A different kind of social activism is emerging and it is asking us to rethink how we are working to address current social, economic and environmental challenges, from climate change, ageing populations to wealth disparities. Design activism is the term used to describe ...

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Social transformation and systemic change cannot happen when we work in silos. Complex social issues require people with diverse talents, knowledge and backgrounds to think together and work together. But working collaboratively is challenging. There are times when we need to...

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What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal and witty essay that is adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name. The award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century. She shines a light on...

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To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.
— Raymond Williams

At a time when the tyranny of cynicism and indifference seems so pervasive, to hope is a radical act. It is an act of defiance.

Hope is not wishing thinking. It demands work, a lot of work, a lot of hard work.

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy makes the distinction between passive hope and active hope. Passive hope is about waiting for external agencies to bring about what we want. Active hope is a practice. It is something we do rather than have. Active Hope is about becoming practitioners. It doesn’t require optimism. Intention is the guiding impetus that provides focus and direction. Rather than proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide.

Radical hope is an adventure. You became an explorer as it dares you to:

  • Imagine possibilities
  • Take action
  • Take risks
  • Trust yourself
  • Trust others
  • Embrace uncertainties and ambiguities
  • Tell different stories of our present and future

Hope (and love) fuels the passion of many change-makers. Radical hope is a refusal to accept injustice and the status quo. In "The Cure at Troy," Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney retells Sophocles' Philoctetes and explores the themes of personal integrity and political expediency. These lines below speak of the determination of radical hope that is at the heart of social change work.

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.


Robyn Lui, Ph.D.
Founder & Principal Strategist at
Social Change Collective & general mischief-maker.
Mission: championing good people to achieve
great things that benefit people and the planet.

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Not long ago, the idea of design conjures up images of stylish objects. Design thinking belonged to the world of architects, product designers, interior designers, and graphic designers. But today a growing group of design practitioners is using their design skills and tools for social good. At the same times, governments, non-profit organizations, and social enterprises are experimenting with design thinking to discover and develop innovative solutions to complex local and global ‘wicked problems’.

What’s the appeal of design thinking? How might design thinking contribute to creating positive social change?

There’s no general definition of design thinking but at the core, design thinking is about:

  • Generating a range of ideas to a problem
  • Testing, iterating, and improving solutions throughout the design process, and
  • Adopting a co-design relationship with the users of design solution.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, the leading international innovation and design company described design thinking as an activity that “encourages consideration of a wide array of solutions, can be applied in the field, and used incrementally. It approaches problem solving from the point of view of the end user and calls for developing a deep understanding of unmeet needs, thus avoiding the pitfall of imposing the wrong solution on a community”.

In terms of social change, there are six ways design thinking can contribute to creating positive change.

  1. Design thinking is humanizing and human-centered. Empathy is a core principle of design thinking. Design requires an understanding of the need and experience people are seeking to fulfill and how people will interact with whatever we are designing. ‘Being on the ground’ and observing the sociological dynamics are fundamental to the design practice.
  2. Unlike traditional analytical thinking, design thinking’s open-ended abductive ap­proach to problems enables social innovators and changemakers to take creative leaps to ideas generation and the realms of possibilities. Design is less about the analysis of existing options than the creation of new options. At times, this means reframing the problem and looking at existing options in new ways. Sometimes, it means creating from scratch.
  3. Design thinking - as experiential knowledge - is grounded in the uncertainty of the processes and embraces the notion of being able to go forward without clarity and without trying to define everything upfront. Design thinking has tremendous po­tential in the achievement of positive social change because the design process is so well adapted to addressing unique and ill-defined problems and dealing with great complexities.
  4. Design thinking is a reflective practice. The trial and error techniques to the design process share a similar approach to the reflective practice proposed by leading social scientist Donald A. Schön (1983), in that the design process revolves around situations rather than problems.
  5. Design thinking is a mindset and a skill. It is an expression of creative intelligence that can be learned. The ‘design attitude’ is the one that acknowledges and embraces the challenge of working with uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information and creating new possibilities.
  6. Design thinking works with constraints, and emphasizes resourcefulness rather than resources. Design thinkers ask: how might we accomplish and deliver our design solution with few resources? 

Design thinking is intentional world-making. So what kind of world do we want to make?


Robyn Lui, Ph.D.
Founder & Principal Strategist at
Social Change Collective & general mischief-maker.
Mission: championing good people to achieve
great things that benefit people and the planet.

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