Designing for Human Rights

The Human rights space is an age old enigma that often challenges moral decency, religious persuasions, legal alignment, our shared values and to certain extents, all of the above collectively. It can be a strange and difficult space that can be ignored, especially in Africa where certain concepts are not questioned because they are difficult or just because we have ‘more important’ things to deal with.

But it is these uncomfortable and confronting spaces that design can play a pivotal role in, at the very least promote dialogue and understanding. You see, to me human centered design is at it’s very core an empathetic dialogue that informs proactive action. Design allows us to deal with subjects that would otherwise be difficult and confronting from any traditional standpoints. Design, in its truest form, removes these personal biases and allows for a new dimension or space where dialogues can happen that traditional mind-spaces fall short.

When you really think about it, design, broadly speaking, takes a whole new and powerful meaning for Africa; where conversations about really serious challenges are often ignored for lack of a good enough platform or template that allows for true inclusivity and participation. Old models have so far failed to yield desired results and are treated with suspicion by the vulnerable (and rightly so). Human centered design provides that alternative space, the power of which continuously surprises me.

A case in point is a project I have been involved in for the last 6 month. Together with the Open Society Foundation we are designing for the rights of commercial sex workers in Kenya. This is at face value a taboo subject, especially in Africa. It raises legal, moral, ethical, trust and other questions that limitations of conventional linear channels have found difficult to engage. Through Human Centered Design, we continue to create an amazing mind space within which true positive strides continue to emerge.

It a space that is owned by all, guarded by all and most of all, provides true genuinely empathetic dialogue that breeds trust. Design being a process of inquisition and action therefore means proactive hope. It is a juncture I highly doubt we could have achieved, especially in only 6 months without the power of design.


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