12 Cities in 12 Months: Impactathon Series Goes Global with Design Thinking

By: Lily Mathews | April 9, 2015

In Berlin, students and SAP employees share their insights as they solve challenges for social entrepreneurs.

A quick scan of the room reveals a hum of activity. Participants furiously scribble down ideas onto the Post-its in hand as university students interview community members. Corporate employees circulate the room, providing support and encouragement. It’s four hours into the SAP + Net Impact Impactathon, and the floodgates are open.

A passerby would be surprised to learn that, just this morning, the groups of students and professionals were strangers. But time and a shared vision have quickly broken down boundaries. Each team has walked through a human-centered design thinking methodology to help generate ideas that could aid the NGOs and community organizations present in the room.

The question behind the day has guided all 12 events in the global Impactathon series: What will it take to get the next generation prepared for the workforce and to solve some of our most pressing social challenges? Over the last two months, Net Impact visited a handful of stops in Europe to introduce design thinking to students and employees to generate new ideas and foster strong connections.

As just one example, in Mannheim, Germany, university students designed the concept for a digital game targeted at elementary school students to simulate the successes and struggles of a social entrepreneur. The idea was based on conversations with entrepreneurs in the room, including Matthias Behrends of Healing Souls and Tobias Schirneck of Rap Workshop, who talked about learning to be comfortable with uncertainty and following your passion in a risk-averse society.

In Berlin, students chatted with Tabea Grzeszyk, the social entrepreneur behind hostwriter, who talked through some of the biggest challenges she and other entrepreneurs face, from balancing work and family to finding critical skills for their resource-constrained teams. Time became one of the biggest burdens to solve for, which is likely why students came up with an idea of a matching mobile application that helps aspiring entrepreneurs find individuals in the community who can lend their skills during fleeting pockets of free time, such as traveling on public transit or waiting in lines.

The focus shifted in Barcelona, as students interviewed Narcis Vives of Fundació Itinerarium – an education foundation in Spain. “It was a great experience for me, something very different from what I normally experience as a student,” said Maria Isabel Huasaquiche Montoya of ESADE Business School. The winning team designed a new sharing community for teachers, using both in-person interactions and a digital platform to share best practices that can promote classroom innovation in Spain.  

Design Thinking in Action

At each event, students placed themselves in the users’ shoes, putting into practice the main premise of human-centered design: that understanding real people’s needs can help generate more effective solutions to social problems. What’s next for these great ideas? Well, there are two more events before the global series wraps up this month – in Shanghai, China and Sao Leopoldo, Brazil.

The winning team from each of this year’s 12 Impactathon events will expand their idea as part of the global series competition in the hopes of nabbing top prize (an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2015 Net Impact Conference in Seattle). For the rest of the students, the hope is they take this empathetic mindset back to their campus and into the real world – after all, there’s plenty more issues to solve. Why not get the best young minds on the case?  

Apply for the China and Brazil Impactathons today!


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