Design For Change

June 28, 2020 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
September 17, 2017 BriannaCarrier
May 16, 2016 BriannaCarrier

A global organization, Design For Change aims to empower children through their 'I Can' mindset and proactive FIDS (feel, imagine, do, share) approach which aim to foster creativity, empathy, social awareness, and responsibility.

Mission and Purpose

The world is full of challenges, among them low access to education, lack of government capacity, discrimination, environment emergency, inaccessible healthcare systems and unequal distribution of wealth. These and other challenges affect millions of people around the world without many citizens of any age getting involved in facing them.[1] Design for Change is an initiative that seeks to engage people in problem solving in their communities at the school level, empowering children such that they graduate "with crucial 21st Century Skills of collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and empathy", thereby equipping them to face the aforementioned challenges.[2]

The initiative responds to the question “How can we help our children develop passion for knowledge and compassion for the world around them? How can make people believe that children are not helpless? That change is possible and they can drive it?”

The direct purpose of Design for Change is to recognize that children are capable of being socially aware and proactive change agents in their community.[3] For that purpose, there is a need to promote a learning environment that focuses on passion and compassion, collaboration, empathetic thinking, problem-solving, and confidence.[4]

The initiative proposes that “to impact a positive transformation in the environment, we need to design solutions with individuals, rather than for them. Design thinking gives us tools and skills that enable us to stop assuming and start engaging, empathizing and understanding. It helps us move from the current-state to a preferred-state – for ourselves as well as for others.”[5] Design for Change “equips children with the tools to be aware of the world around them, believe that they play a role in shaping that world, and take action toward a more desirable, sustainable future.”[6] It teaches children that they do not have to be rich or strong or powerful to make change happen.

Origins and Development

While trying to empower people to manage the challenges their communities face, Kiran Bir Sethi founded ‘The Riverside School’ in Ahmedabad, India, in 2001, and ‘Design for Change’ in 2009. As the initiative explains,

“she started this movement with a conviction that if young people were empowered and made to feel that they could take matters into their hands, they would change the world for the better. Kiran relied heavily on her background as an Industrial Designer to pilot the very first design-thinking guide for young people across India.”[7]

Kiran Bir Sethi narrates that when her 6-year-old son had the word “choice” removed from his vocabulary by a teacher, she began thinking of bringing it back in. In India, while 200 million children go to school, only 18 million go to college from which 90% do not have necessary employment skills. She felt that they had been filled with the feeling of “I can ́t”. So as a designer, she aimed to design an approach to education that would equip children with the tools to be able to say “I can” instead of “I can’t”, founding The Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India in 2001. Within the next ten years, the Riverside School students outperformed the top 10 schools in India. Because it was working for the 350 children that were part of that private school, Kiran Bir Sethi decided to expand it in 2009.[8] From March to June – when they launched it- everything was design on the go and put in very simple guide with four simple steps:

“FEEL any problem that bothers you, IMAGINE a way to make it better, DO an act of change and SHARE your story of change with the world. She believed the Feel-Imagine-Do-Share framework, would help cultivate what’s called the I CAN mindset, a belief that young people are not helpless, that change is possible and they can drive it.”[9]

In the first year, they sent the guide to 30,000 schools on India; then, she had the opportunity to give a TED Talk on the matter and in 2010 it went viral.[10] In 2010, Design for Change expanded worldwide, in countries such as Korea, Australia, Brazil, and Russia. In 2011, the initiative won the INDEX Design to Improve Life Award,[11] and started to get support from Education Experts such as Howard Gardner who said

“It is a simple idea, but is a constructive idea at the same time. We can’t deal with ideas [that are] too complicated, they don’t travel, and so many ideas are self-congratulatory rather than constructive. What I see is that this is wonderful constructive gift to the school, the community, the nation and now many other countries around the world.” [citation needed]

In 2012, Design for Change won the Rockefeller Foundation Innovation Award and expanded to have collected 800 stories in India and 4,200 worldwide.[10]

Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding

Yearly funding for Design for Change has mostly been from grants or awards from Humanitarian Foundations, including: 2011 Index Awards, Fetzer Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, The LEGO Foundation, Ashoka “Everyone is a change maker”, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, The Commonwealth, and the Asia Society's Asia Game Changer Award.[12] Additionally, partners and collaborators include: “Anybody can jump” a CARE Foundation Initiative, National Institute of Design, Institute of Design at Stanford, IDEO, The Good Project “Ideas and tools for a good life”, World’s largest lessons, DAAN UTSAV, and Claris.[12]

With initiatives in 70+ countries and regions, Design for Change's organization structure varies among its member organizations. However, a core team of designers and educators can be found on the official website.[13] Run by founder Kiran Bir Sethi until 2018 when Design for Change introduced its first round of board members, the CEO is now lawyer, Monica Canton De Celis Calvo; its all-female board of directors is also available on the website.[14] An advisory board of education experts was also convened to to guide and provide advice for advancing the global I Can movement.[15]

Specializations, Methods and Tools

The Design for Change "Feel, Imagine, Do, Share" method is a process of collaborative and creative thinking that enables students to find innovative solutions to problems and challenges that they face every day, either at school or within their community. The solutions can go from designing a machine to improving a social service. This process has empathy as a central concept.[2] When the students start to connect with the problem they want to address, then they begin to understand the situation, and its multiple facets.

The analytical piece of this method comes when the students and teachers engage within the four main steps of the program (Feel, Imagine, Do, Share), examining different perspectives to the problem, and testing solutions. The final goal is to come up with the best package of solutions by integrating the whole community if it is necessary. Thus, Design for Change seeks to promote analytical thinking among students, teachers, communities, and parents. The idea is for them to get a well-founded knowledge of the subject, and stay away from easy and fast solutions. Through fostering creativity, a team can collaboratively begin to design solutions (action plans), and prepare strategies for implementing them.

Major Projects and Events

Design for Change markets its methodology as a “school challenge,” open to anyone - students, communities, schools - who is interested, because Design for Change believes that every child and teenager has the capacity to become a valued and active citizen. Participants in the Design for Change method are thus completely self-selecting. The curriculum is open to children in kindergarten to eighth grade who are accompanied by an adult Design for Change member.[6]

Teachers that decide to use the DFC method receive guidance from Design for Change Worldwide (which has offices in more than 30 countries). It often happens that the method is first known by the students rather than teachers. If this is the case, the children form a group, and then look for a teacher who is willing to accompany them during the whole process of change. On the other hand, Design for Change commits to accompany the mentor (teacher) during the whole process, depending on their needs. In this sense, DFC is a two-way communication between the participants involved. They engage and build a small scale decision-making process to maximize the impact of their efforts beyond the class.

Adult mentors can be teachers, parents, youth leaders, or coaches. Entire countries that participate in Design for Change host a national social change school competition every year and give a deadline near the end of the school year in May. Team projects are evaluated and one team is selected to represent their country at the global Be the Change Conference.[16] This two-day event is an opportunity to collaborate and inspire across borders.

The application of the four step methodology is designed to enable children to think about problem solving in an empathetic way that gets them out into the community. An example of this in action can be seen through the project DCF2012 Singapore: Elderly Cleaners.[17] Students deliberated by brainstorming problems to tackle based on what they have observed in their communities. This team felt that elderly cleaners in their school were not respected for the hard work they do. Public participation happened early in the process when they designed a public poll and interviewed strangers in their community. Using their feedback, they developed a campaign to raise awareness about the issue which involved fundraising, a peer-quiz, public speaking, and mind-maps. Ultimately, their project was successful and they could see attitudes positively changing in their school.

“Design for Change” is marketed as a school challenge but it is not a contest. All changes made within schools and communities are valued, shared and imitated all over the world by posting the case on the website, organizing events beyond the school, and adding supporters, such as local governments and private companies. It is often the case that children see what other groups are achieving through this method, and then they want to imitate the project, as well. In the end, the first group ends up leading an initiative that grows to involve many actors within the school community, and even beyond (government, NGOs, IOs, and donors).

Natalia Allende, representative of DFC Chile, notes that their

"aim as an organization is to challenge the children to become the catalysts of change they want to see in the world...In this context we do not choose the winners, but we have a jury that evaluates each case based on its impact, creativity, and boldness."[citation needed]

Design for Change hosts an annual international meeting called “I Can,” where children and youth across any country share their experiences, celebrate the change and learn more from each other’s stories.[18] In Chile, for instance, the last event gathered the 20 most amazing stories of the country. Again, this instance serves to expose outstanding cases and spread their outcomes throughout the whole Design for Change community and beyond.

The idea behind DFC is to empower society through a methodology that allows it to generate a personal and social transformation. Their creators today are talking of “a global movement that causes a social transformation, and promotes an intersectional collaboration in order to create opportunities that drive citizens to be protagonists of their own development.” [citation needed]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Design for Change offers their methodology for free online and in an accessible way to the public. As a result, the method has proved to be easy to follow. More than 70 countries have adopted the program[19] and projects have been on a range of topics, most prominently in the areas of the environment, education, and health.[20] Generally, outcomes have been positive. Problems have been addressed, while students learn empathy, collaboration, communication, and leadership skills.[20] Teachers and students have enhanced their relationship and the community benefits as well. One of the most recent and innovative components of the Design for Change method is the last stage entitled as "Share" which Allende suggests "helps the children to reflect about what has been achieved, and also to inspire their peers to be the change, and do not wait for others to address them."[citation needed]

According to the DFC organization,

“research conducted by The GoodWork Project has reaffirmed the impact of the DFC curriculum on the development of skills like collaboration, creative thinking & empathy. [Ongoing research suggests] that the confidence developed through the project improves academic scores as well." [4]


Does this organization publish reports, studies, or other media? Help us complete this section!

See Also

Design For Change method - Feel, Imagine, Do Share (FIDS)


[1] Design for Change India. [DEAD LINK]

[2] Design for Change India. (2020). The DFC Story. DFC India.

[3] hundrED. (n.d.). Design for Change.

[4] Design for Change (n.d.). Research: What do the research findings reveal? DFC world.


[6] Qian, V. C. (n.d.). Design for Change. Global Education Innovation Initiative.

[7] DFC USA (2014-2020). About Us. Design for Change USA.

[8] F4Film [Username]. (2013, Feb 14). Kiran Bir Sethi - Design for Change [Video]. YouTube.

[9] GKGDP School (n.d.). Design for Change.

[10] Design for Change (n.d.). Our Story. DFC world.

[11] The Index Project. (n.d.). Design for Change.

[12] Design for Change World (n.d.).

[13] Design for Change World (n.d.). Core Team. DFC World.

[14] Design for Change World (n.d.). CEO & Board. DFC World.

[15] Design for Change World (n.d.). Advisory Board. DFC World.

[16] Design for Change USA. (n.d.) How Design for Change Works. DFC USA.

[17] Design for Change. (2013, August 30). DFC2012 Singapore: Elderly Cleaners [Video]. YouTube.

[18] Design for Change World. (2019). i can. children's global summit. DFC World.

[19] Design for Change (n.d.). Our Story. DFC world.

[20] The Good Project (2009). Impact of Design for Change.

External Links

Design for Change World:

DFC YouTube Channel:


This article was originally compiled by Brianna Carrier, Catalina San Martin, and Claudia Wong Palacios; it has been altered to fit the format of Participedia organization articles. The expanded text originally in the method section above has been moved to its own method article.