one point to go and volunteer, to make our idea sustainable and to even test it, we needed to collaborate. Having our advisor working with us was crucial as she made collaboration a key requirement from very early after we posted our idea. We were excited to see if our idea based on our research, our analysis of the various posts during the research phase and our knowledge of communities, information sharing, and social networks, could make sense for organizations working on the ground.

WHR,what is the value add to your current work by collaborating with the Design Tinkering Group?

Design Tinkering Groups has added meaningful value to our work at WHR. In the beginning before the collaboration, we did not focus on creating a group of women as leaders. Our focus was mostly on providing economic empowerment opportunity to the single women. We also did not think about leadership building program as a part of our empowerment idea but once we learnt about the idea of the Design Tinkering team, we thought it was a great opportunity to work together. Also, the bindi idea filled the gap in our original idea in such a way that the empowerment process that we had previously planned is now a full cycle. Now it is not only focusing on the empowerment of the women but it can also develop strong and aware community in the slum.

Design Tinkering, how did you establish a partnership with WHR?

Early on, during the ideation phase, we looked for collaboration opportunities, both through the OpenIDEO platform and through our personal connections and networks.

While we received positive feedback from many organizations (which was great because this comforted in the potential relevance of our idea and our trying to push the idea forward), no organization replied to our proactive attempt to collaborate.

When we saw the idea posted by WHR on chhahari spaces, we immediately thought that our two ideas were complementary. We posted a comment on their idea on the platform and received a positive reply and a request for our email. We were so excited when we received an email from the WHR team, even more so, as they seemed to see value in our idea for their work. We exchanged a few emails to discuss a potential collaboration. In particular, we were clear about our role. Indeed, in our absence of local knowledge, we could suggest a training module and a certain type of training, but we could not design the training. The WHR team was fine with this approach as they had this capability. Our advisor and one of us had a Skype conversation to discuss further our respective roles and the next steps. We offered to develop a toolkit to help them pilot the first round of sahayogi saathi (the Nepalese version of bindis). The plan was that if the first pilot were successful, we would update the toolkit as needed so that WHR can develop this new role in other communities.

Design Tinkering, what assumptions did you have previously and what have you learned while working with WHR?

We had several assumptions that were confirmed, or somewhat challenged by our collaboration with WHR. Here are the four main assumptions we started with. However, during our collaboration, we keep exploring and refining our various assumptions. This is what makes this collaboration so exciting!

First, we believed that there was a need for connectors to spread information and connect people within and across the communities.This was confirmed by the interest of WHR and their willingness to collaborate with us on a pilot.

Second, when we came up with the name bindi, we knew it would have to be adapted to the local context. WHR brought up that point during our Skype conversation, saying that while they understood the meaning, the women they worked with might not relate to the name. We asked the WHR team to brainstorm and let us know. They suggested sahayogi saathi, which means “helpful friend” and would be meaningful to the women in the slums. It was perfectly in line with what we tried to express with the bindi name.

Third, we assumed that there were already potential sahayogi saathi who could be trained and help jumpstart the idea. We decided to develop criteria in our toolkit to “find” potential sahayogi saathi. The WHR team agreed that there were probably already women who were well connected and trusted in the community. They decided to use our criteria to look for the first group of sahayogi saathi.

Last, we were unsure from the beginning about how to make our idea sustainable. While we were worried that volunteering might be difficult for women who had very little, or no income, we could not come up with a great idea. WHR team was originally a bit worried about the volunteering aspect for that exact reason. However, they did not have funding to provide an allowance for the sahayogi saathi.

We did some extra research, brainstormed and came up with a series of proposals (e.g. a coop model; access to microloans) for them to react upon. Yet, our main assumption was that because of limited resources, we should create a situation where volunteering (only part time) would be empowering for the sahayogi saathi. WHR agreed on our first assumption and that volunteering could work. The women who came to the first meeting too. They said that being a sahayogi saathi could be truly empowering. WHR also thought that the options we suggested made sense and they discussed it with the people in charge of the cooperative and microloan programs, who were interested in exploring possibilities. We now went back to WHR with more specific questions (as we are developing our version 3 of the toolkit). 

WHR, what have you learned as a result of this collaboration?

The project has become stronger with each passing progress. Since the beginning, when we started our conversation with the Design Tinkering team through email, our idea has developed and is still developing. Answering the Design Tinkering team’s questions everyday has helped us to make the project more and more effective and has also helped the WHR team to look through every step of the project in detail. In a way this has helped us strengthen our capabilities with project planning. It is a good idea to collaborate and explore the project further and it has been a great opportunity to learn.

In particular, have you learned methodologies or processes by collaborating with the Design Tinkering Group?

WHR has been developing sahayogi saathis since several years but due to the collaboration, we have developed and changed many activities as well as the planning process of our project. The team at WHR has realized that we have moved further with developing the sahayogi saathis.

Compared to the previous sahayogi saathis, this group of sahayogi saathis will be developed like a leader and will volunteer in the community. The previous sahayogi saathis used to give classes on women’s human rights, single women property related issues etc. in their community but this time through the collaboration we have been able to develop the same project with better ideas and now it is more engaging. Especially, the idea to provide the sahayogi saathi with a badge and certificate is something new. This process in particular will help to develop the identity of the women in their community and other community as well.

The tool kit developed by Design team is excellent, we have already started using it and due to this, identifying sahayogi saathi has been easier and also it was a support during the first meeting with the women

How do you envision this partnership moving forward?

Design Tinkering: So far working with the WHR team has been incredibly rewarding and amazing learning experience for all of us.  It’s been great to see how our ideas made sense and could help the team formalize and articulate some of their experience. Indeed, we realized that one reason why we were able to collaborate so well is that we are not necessarily something radically different to WHR but we are offering a support structure with the toolkit. Moreover, our values and approaches are very much aligned, and this helps the collaboration.

The WHR team is a great communicator: they take our questions at heart and answer them rapidly, helping us iterate quickly.  They also have been great at “connecting” us with the women in the slum, sharing pictures and their thoughts. For example, they showed them our first sketches for the badge and they chose their favorite. Again, later on, as we were hesitating between a black and white and color version from the slum, WHR asked the women their opinion. All along, we felt we were working with the women in the slum.

We are hoping to be able to continue this collaboration and see the first pilot implemented successfully, so that we can develop the next version of the toolkit to help WHR (and hopefully other organizations) develop this new role, which we believe can help empower women by building stronger communities and facilitate information transfer. Since the shortlisted ideas have been selected, we have kept working with the WHR team to refine the idea (e.g. adding some bi-monthly meetings for the sahayogi saathis and the women for the community; exploring the use of the local club space in the slum; exploring costs and ways to make the idea self-sustainable in the long run). 

WHR: Though the Design Tinkering team are not physically involved 

with the project, their support has been incredibly helpful. Especially the toolkit has been a perfect structural support. We will be taking this partnership forward with every step in the project development and implementation. We will be updating the team with all the activities and progress also during the implementation phase. We would also like to keep the sahayogi saathi aware of the Design Tinkering team. Therefore, we will also act like a bridge between the team and the sahayogi saathi so that they are aware of every aspect of the project. We hope to successfully implement the idea and develop empowered women to further develop a strong and aware community together with the Design Tinkering team.

To read more about the Design Tinkering / Women for Human Rights collaboration, check the Design Tinkering blog.

We are extremely glad to share this inspiring story of collaboaration with the OpenIDEO community!

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September 30, 2014:

As some community members asked for updates, we thought we will share what happened since we posted this story after learning that we were one of the 5 winning ideas. 

The collaboration did not stop, on the contrary. With the possibility (thanks to Amplify support!) to pilot the project, we kept working together (there were many emails and several skypes: mostly between WHR and DT, but also with the Amplify team) to push further our idea and understand how it will unfold. We've kept a regular update on our blog but here are a few things as we are waiting for the final budget approval to start the pilot. First of all, the collaboration became more real as we had the chance to have a few weeks ago the visit of Lily Thapa, the founder and president of WHR at NYU. This was a great bonding experience, and more importantly, it was a great learning experience. We understood better the issue of single women (many are young women, between 20 and 30, with 2-3 children; 80% are illiterate), the context of living in the slum (lack of privacy) and the importance of economic empowerment (as a complement to social empowerment). We also discussed the importance of developing a sustainable program. This led us to tweak a bit our plans: renting a space in the slum for women to meet and work and documenting the project and developing a webdocumentary to do fundraising.

WHR went to the slum to visit spaces and found one that would work and that women would feel comfortable being in. DT, we started brainstorming on the webdocumentary so that we can tell WHR the type of videos and images we will need. We have a couple of computer science students interested in helping us developing the platform. 

And of course, as Design Tinkering, we are still planning to evolve the toolkit so that we can share it at the end of the pilot for all other NGOs or communities interested in implementing it.

We are all super excited to see the pilot start, and the women selected for the program as well, and we will definitely updated this impact story once the pilot starts. 

December 2014:

As we are waiting for the finalization of the contract agreement and the funding so that WHR can start the pilot, the WHR team has been doing some more interviews with the women selected to be the first Community concierges. We wanted to understand better their needs and see if any of the modules we had originally planned should be updated. We realized that we could add some focus on Health as the women have very little understanding of sexual Health and children's health. We also realized that sanitation was a major issue: not only the lack of sanitation, but even the understanding of sanitation as an issue. This will be a topic of discussion during the program. All women are impatient to see the pilot start as they have a lot of hopes for how it can help empower them - socially and financially.

We also decided during Lily Thapa's visit at NYU in September to create a webdocumentary to document the process as well as create awareness and do some fundraising. As part of this project, WHR put us in touch with a great photographer  Boguslaw Maslak who spent several days in the slum interviewing women (based on questions we agreed with WHR). He's now working on editing the videos. We posted a few pictures of the women selected to be part of the program. We hope to have a website by mid-January and hopefully some news on the pilot very soon.

January 2015:

We are excited to report that we will have a design workshop with the Amplify and Ideo.org team end of March (dates to be confirmed) prior to our trip to Kathmandu, Nepal (planned for May) to work with the WHR team and the future bindis. The aim would be to do some extra research and start doing some light prototypes to confirm the assumptions underlying our idea and to move to a full pilot. Talking about the future bindis, here are photos and interviews with 11 of them: http://greenhousestories.com/design-tinkering-club/meet-some-of-the-future-bindis/

February 2015

Check our website which just got live: http://www.thebindiproject.org/

It presents videos of the women who will be part of the program and invites other organizations to give us feedback, suggestions and try to implement the concept of community concierge in their community.

Next update should be in May after we come back from Kathmandu! 

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Photo of Mona

Nice contribution... NYU DFA Studio

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