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Social Impact and Design

At iF, we are concerned about the state of our societies, and make an active effort to have a positive effect on the world around us. One way we do this is to focus on supporting young design students and recent graduates. Another is by supporting projects that have a social impact.

What is social impact?

Social impact refers to the effect a company, project or activity has on others. The University of Michigan Center for Social Impact defines it as "a significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge".

Social impact reflects the outcomes of a social enterprise, entrepreneur or activity.

Public interest in what impact companies are having on social problems has increased dramatically in recent years. Consultancies are addressing the issue, as are broad initiatives by governments, civil society, foundations and more. Each participant has a different perspective, and different approaches and methodologies lead to new ideas and impact at scale.

What does it have to do with design?

That depends on how you look at it: everything or nothing. Often, innovation is the key to making an unique social impact, and since "design is how it works" (Steve Jobs), design-minded people are in a unique position to make a difference in the way a service or product functions. The design community, design processes and designers can have social impact, but so can the civil society, companies and startups.

Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.
Charles Eames

Where to start

If you are interested in learning more about organizations working for a social impact, have a look at our resources below. There you can also find inspiration for your own impact journey, whether it is supporting an existing initiative or starting your own.

If you or your organization already have a project or project that strives to make a social impact, consider publishing it on the iF WORLD DESIGN GUIDE and entering our iF SOCIAL IMPACT PRIZE. Selected projects will have a chance at up to 100,000 euros in prize money.


Social impact resources

The Next Billion blog gathers stories of social impact initiatives all over the world and is edited by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. Updated regularly, the blog offers a delightful range of topics, from solar irrigation to dry toilets to the problem of microcredits.

The University of Michigan Center for Social Impact, mentioned above, offers a large collection of social impact resources. Some of them have North American focus.

The Centre for Social Impact in Australia conducts research projects into solving societal problems Down Under, bringing together leaders from government, business and civil society. They present some of their findings on their website.

Social Impact calls itself the 'agency for social innovation' and indeed, they have organized a number of services and products to promote social entrepreneurship, mainly in Germany. Their website offers a very detailed calendar for social impact events in Germany.

The Guardian's Sustainable Business section combines rather hard-hitting headlines ("Seafood and slavery") with solution-oriented pieces ("Solutions to deforestation"). A good place to find newsworthy topics and some of the current approaches to solving them.