How Can We Advance Positive Social Change Through Key Design Thinking Element – Empathy?
Victoria Wisniewski Otero, Founder & CEO, Resolve
Read about how design thinking can lead to building more inclusive and accepting societies. We speak to Victoria Otero, Founder of the non-profit, Resolve to understand the nuances of empathy in empowering communities.
For Victoria, who considers herself a human rights advocate above anything else, the answer lies in listening.
Inequality in the last decade has increased around the world and this is something she has dedicated herself to through her non-profit, Resolve – to empower a community of emerging leaders belonging to marginalised and underrepresented groups.
‘In Hong Kong, when one says NGOs, you connect it to service delivery like providing food, shelter, clothes to the people they are serving. Not many focuses on Community Empowerment.’
Victoria believes the answer lies in harnessing the power of communities themselves to make societies more inclusive and accepting.
In this circumstance, you have to first anticipate what this community needs — This is where empathy has played a huge role – in understanding user needs and challenges in the inequality landscape.
‘We start with listening to thought-leaders in the area which tells us what are the new social themes emerging as well as get an idea of what people are NOT talking about.’
This is vital when identifying holes and gaps to bring to the forefront, especially when speaking about marginalised groups.
‘It’s really about how you phrase questions. If you ask people “Do you want to write with a pen?” You’ll get a Yes or No answer. But if you ask, “What would you like to write with?” You might get the response – “a crayon”.’
Continuously listening to what your audiences have to say is one way to understand them better and in turn benefit your organisation. Whether that’s through conducting focus groups, getting feedback through surveys or having a simple conversation.
‘There’s a lot of power in a simple phone call to understand what your user is feeling, thinking and saying. By speaking to past fellows of the programme, we found there to be a need to create a bridge between different communities. So, we started the alumni programme.’
Managing to do this efficiently and effectively is a challenge for any social organisation, new or established. Here are 3 ways they can use empathy to be current and relevant:
- Don’t leave anyone out – Speak to thought leaders, customers, mentors, stakeholders, users, staff… and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
- Be a learning organisation – Build in the time to always learn from your work, events too. Get feedback and debrief with your teams around ‘What worked’ and ‘What you could do better’. A good way to do this is through simple surveys on Google forms.
- Be ok to test something and adapt – Make sure you’re designing something that the end-user needs, not necessarily asks for. ‘Take action, even it’s small, and adapt continuously.’
The word ‘adapt’ today has taken a spotlight in the current view of the pandemic. People and businesses are being forced to change they way they work, interact and essentially, live.
It isn’t easy being a non-profit and pushing to fight inequality in Hong Kong, especially during the Covid-19. ‘Fund-raising is the biggest challenge to non-profits currently. Uncertainty to the future as well.’
When asked how social entrepreneurs and organisations can cope in the current situation, Victoria emphasises on focusing on societal benefit rather than just the individual benefit:
- Focus on telling positive, heartwarming stories to provide a bit of hope and levity to readers. ‘People want hopeful, uplifting stories to get inspired from.’
- Invest in community-building as this will not be the last crisis people face together. We are already seeing how the pandemic is changing our value system, moving beyond individual entitlement to an appreciation of community responsibility.
- Extend support to others and initiatives that build the social fabric. Invest in further enhancing the collective wisdom and strength of communities, instead of only focusing on individual needs.
‘We need a new model in philanthropy.’ Victoria concludes.
She believes the key to a more accepting and inclusive society lies in harnessing the power of communities themselves to bring about positive social change.
‘We need to look after our individual, community and environment well-being that will get us through this difficult time.’
Victoria Wisniewski Otero is founder and CEO of Resolve Foundation. Previously Victoria has been Advocacy & Campaigns Manager at Justice Centre Hong Kong, a researcher at the NGO – Centre for Economic and Social Rights and consultant at UN Habitat in Kuwait.
Bi-cultural upbringing and global exposure has shaped her interest in making more inclusive societies.
Victoria is also part of the senior organisation team at TEDxWanChai and loves discovering Hong Kong heritage, hiking, travel and good cinema.