‘A designer is no magician,’ said Dagan Cohen, leader of the WDCD Refugee Challenge. ‘But put him at a table with humanitarians and politicians and together they can make a difference.’ Cohen was one of the first speakers in the breakout session discussing how to make that joint effort count.
By Willemijn de Jonge
The session What ideas Can Do for Impact was hosted by Michiel Munneke and Tabo Goudswaard of The Art of Impact, a two-year research program and fund with a focus on ‘impact production’. The aim is to create the right circumstances for multidisciplinary projects that successfully address major challenges in society.
The Refugee Challenge that Cohen presented is definitely one of those major issues. ‘A challenge too big for governments and NGOs alone,’ as the challenge partners WDCD, UNHCR, and Ikea Foundation claimed.
They asked designers worldwide to pick their brain and come up with innovative ideas for the reception and integration of refugees. The call was heard: 631 entries from 70 countries, boiling down to a shortlist of 25 finalists, including copywriter Marie Louise Diekema and designer Tim Olland, who at the time of the breakout weren’t aware yet that they would be among the five finalists.
The first thing Diekema and Olland admitted was that they had pushed the 50-page brief aside to let their ideas grow freely. After the killing of many darlings, one survived: Reframe Refugees, a photo agency that enables refugees to tell their own story. The project is about image building, aimed at a less biased view of refugees while empowering them at the same time. ‘The best ideas are simple,’ Olland said. ‘You have to be able to explain them in one minute.’ Later on the day the jury proved him right.
Everybody at the session seemed to be after creating true impact: the room was packed with design students who wanted to learn how. But one speaker claimed she wasn’t, Vera Bachrach who co-founded the Tostifabriek. She and her team created huge impact by making a tosti (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) from scratch in the heart of the city – grain field, cow and pigs included. ‘We just wanted to see if we could do it,’ Bachrach said.
The personal quest of the initiators to find out about the origins of a simple ham and cheese sandwich turned out to be the perfect way to stir up a public discussion. The project was likable, close to home, and confronting at the same time. ‘I had never heard of a discipline called impact production,’ Bachrach confessed. ‘And yet we won an impact production award.’
And so it seems not all good things are part of a bigger plan – a little bit of magic after all.
Willemijn de Jonge is freelance journalist based in Amsterdam
Photos by Leo Veger