TiHS Episode 32: Marium Vahed – bringing service design into a nonprofit setting

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Welcome to episode 32 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode I chat with Marium Vahed about how service design and innovation thinking can be brought into a nonprofit service setting.

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When I saw that Marium had started an MSc in Digital Management, I wanted to learn more about how she had been able to incorporate design thinking into her work. I think it’s an approach that more of us in the sector could benefit learning more about, and she agreed to chat.

I’ve been open about how I consider design thinking more or less a rebrand of popular education and community engagement techniques our sector used to focus a lot on. The language has changed, but the idea of co-creation, or creating with our communities, is something in our sector’s core values. I think there is much to learn from what has become a formalized and professionalized practice in the design thinking world, but also a lot we contribute and bring to the conversation.

Here are some of the initial questions we used to guide our conversation:

  • How would you define design thinking?
  • How can it be used in a community service setting?
  • How have you been able to introduce it into your work?
  • How have your colleagues and peers reacted?
  • What’s been useful, what hasn’t worked as well?
  • When we we look at design thinking and community engagement approaches typical in the nonprofit sector, do you see a lot of overlap in the ideas, models, and approaches?
  • If someone in a nonprofit was interested in learning more about incorporating design thinking into their work, what would you suggest they do to get started?

Marium’s bio

Marium Vahed believes in a green movement that prioritizes collaboration across diverse communities and sectors to build a robust, equitable and sustainable future. In 2019, Marium co-founded Green Ummah, a non-profit that raises awareness amongst Canadian Muslims of the Islamic environmental teachings and empowers them to become leaders in the green movement. For her work, she was awarded Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25.

Marium graduated from the University of Toronto with an HBA in Anthropology and Diaspora and Transnational Studies. She brings this passion to North York Community House where she works on the Journeys to Active Citizenship team to co-design civic engagement curriculum for immigrants and refugees.

Marium is currently a candidate for a Master of Science in Digital Management at Ivey Business School where she is the VP Partnerships at the Ivey MSc Entrepreneurship Club. She envisions bringing best practices of innovation and entrepreneurship to her community.

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript of our conversation using Otter.ai. The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

Marco Campana 0:00
Welcome to Episode 32 of the technology and human services podcast. In this episode, I chat with Marium Vahed about how service design and innovation thinking can be brought into a nonprofit service setting. When I saw that Marian had started an MSc in digital management, I wanted to learn more about how she’d been able to incorporate design thinking into her work. I think it’s an approach that more of us in the sector could benefit learning more about, and she agreed to chat, I think you’ll find this a really interesting and productive conversation that has plenty for everyone to learn from. Welcome to the podcast technology and human services, Marian barrhead. And please go ahead and introduce yourself.

Marium Vahed 0:38
Hi, thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here. My name is Marium. I’m currently a student at the ivy business school at Western University, studying a Masters of Science in digital management, which basically is focusing on business fundamentals as well as entrepreneurship, innovation and technology. I’m someone who’s been in the nonprofit space and in multiple different ways over the years, starting out the Canadian Muslim vote, which is focused on civically engaging the Canadian Muslims. And currently I’m actually I’m working in the nonprofit in two different ways. I’m working at North York community house to civically engage immigrants and refugees through the journey stack of citizenship project. And I also am the chair and founder of a nonprofit called Green Ummah, whose focus is to get Muslims, Canadian Muslims involved in the environmental movement and provide them with the tools and the knowledge to to be able to take action on that, on that front, so So that’s me, I’m really excited to be here.

Marco Campana 1:40
Welcome. Yeah, thank you for joining us, I had no idea but the second nonprofit you’re involved with, and I feel like we can have a whole conversation about about diversity and inclusion in the environmental movement in Canada, for sure. So that’s, that’s super exciting. Because I think that’s been a huge issue for that sector for a long, long time. So kudos to you for working on that. It’s a bit of an uphill battle, I imagine.

Marium Vahed 2:00
Yes, it is. But I find that there’s a lot of reception for it. And you know, it’s it’s one of those things, it’s trendy now, people want to talk about diversity. And it’s the moment to moment to make use of that, I think,

Marco Campana 2:11
no, that’s great. Yeah. So maybe one day, we will have a conversation about that. But Congrats on getting that off and running, I hope you have a lot of success with it. And so that’s super exciting. But today, yes, we’re gonna focus on the design thinking side of of your of your work, and how that fits into the nonprofit. So you and I kind of connected on LinkedIn. And I’ve been doing some work with North York community house for a while. And and when I saw that you were doing this, this, this, this, this master’s, I thought, Okay, this is super interesting. This is someone who’s in the sector, because I’ve, I’ve talked to a few people who are designers or service innovators, and that’s their consulting gig. And that’s kind of what they do. But I haven’t come across as many people who are kind of trying to bring one into the other world and sort of, you know, expand their horizons while they’re working in a nonprofit. And so I thought this was a really, really fun and unique opportunity to kind of, you know, bring your voice as that person into this conversation. So, I mean, I guess, you know, when we think about design, thinking, service, design, innovation, things like that, why don’t we even just start with how you envision or, or define the idea of design thinking? Yeah, for

Marium Vahed 3:14
sure. So you know, full disclosure, it’s my first semester of school doing this master’s, and I’ve only recently been exposed to design thinking myself. But it’s something that I think, you know, people will be surprised, they’re probably doing design thinking without realizing they’re doing it. And so in, in my degree, one of the classes we’re taking is called design driven innovation. And the focus there is, is talking about different ways to innovate and design thinking is basically a process that supports that. So the process itself follows a couple of steps, which is to empathize, to define to ideate, to prototype to test and implement. But the underlying approach that sort of that sort of Mary’s those steps is really just to really understand the environment, you’re in the people, you’re talking to the people who are going to be impacted by whatever your project or idea is to sort of explore that idea, which is where the prototyping and brainstorming would come in, and then to materialize it. So ultimately, that’s the underlying approach. And if you’re doing it right, you’re probably going to do it multiple times. It’s an iterative process. And so you might start at that first step and sort of cycle around if you feel like you know, maybe you haven’t sufficiently empathize with your with your population. Yeah. I

Marco Campana 4:34
want to explore you you mentioned that people may be doing it but may not either be thinking or knowing they’re doing it or even naming it. I mean, what’s your experience been when that in a nonprofit setting when you’re looking at working with people who are perhaps you know, doing iterative design or who are doing needs assessment or who are very kind of community focus that you mentioned, the first step is is empathy. So you know, working very closely with the people you’re working with to design with them, not just for them or on them kind of thing I assume. So I’m curious a little bit about what it’s like for you to sort of, because I assume you’re introducing what you’re learning into your work and with your colleagues. And and do they see what you see that there are these similarities that there is this foundation that they may already have, but we’re maybe using different language? Absolutely.

Marium Vahed 5:17
I think one of the things about design thinking is that it’s it’s human centered. It’s putting people at the middle of whatever it is you’re designing. And I think that aligns really well in community service spaces or the nonprofit sector, because that’s usually what nonprofits are focused on as well. So as I’ve been learning this degree, it’s been really interesting to see, both at North York Community House and also in my nonprofit green OMA does that we’ve already been implementing some of the steps of design thinking maybe it wasn’t necessarily on purpose, we hadn’t sat down and plotted out the steps and said, Okay, we’re gonna empathize first and define next. But there are those elements that that crop up quite often. And I think the most useful part about learning design thinking has been to see the gaps. So for example, for green Ummah, for my organization, we have done a really great job of empathizing, defining ideating, but we hadn’t really done any prototyping, we had done some, some testing, for sure. But we had missed that set, we hadn’t done any, like low fidelity prototypes, which means, you know, sitting down with people and maybe doing like a prototype on paper, or a sketch or something like that. We just sort of dove right into developing our our flagship project, which is a curriculum. And so you know, that’s been really interesting to sort of watch how that happens. And I think my colleagues in all settings that have introduced Design Thinking have been very open to it. And I think I’ve been lucky to be in workspaces that are filled with curious people who, you know, when they hear an idea, they want to learn more about it. And that’s really been to the benefit of both my team at North, your community house and my team at crema. And so that curiosity is sort of enabled to have those conversations about, are we actually doing design thinking? And given there’s so many similarities is that is it worth it to actually look at that, that structure?

Marco Campana 7:15
I like that you bring up curiosity, because when I think about design thinking I think more about process and skills in order to do that the work, but it sounds like there’s also attitudes, and just sort of, you know, a way of way of approaching the work that also is important to get into the mindset, can you can you speak a little bit to like, beyond curiosity, what is it? What have you explored or found even for yourself? Or for the people you’re working with that? Like, what’s the right attitude to move into that kind of space? If you will?

Marium Vahed 7:41
Yeah, for sure. I will, Curiosity is definitely a big one. But beyond that, I think people need to be sort of open to, to flexibility. And I think in the nonprofit space, people often have to be because we’re always, you know, adapting to different resource needs and things like that. So yes, having an openness to sort of seeing things in different ways. And, of course, like people who, who have empathy are going to align really well with design thinking, because the whole process really centers on on people, you know, thinking, very thinking about the people that the design is going to impact. And so I think that needs to be at the heart of anyone who’s interested in design thinking they have to care about people.

Marco Campana 8:29
So I’m curious if, if that’s what helped draw, like, What drew you to actually like exploring this formally? Because clearly, you were doing this work? Intuitively, it sounds like you were attracted to something about the masters or just the idea of design thinking. But what made you take the leap into kind of like a, you know, let’s let me learn this. Let me ground myself and actually get get the academic side of this while I’m exploring it, was there, was there an impetus? Or was it sort of just you were naturally drawn and looking for something like that? Oh,

Marium Vahed 8:55
it was quite a struggle. Actually, I don’t want to go through the entire story. Because it’s a it’s quite a bit. But originally, I actually wanted to go to law school. So I was studying for the LSAT over the summer. And actually, a couple like weeks before the test, I realized this is really not for me. And so I cancelled my LSAT and started looking at at degrees. And the process that I took was actually I wanted to think about what are the skills that I’m lacking and the things that I want to learn about. So I wasn’t looking for, you know, a specific subject that I wanted to become a knowledge expert on, but I was looking for those skills. And so for me, there was there was quite a few of them that I felt that was lacking in one of them was I really wanted to understand, of course, like finances, budgeting, accounting, some of those basic, basic things because of course, if you’re working in the nonprofit space, you need to know how to write a grant. You need to know how to manage your books, all those all those things. But also, I think the larger driver for me was I really wanted to understand how to innovate. And I was I’m a creative person, naturally and I think In all of the work that I’ve done, I’ve brought that creativity forward. But it’s been, you know, a marine version of creativity, it’s been me sort of meandering around and trying to find the right way and doing trial and error, which of course, is is valuable, but I knew there were best practices out there. So that’s what pulled me to this degree, ultimately, is I wanted to, I wanted to know, you know, things like design thinking, and I’ve learned, design thinking and so much more in that process. Yeah, and I, one more thing I want to say on that is, I think people often see like business and nonprofits as antithetical to each other. And it’s been really interesting to sort of see how they actually align quite well. Of course, you know, sometimes the drivers might be different, like, businesses are definitely a little bit more profit driven for sure, than the nonprofit space. But I find that the skills that you learn to run a business are very similar to the ones that you you implement when you’re actually running a non profit. So there was also that alignment that I anticipated, and I actually have been been seeing for the past couple months.

Marco Campana 11:05
Well, that’s great. I love the meandering career path. I have one like that, too. If I look back, there’s these sudden left turns in the path. And I think, I think that we’re seeing that increasingly, especially with people who work in nonprofits where it’s contract, and it’s Lifelong Learning focused, and we’re always sort of trying to explore. So I think that’s, that’s a fascinating turn for you. So thank you for sharing that. It’s interesting. And so. So let’s speak a little bit, I guess, to that, that notion of Okay, so you’ve you’re learning about design thinking, it isn’t a business kind of environment. And there are some people in the nonprofit space who react you Oh, yeah, another MBA coming to tell us how to do our work better kind of had those conversations a lot in our sector. Right. So I’m curious, as you’ve been, you know, again, like you said, you’re just getting started in the Masters. But you’ve, you’ve obviously already been bringing some of that thinking into your work. How is that? How have your peers and your colleagues reacted to, to this body of knowledge that you’re basically a conduit to for them? In some ways?

Marium Vahed 12:03
Yeah, for sure. I mean, there’s definitely been a lot of excitement actually. Because you know, it’s always great when you have someone who is so excited about their degree and really wants to bring it into the workplace, I think we need more of that not to toot my own horn or anything like that. But definitely, they’ve been excited about it and willing to try new things. Like for example, in design thinking, when we’re brainstorming, at the defining or ideating stage, you’re always encouraged to do very visual brainstorm. So putting sticky notes up on a wall or something like that. And I find that you know, at North your community house, we we’ve been doing that already. But I’ve been encouraging using tools like that online as well. And so I think that, yeah, there’s been that excitement and the willingness to try something new. And on my end, of course, I’m also learning what works and doesn’t work in the workplace. Like, we know that there are a lot of people who are not familiar with all of the online tools, they might not have used Miro before, or mural before. And so when you’re working with certain populations, maybe they don’t really have the space or the time to learn how to use those tools. And so it’s also be about being flexible about what’s what’s not going to work on my end as well. And I think our team has been pretty good at that.

Marco Campana 13:16
But you raise a really important point, because, yeah, the design thinking I see the whiteboard behind you, for example. So you know, in a typical space, you’re in a physical space together, you’ve got paper, you’ve got the post it notes, you’ve got the Sharpies and things like that. But in a virtual environment. Yeah, that would be completely different. And there are these tools. You mentioned Miro and mural. I’m familiar with those. Well, even I guess Google jam board has a very low tech version of that. But the idea of putting up post it notes virtually and things like that, how has that impact? And you mentioned a bit that there are some challenges, but I guess how has the digital side of things impacted? Your ability to do the design thinking that you may have done more fluidly in person? Is it just more time? Or is it more of that pre work to get people comfortable with the tools themselves? Because I mean, you know, paper and pen, you don’t have to teach somebody typically how to use that you just have to teach them the process of what we’re going to do with those stickies once they write on them. But but when you introduce the digital, there’s another layer of of learning that goes into that. So how have you been able to deal with that to get them I guess, to the point of being comfortable with, with the process or the technology falls away that technology isn’t a challenge or a barrier?

Marium Vahed 14:20
So I think my answer is somewhat contradictory in that I think that there is an importance in building in some in person meeting time for your teams, if possible, do it in a way that’s safe and outdoors. We’ve had to do that in moments where we’ve been making really big decisions together that require a lot of creativity. We’ve just met in an outdoor space, and of course, all the safety precautions were there. But that’s so important to actually build trust with your team and see that they’re their real life people and you can be open with them and to get into that state of floatiness. I feel like it’s really important to be to have some sort of touch points in there. But of course, I know that that’s not always possible with COVID. And so when We are doing online work, of course, it depends on that report that we’ve built over time. But it is also useful to like, you know, to build in those conversations, the beginning of your meeting where you’re having a little bit of fun together and get yourself in that stage of a feeling sort of a flow in the conversation. And then tools are also very useful. And so I find that once you overcome that initial learning curve of how do I use jam board, or how do I use neuro, it makes it quite easy, because you can just, you know, get people in that state of flow through having them brainstorm on their own. And then I think it takes a skilled facilitator to say, oh, who wrote the sticky note? That’s a really great idea. Why don’t you touch on that or asking people to engage with those visual cues? So I think that there are ways of doing it successfully, for sure.

Marco Campana 15:49
Oh, that sounds great. I’m curious, just from a practical perspective, what have you done to get people ready for the tool? So I because I know that when one of the one of the things that we’re seeing in the sector is, is still people are comfortable with, they become comfortable with the tools, they become comfortable with digital, but they’re still finding some difficulty in onboarding clients, as well as the engagement side of the of the digital. So I think you’re mentioning this notion of a hybrid approach, if you can do some in person do it. But then, like, how have you practically prepared people who may have never used mural before, for example, to use it in a comfortable way? So it doesn’t again, become you know, an impediment?

Marium Vahed 16:24
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think that’s clients is a whole other conversation, because you don’t really time to properly train clients, and how to use technologies. Whereas when you’re working with a team, and most people are working full time, you do have that time and to send over and say, Hey, here’s a tool, why don’t you explore it on your own beforehand? I’ve personally benefited from the use of Coursera. But, of course, I have the luxury to do that through school. And also, because I’m being paid to work. And so I think, I think that’s, that’s one great way, if you have the time to do it, is just to explore those online resources that support you and how to use the tool, give some time for people to get familiar on their own and just like play with it, there’s always a great value in playing with things and that trial and error if you have the time to do so, if you don’t have the time to do so. I mean, that’s a question that I think we’re trying to answer right now. And we’re trying to figure out how do we actually figure out like the extent to which people can actually learn technologies? And we don’t have an answer to that yet, but we’re always thinking about it.

Marco Campana 17:30
That’s, that’s super, you’re absolutely right. I mean, I think our whole sector is exploring that that question about how do we, how do we figure this out, but you’ve got some really good practical tips, like, there are free resources out there that you can use, whether it’s Coursera, or LinkedIn learning or YouTube tutorials, you know, you’ve got to, you’ve got to take some time. I mean, time is, in essence, essential for that, not just to learn, but to play. And then there’s the play and experiment with, right. But all of that requires, like you said some time, and that’s much more difficult to get a client to do versus, versus doing it with with staff who are paid and maybe are expected to take a portion of their time to learn, hopefully, at least within an organization. But that’s really, that’s really helpful. The other thing I want to touch on is that that hybridity, kind of thing that you mentioned, like the importance of it, because I think our sector is also trying to figure out what lends itself easier to online and what do we still need to do, you know, in person. And what I hear you sort of talking about is that notion of like, the beginning of the relationship, the rapport building, and the sort of the team building, there’s a lot that that around the in person that’s important to be able to do that. And again, like you said, informally go outside, go into a park, you know, make it a make it a safe space, but still, it sounds like that’s contributed to the online success is having that in person initially, and then kind of moving into the online space. Is that right? Absolutely. Absolutely. Okay, yeah. So I think that’s something we’re still sort of grappling within our own work as a sector for sure. So I guess based on that, what’s what’s worked well, so far, and again, I know you’re an early days with this, but it sounds like you’ve already been learning a lot about the process and how to bring it into an organization in a COVID. environment. So some in person is essential. You know, you’re giving people the time and space to figure this out and play with the tool before they use the tool. But once you’re in the thick of it, I guess once you’re in the process of it, you know, empathizing ideation and prototyping and the process of, of design thinking, what’s worked well. And what’s been more challenging with staff? Like what if they reacted to really positively and what have they kind of like, what what do you mean, we’re gonna try this?

Marium Vahed 19:32
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so in my green on my team, I’ve been introducing things in bite sized chunks. I don’t overwhelm people by sort of bringing up design thinking as an entire process. And I think maybe I would do that sort of later down the line. But as it’s so new to this to the space into our organization, I’ve been thinking about, okay, what are the specific steps that that we haven’t actually been touching on? So for example, I’ve been thinking about the empathy Step a lot for our new project. And we’ve done a great job at engaging with some of our audiences, but not so great a job with engaging with another one of our key audiences. And so, for me, I’ve sort of brought that up. And I’m like, Hey, have you noticed and sort of guide people to coming to that realization? Like, have you noticed that this is maybe not the case, and just providing a little bit of that scaffolding? There’s a great quote that we learned in class, which is, anytime you’re trying to change people’s behavior, you need to start them off with a lot of structures, they don’t think. And that’s a quote by Karen Hanson, who is a design leader. And that’s sort of the approach that I’ve been taking. In my organization. I provide scaffolding for one step at a time, I get people to think about, okay, how can we improve in this area? And then slowly, slowly, I’ll sort of bring it out and say, Okay, so this is actually design thinking what you’ve been just doing, and it makes it easier for people because they’re like, oh, like design thinking is not something that I should be scared of. But we’ve been doing it all along.

Marco Campana 20:59
That’s really interesting. Because as you were talking, I was thinking, do you introduce, hey, we’re doing design thinking? Or do you kind of do some activities, and then start talking about, by the way, what we’ve been doing, and it sounds like it’s that it’s the ladder is like, you give them some structure, you do some activities? They don’t they don’t seem like anything other than activities they might do. They maybe they’re different than things they’ve done before. But it’s like, yeah, we do this kind of thing in the past when we’re doing X, Y, and Zed, but then it sounds like you do kind of give them an introduction, say, by the way, what we’re doing here is is a school of thoughts. And at that point, I imagine they’re more receptive to the idea of, okay, tell me more, because what you’ve done with them, as you’ve the scaffolding has been successful up until that point.

Marium Vahed 21:38
Yep, yep, that’s exactly what I what I’ve done. Like as of as of now, I think that the other way that works just as well, I think you can start with design thinking and, and give a little little explanation of what that might be and talk about the process and then talk about implementing it. But I think for us for our organization, because we are already midway through our process. That’s why I’ve sort of taken that ladder approach, because we’re not like designing a process. From the start, we’re sort of trying to find ways of inserting design thinking into a process that is already well underway. And so that’s sort of why why that approach of like, providing small stats or small activities works for me, because it doesn’t seem as daunting to change a process all over again, when you’re when you’re midway through.

Marco Campana 22:24
But that’s also really interesting learning for folks to understand is that you don’t have to, you don’t have to start at the beginning of design thinking and work your way through the process, you can bring Design Thinking elements into the work you’re already doing. So it’s almost like this, this exercise comes from design thinking, but I’m going to use it in our process, because I think it fits with this moment kind of thing. So it’s, it’s almost like, like a little bit of a Lego approach kind of thing, right? It’s like I’m gonna, I’m going to break apart the ship, and I’m going to build something that’s my own. But I’ll still use pieces from the original ship in in this. And it may be design thinking one day, and it may be a different school of thought another day. So I think that’s also something that is really interesting is that you can go through that entire process. But you can also bring in elements from what, what might be a strength in design thinking in that moment,

Marium Vahed 23:10
for sure. And design thinking is not perfect, by any means, of course, there are going to be flaws and things that we can improve upon for Design Thinking itself. And so I think that it’s actually helpful to think about how you can adapt design thinking to your specific circumstance, because it also gives you some room to sort of prod and poke at the holes that exists in design thinking and see, okay, where could we actually improve on that, looking at the context of our organization, or our project?

Marco Campana 23:35
Do you think that also helps with if you’re bringing that the notion of design thinking into an organization where people have lots of their own experience and ways of doing things, and that perhaps becomes less threatening, and that you’re bringing new ideas, but you’re not saying this is the new way we’re doing things, we’re going to see how we can incorporate and fuse and create a fusion between new ideas and the way you’ve always done things and maybe figure out some new new methods and new approaches. But it’s going to be done respecting the fact that you already do some of this yourself, you just don’t call it these things,

Marium Vahed 24:04
for sure. And people have so many different backgrounds and different trainings on processes. Like maybe someone has learned a lot about Lean thinking, or someone’s learn Six Sigma, or someone has learned agile, and I won’t get into what all those means. They’re just different different processes, or different approaches that you can sort of take to management or to your operations. But people have different backgrounds. And I think it’s okay to create that space for people to bring that that into like a design thinking conversation.

Marco Campana 24:33
No, I think that’s great. I think it’s a great way to introduce something new to an organization, because so often we bring in a consultant, and they’re like, Oh, here’s the model we’re working on. And there’s some rigidity to that. But it sounds like because you’re part of the team, you’re part of the organization. There’s a different fluidity, and a different, it’s less formal, in a sense, but you’re bringing ideas in but it’s not that you know, here is the way to do things. But here are some different ways to do things that we’re doing now that can be incorporated into other elements that so it’s like everything But he brings their their elements and their ideas from their different backgrounds and trying to figure out a new, a new way of doing things that might incorporate, as you mentioned, Lean thinking, agile design thinking, you know, popular education, all those kinds of pieces. Yeah, for sure. No, that’s great. This is really interesting. And I find it so valuable to speak to someone who’s actually in the trenches kind of doing this in in two unique sort of organizations as well for different purposes, which is really interesting. One sounds like more advocacy, and one is more service delivery. And I think that’s also really important for people to hear is that this is this is the kind of thinking that can go into all of those elements. It’s not just service design, for direct service, but you can do it in other kinds of nonprofit approaches as well. So I guess you’ve mentioned a little bit about some, I mean, obviously, I want to talk a little bit about where people could learn if someone was interested in a nonprofit that wanted to learn more about how they could incorporate design thinking into their work. Now, they could take the tack, you’ve the path you’ve taken, which is to go into the masters. And you’ve also already mentioned a couple of other places. So is Coursera online courses? Where would you suggest people sort of get started to test the water? Or to understand how this might be useful for them?

Marium Vahed 26:08
Yeah, I mean, there’s, there’s so many places you could start. What I’ve done is I actually I took a course in IDEO, which is really useful, which is also an online learning platform, I’ve done a Coursera course, which was more about design thinking and how it meets agile. I’ve, of course, then my degree, but you know, there’s also lots of ways to to learn about design thinking without paying, you know, an arm and a leg for it, you can literally just Google Design Thinking and like I do, for example, has pre resources, it has an article on what is design thinking, and what are the steps, there’s lots of those resources. And because I haven’t been taking a rigid approach design thinking, and I’ve taken a more fluid approach of seeing where it might fit. I think that would work really well, for people who who think in that way, you can just sort of get inspiration from reading these articles and see, okay, maybe this aspect of it might fit. Or maybe this inspires me to try out this new approach. And so I sort of encourage people to take that sort of open, flexible mindset, especially if you’re not getting formal training. And then, of course, I’m sure there’s lots of books out there on design thinking, I don’t have any off the top of my head. I’m still pretty new to the field. And usually I have a list of books for you. But this time, I don’t.

Unknown Speaker 27:21
But soon, we’ll come back to you. And you’ll have a year or so. Yeah, exactly.

Marium Vahed 27:26
But Harvard Business Review also has a ton of great articles. And you can probably read one Harvard Business Review article and work on implementing it in your organization for like two years, because they’re pretty impactful. So I’m just exploring online resources is a great, great place to start.

Marco Campana 27:43
No, that’s great. And have you have you seen any in particular related to design thinking in nonprofits that you’ve come across, whether it’s a course or even a website, or some people who are doing that thinking more and more aligned to nonprofit side?

Marium Vahed 27:54
No, I’m sure that exists. But because I’ve met a business environment at school, I’ve given business related resources. But what I’ve done, which has been really helpful is just as I’m doing the course, I’m keeping my nonprofit in mind front of mind at all times and asking questions saying, in the nonprofit space, how would this work? One thing that I did was actually, as I as I started doing this degree, I realized, it’s really useful to be self aware about the processes that you’re taking and your nonprofit already. And so I sat down, I wrote it out, I’m like, Okay, this is the process we’ve taken, these are the resources we’ve used, etc, etc. And just made sure that I had all of those documents that really explained our structure, our process and things like that. And that way, I can sort of refer back to it. And honestly, there’s, there’s so much alignment, that it isn’t hard to draw that connection at

Marco Campana 28:46
all. It’s interesting, but it sounds like being intentional has been really useful is kind of like it’s giving you the mindset of I need to think about how I’m doing this, and how it fits into the work that I’m doing and how I can kind of bridge the business thinking to the nonprofit, and it revealed. Here’s how we’re already doing some things. And here’s where design thinking can fit into that, which is really interesting. So it’s almost like, we kind of go day to day with just the way we do things. This is how we’ve done it, and it works. But when you become intentional and more strategic in a sense, you start to actually reveal Oh, okay, I can see where this fits there. And this might fit over here. And this, we’re already doing that really well. So there’s no need to even touch that. Because it is essentially Design Thinking in this case, is I’ve been you it sounds like that’s been your experience a little

Marium Vahed 29:26
Yes, it has been. And because design thinking is iterative, it makes it even easier because say you haven’t done the steps Well, or there are big things that you’ve missed, you can sort of go back to the beginning and think, Okay, how do we how do we improve this for the next round or the next release of the project or whatever it might be? So yeah, I’ve taken that approach. I think the hardest part is implementing it. Actually, the fun part is been doing all of that, that thinking and that comparing and the strategizing but yeah, the implementing is the next step. And that’s the hard one.

Marco Campana 29:58
You can get good you mentioned you mentioned iterating a few times is that a process you’ve gone through yet within either nonprofit where you’ve gone through in the Design Thinking iterating, and then shifting or pivoting or relearning? Because I think that’s something that comes up a lot in conversations right now around technology in particular is that as we’re learning, we don’t have the space to iterate we don’t we’re expected to innovate. But we’re, you know, we just create something completely new. But iteration can either sometimes get us there or even be more important, where we tweak something that we realize isn’t working as well. And then we need to go back and you know, re prototype and go through that process. But so often, nonprofits aren’t given that time and space, they’re expected No, just you got funded to do X. So keep doing X, even if x is no longer working kind of thing. So I’m curious where iteration has been in your processes? And if that’s something that, that you’ve been able to actually do?

Marium Vahed 30:48
Yeah, I mean, it, it shifts based on either nonprofit like in one through North or community house, we have much more funding, we have a ton of hire staff, we had the project duration is five years. So we have the luxury of time. And so iteration has been much more useful. It’s been if we have a question, or if something comes up that we feel, needs to push us back to think about, how do we implement this from the outset, we’ve had some of that time to sort of go through it again. Whereas for green a month, you know, we’re a much smaller nonprofit, it’s volunteer based. And you know, we have a very, very small grant. And so, because of that iteration has been more difficult. And in some ways we’ve had to sort of push through. But I think the approach that I take with that is when you have limited resources, and you have deliverables you have to need from your your funder. I think, in that first, you know, two years, when we’re first implementing the project, we’re going to really focus on hitting those deliverables and seeing how that the pressure of that environment, hopefully will propel some creativity. And then afterwards, I think that’s when I’m going to go back and say, Okay, now we have a lot of great content to start with. And now we can sort of think about, Okay, where can we pull it apart? Where can we be creative with it, and give ourselves some of that room? So, you know, not everyone will always have all the time in the world. And you have to sort of figure out, what are your priorities now? And do you have time either an hour later down the road to sort of circle back.

Unknown Speaker 32:16
But really,

Marco Campana 32:17
that’s really insightful because I think that there is that pressure with within organizations again, especially as things like Design Thinking started becoming more mainstream in the sector, funders start hearing about it, they want to see this, you know, iteration. But but that that practicality within a nonprofit setting, it’s you know, what, where you have a longer timeline, you know, more more resources, you have the space to do that iteration. And then in the smaller space, it’s not that it’s not like you’re, you’re not doing it, but you have to wait until you reach the end of one cycle, and then hopefully bring the iteration into the next cycle. So show either that funder or another funder, here’s what we’ve learned. And here’s how we want to continue the project, but in different ways, basically, right? So it’s kind of like you’ve got to get to the end of one life life cycle, and then move on to the next life cycle. Whereas the other one, you’ve got a longer life cycle. So within that, you can be sort of turning and spinning and pivoting and shifting as you go kind of thing. The danger, of course, in the nonprofit sector is once you get to the end of the first cycle and a short term one, sometimes you don’t get to do the next one, right. But but the iteration, it sounds like it can happen. I mean, there’s different. There’s different nuances and different pressures, but it’s okay, it will happen differently based on the structure of the project itself, even the funding and the resources and things like that. So I think that’s also really interesting to hear about, and that you’re living both those realities as fascinating as well.

Marium Vahed 33:35
Yeah, and both the projects or Curriculum project. So I’m really getting to see how a very similar project works in different ways based on the resources that you’re given or the time that you’re given. That has been really interesting. And the real real learning point for me, I think,

Marco Campana 33:50
yeah, so I guess I’m curious, some last couple questions is are you are you sharing? Are you looking to share some of how you’ve been learning? Are you building that into your course? Because I mean, one of the things that we don’t do enough of as a sector is workout loud and sort of say, like, this is what we’re doing. This is how we’ve done it. And again, that’s dependent in some ways on time, space, as well as confidence and, and, you know, turf, right? We’re worried someone will steal our ideas and things like that, that still exists. But I’m curious, because it sounds like there’s, there’s a rich case study here, because of the two different things that you’re working on. If you’re if you’re going to be able to share how taking design thinking into two different environments with two very different approaches to different funding situations to different nonprofits, what that’s looked like, and how people can learn from your experiences, or maybe we’ll just interview you in another year from now.

Marium Vahed 34:37
Yeah, no, for sure. I mean, you know, there there has been space given to me to talk about that one of my tasks for the new years to develop a lunch and learn where I can actually talk about exactly that and share it internally. And so yes, like we have been thinking about how can we actually put this knowledge to use and, and I’m really excited to actually have the time to think about that because it’s really exciting for me to, you know, see all those connections forming between different parts of my life. And I really strongly believe in Sherlock, I definitely am not the sort of person who’s gonna hoard knowledge. I think that it should belong to all and your team’s benefit, the more you share with them, I think.

Marco Campana 35:15
Yeah, no, I mean, obviously, you being here having this conversation is showing that that that that sharing mentality, so I really appreciate it, because I think just having these conversations is so useful for people to understand here. So it’s someone who’s doing something that we’ve all been kind of hearing about and talking about, but hearing the practical side of actually implementing it is so incredibly useful. So it’s great to hear that you’ll be able to do some of that along the way with lunch and learns, and hopefully other other approaches as well. So I guess the final question I have is, is there anything I haven’t asked you about in the work that you’re doing around design thinking and how it incorporates into nonprofits that you want to share? Or mentioned for people that you think would be useful for them to hear? I know the big question, right?

Marium Vahed 35:56
Yeah, it’s a big question. I mean, I actually took some notes before this, and you sort of had hit on every single point that I, that I thought of, and so I think I’m, I’m good right now, but I’m always willing to have more conversations, because I’m sure my learning and will grow. The longer that I do this degree, and the longer that I work to implement design thinking into these spaces.

Marco Campana 36:17
Yeah, no, and I would love to be on that journey with you. I think this, I appreciate you taking the time to do this. I think this has been a really valuable conversation for other people to learn from. So I would love to come back again, maybe in a year or you know, when there’s been some milestones, you just kind of check in and go, Okay, so how’s it been going? And what more have you been learning? That would be really interesting, because I, this is something that I think will be, you know, we part of the work that we do in our sector for a long time. And in part because it’s, it’s it, I think, it aligns with our sector values when it comes to empathy and working with clients and you know, community driven and things like that. So I think as a model and approach it, it uses different language than then I may have been brought into the sector with but it aligns with the stuff that I’ve learned in different ways. So I find it really interesting. There to

Marium Vahed 37:03
say one more thing I’d sort of I’d tell people began with the structure, take a look at design thinking and what it offers to right now and then be creative with it. Because design thinking is fundamentally about how do we sort of encourage that creativity and that brainstorming that Kuma, human centered design while you’re thinking about an idea or a project, and I think that that also needs to extend to design thinking itself, you need to have that willingness to sort of play with the structures that you’ve been given. Because, of course, I think that every single person comes to design thinking or comes to a project with all the assets they’re bringing along with them. And we need people to implement that. When we’re thinking about, you know, what’s the process that’s going to best support an idea that works for this specific population. So that’s, that’s sort of my my parting words, I think is be creative. And don’t feel boxed in by a structure. Just use it as a way to inspire yourself.

Unknown Speaker 37:55
I love that. So start with

Marco Campana 37:55
the structure, but then work in play with that structure and make it your own, and continue to bring elements in. I love it. That’s a great way to end. So thank you again, so much for for sharing your experience so far. And I think we will definitely check in again in the future.

Marium Vahed 38:08
Yeah, thank you for having me and for facilitating this conversation. I’m so glad that you know, we’re actually talking about design thinking and how we can use it. Yeah,

Marco Campana 38:17
absolutely. Awesome. Thank you. Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you in your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site marcopolis.org. I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed, please drop me a line through my website, or marco@marcopolis.org Thanks again.

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