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Launching Point B’s Design-Thinking Center for Community Engagement in Myanmar

After more than 50 years under military rule, Myanmar (formerly Burma) is just beginning to open up to be a free and democratic nation.

The people of Myanmar currently face challenges and complexity that vastly exceed the creative resources available to address them. Point B Design + Training (pointB), a partner of frog, is leveraging this unique time and context to change the story of Myanmar from seeing problems to creating new possibilities.

“Most higher education programs focus on critical thinking skills. This is good but it only gets you halfway to your goal,” says Tun Bobo, a graduate from one of the nine higher education (post-10) schools on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. At 27, Tun Bobo is an unassumingly mature and intuitive community trainer, whose education was from a school co-created by pointB founders. “Critical thinking means you can see the problem, but then what? What are you going to do about it? That’s why we need design thinking.”

Point B

The founders of pointB — Greg Antos, Rochelle Ardesher, and Sandy Shum — came together a few years ago to start a new organization that is focused on empowering change agents, like Tun Bobo, through design-thinking. And pointB has teamed up with frog, to co-create a Design-Thinking Center for Community Engagement in Myanmar’s 3rd largest university: Mawlamyine University in Mon state.

The Design-Thinking Center for Community Engagement is specifically tailored for makers, doers and activators. These are people who want to lead change, tackle social issues like education and poverty, and engage local communities in Myanmar’s emerging democracy. pointB recruits multi-ethnic young adults from diverse communities and ethnic groups throughout Myanmar. These trainees live, learn and work together in an environment that promotes empathy, cross-cultural understanding and peace-building.

Starting this June, the center will offer a six-month, project-based course in design thinking — a proven approach to solving social issues and challenges that focuses on empathy, collaboration, action and optimism to create new solutions for local communities. Projects at the center will happen within the community, and encourage co-creation of local solutions as a primary vehicle to create impact with existing assets, knowledge, and capacities. The students will also learn mindfulness techniques to increase their self-awareness and reflect on what they discover throughout the program.

Tools and techniques from design thinking will include frog’s Collective Action Toolkit (CAT), which is helping thousands of people around the world to organize, collaborate, and co-create solutions for problems impacting their community. After the first year of the program, the curricula will be shared in an open-source fashion for other schools and programs to utilize in their communities.

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Along with the six-month course, the Center is intended to serve as a bridge to rebuild the local university system and connect students to community development, social innovation, and entrepreneurship in underserved areas. By the end of the program, graduates will have co-created solutions to an identified community issue, and may receive support from local organizations to carry their solutions forward.

“Design thinking is the other half that nobody teaches you,” says Tun Bobo. “Once you can see the problem, you need mindsets and tools so that you can work with communities and groups to find new solutions. Design thinking puts those tools in the hands of the community.” It’s our hope that we can create a new model for teaching this “other half,” and based on what we discover, empower more communities worldwide.

David Sherwin

David Sherwin is a Fellow at frog and co-founder of Ask The Sherwins LLC.

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