Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Design and Entrepreneurship in China

Last month, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to co-present at two different universities in China with long-time friend, mentor, and collaborator Cheryl Heller, Founding Chair of the Design for Social Innovation (DSI) program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Working in that capacity together, I was able to see firsthand how the pathways in design and entrepreneurship are much more similar than they are different.

Simply put, design and entrepreneurship are the purest examples of the creative process. Designers start with defining and then move on to creating, learning, and ultimately, making something. Entrepreneurs start with envisioning and then move on to acting, learning, and finally, building something. When you add social to design and entrepreneurship, the critical thing that changes and the only thing that really matters is context in relationship to people and the communities in which they live and work.

What I observed from our time at Tongji University’s School of Design and Innovation in Shanghai, and more intensely during our workshop at Hunan Normal University in Changsha, is that observing without judgment or interpretation is the most crucial (yet the hardest) discipline when designing social solutions. It is so tempting (especially for really smart, passionate, and experienced folks) to overlay their experiences and insights onto a challenge. Different individual perspectives will serve well later in the process. But, at the beginning, what one sees, feels, and hears holds the power to create real and relevant solutions in context for a particular community.

As I watch this video about the DSI program at SVA, I am ignited and inspired to continue to bring these worlds together, create shared meaning, and remember that at its core, both the design and entrepreneurship processes are the most powerful levers for change. When you put design, social innovation, and entrepreneurship together, you mobilize the potential for truly disruptive, world-changing solutions. Enjoy this video as the examples from Cheryl Heller’s students are emblematic of the social design process.