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Stories of Change

Recently, frog Senior Interaction Designer Alex Tam and Associate Creative Director Dave Chiu were invited to participate in the Stories of Change Impact Lab held at Tomorrow Partners in Berkeley, California.

Since 2007, the Skoll Foundation and Sundance Institute have brought together social entrepreneurs and documentary filmmakers in their Stories of Change partnerships. The goal has been to take organizations that have a social impact on the world and pair them with filmmakers who can amplify their story. By making documentaries of social impact organizations that are already established, people who responded strongly to the film would have a place to direct their energy once they were moved to take action.

The Impact Lab was an extension of this partnership. The leadership from five social enterprises came together in Berkeley for an intense week-long collaboration to apply design methodologies to pressing challenges that each are facing. Social entrepreneurs were paired with a range of designers, filmmakers, mentors, and led by facilitators through a process of discovery, ideation, refinement, and documentation.

The five social enterprises were:
Barefoot College: Supporting sustainable and self-sufficient rural communities through women empowerment
Imazon: Building vision and capacity for sustainable development in the Amazon
mothers2mothers: Eradicating mother-to-child HIV transmission in our lifetime
Partners In Health: Providing preferential health care options for the poor
YouthBuild USA: Unleashing the positive energy of low-income youth to rebuild their communities and their lives

Leading up to the lab, Tomorrow Partners worked for months with each team to map out workflows, pain points, and strategic opportunities to prepare each team. frog was invited to participate in the week-long lab for our expertise in design and applying design thinking to complex challenges. Alex and Dave were asked to participate for their work in healthcare and their own social efforts in txt2wrk. For the Impact Lab, Alex facilitated the mothers2mothers team, while Dave worked with Barefoot College. What follows is a synopsis of each day.


During the first day of the lab, we asked the social entrepreneurs to unpack the context and details of their challenge to get the whole team up to speed on the organization and its pressing needs. We realized quickly that these organizations faced multi-level issues that spanned culture, geography, economics, and even policy.

Teams took to the walls with post-it notes and dug deep into the various issues. We conducted persona and customer journey exercises to explore the target users and how they engaged with the organizations at different touch points. We gained alignment on perspectives as we started to get everyone with their different entrepreneur, filmmaker, and designer backgrounds to speak the same language and articulate a specific challenge to tackle.

mothers2mothers had challenges around improving the delivery of their service, but they had more pressing needs around activating their supporters and fundraising. We defined a problem around connecting with their existing supporter base and turning awareness into action about the end of pediatric AIDS.

Barefoot College is at an inflection point, as their model for educating grandmothers to become barefoot solar engineers continues to spread to ever more countries. The great success of the organization presented a challenging opportunity: how to keep hundreds of alumni connected and supported after returning to their homes? Day One saw the team aligning around a grandmother’s journey through barefoot college and refining the problem statement.


Day two was about generative volume. Having a defined problem helped us focus the ideation sessions towards generating as many ideas as possible and expand our thinking about the solution space. We used some lateral thinking exercises borrowed from the frogThink methodology to get people thinking outside of their normal modes and really push the ideas outwards.

Later in the day we revisited the issues and success criteria for the challenges and added a layer of constraints on the ideation. This really dialed up the pressure for most teams as we started evaluating ideas more tightly and forced people to push through some intense problem solving. In the end, this yielded solutions that really responded to the organizations’ needs and forced us to consider solutions that could be prototyped in the coming days.

mothers2mothers had a challenge around turning people who learn about their story into advocates that take action. This forced us to look at ideation beyond building initial awareness of the story and further into the customer journey. We looked at different ways of building resonance, educating, and inspiring action.
Barefoot College focused on opportunity areas and current challenges facing the grandmothers upon returning home. We looked at technology in developing countries and identified that, in some cases, they are leapfrogging first world infrastructure. This made some technological solutions more feasible than they might seem at first glance — the extent of mobile and SMS penetration, for example, caused the design team to readjust our assumptions several times (in a good way).


Coming into the third day, we started pushing and pulling at the design directions as we got into the details of the solutions.

For mothers2mothers, we explored many different ways of connecting and engaging with people. We had the benefit of working with Pediatrician and Television Producer Neal Baer who helped us understand that turning awareness into action meant connecting to the personal story within the supporter and then igniting a fire under them to become ambassadors for mothers2mothers. The second part of expanding the solution was to find a way to equip these ambassadors with modern digital tools to tell their story and the mothers2mothers story to engage even more people.

Day three saw Barefoot College coalesce around a specific solution. The team divided into several groups to tackle specific issues and tasks. One group developed the story of how the technological solution would improve the grandmothers’ experience. Another group worked on potential technology solutions, and third group built a rough project plan to describe next steps.


The final day at the Tomorrow Partners Lab was all about production. Teams divided up to conquer different ways of prototyping and presenting the solutions. They leveraged the depth of skills of participants of the lab and used a myriad of techniques to tell their story. Some used systems diagrams, short movies, wireframes, and even user interfaces composed into storyboard frames.

An interesting driver in this process was the focus on preparing a presentation to appeal to potential philanthropic organizations and raise money to bring the ideas to life. Articulating the cost and effort for execution of the solutions was important in constraining the output of the lab towards making things real and having a real impact. Teams worked late into the evening to polish their solutions and stories.


The final day of the Impact Lab was held at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California. A larger community of supporters, philanthropic organizations, and potential funders was invited to hear the stories of each organization and the solutions they designed. Teams presented one after another to emotional standing ovations for the incredible solutions culminating out of an exhausting but worthwhile week of activities.

The Impact Lab was designed to not end here. Tomorrow Partners, Skoll Foundation, and Sundance Institute have had the foresight to set this up in a way that the social entrepreneurs could take the output of the Lab and tell the story of their activities to raise money to move forward with their solutions.
As facilitators, we had spent the week focusing all of our attention on driving synthesis of the challenges and throttling the energy and pressure on the teams towards ideating and refining solutions. We put all of our own energy into setting a stage for ideas to flourish and corralling a variety of perspectives into a single vision. For some of us, it wasn't until the pressure was off, that we stepped back to realize the magnitude of impact these organizations have and we were humbled. mothers2mothers reaches 20% of HIV+ pregnant women in Africa and has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of mothers to help them give birth to HIV free children and keep them healthy. Barefoot engineers have helped electrify 35,000 homes with solar energy in 1,000 villages in 37 countries, saving 4.6 million litres of kerosene from polluting the environment.

We are grateful to Tomorrow Partners, Skoll Foundation, and Sundance Institute for the opportunity to be part of the Stories of Change Impact Lab. Though the frogs were not able to work with all five organizations, we invite you to learn for yourself the incredible impact they've had on the world and be part of their stories as well. mothers2mothers, Barefoot College, Imazon, Partners In Health, Youthbuild USA.