Using Design Thinking To Help Solve the Refugee Crisis at #SXSW | Beth's Blog

Using Design Thinking To Help Solve the Refugee Crisis at #SXSW


I’m just back from SXSW where I did a session on Tech Wellness with Aliza Sherman.  We are working on a book together called  The Happy,Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout.   A blog post on that is coming!

I did make time to attend different sessions and walk through the exhibit hall, but one of the most exciting things I saw was the “Gamestorm: Take on the Refugee Crisis” organized by colleague Brian Reich for  USA for UNHCR, the agency that helps and protects refugees and people displaced by violence, conflict and persecution.   And given what is happening in the world today, that job is hard work. It requires innovation and creativity from many people.   And the agency is using an innovation platform  and design thinking to find solutions.


At SXSW, Brian  hosted the purpose lounge where you could play with a set of cards to brainstorm and contribute ideas to address the refugee crisis.    The yellow and gray cards listed potential actors and actions and you could pick three of them to generate ideas or think in different ways.  The next step was to fill out an impact card that included prompts such as “By 2030 the world should …” or “Progress means …”    There were also cards that you could fill out to identify resources that you or your company could contribute.

Using cards and games to generate creative solutions is not a brand new new idea.   For example, creativity expert Roger Von Oech has the “Creative Whack Pack” and  “Innovation Whack Pack.”  Author Michael Michalko created the “Think Pack” to accompany his book on creativity techniques, Thinker Toys.   In my own practice as a trainer,  I have created several card games to teach social media and communication strategy.    But I have not seen a card game linked to design thinking and a social problem.

I spoke with Brian briefly and he told me that their goal was to get the most innovative minds to start thinking about the refugee crisis differently.  There were lots of creative, unique and fun ideas were generated.  He shared some of the favorites in a follow up email:

By providing more wearables, the Washington Post can create more ability for refugees to access relevant & educational content based on location, interests, etc. (thanks, @AllieB!)

I hope McDonald’s uses more Support Groups to engage with employees & their families to assist in the refugee crisis. (thanks, @Anthony_Lazzaro!)

My definition of a good solution would be when LinkedIn uses airplanes in order to connect start ups & small businesses to successful refugee entrepreneurs. (thanks, @retronautilus!)

Brian mentioned that they view this as a research process and hope set up a database of ideas that people could draw from as they further develop solutions.   If you want to contribute ideas or resources, check their online innovation platform – Project Hive.

How is your nonprofit using innovation or creativity techniques to generate ideas for your organization’s programs?

3 Responses

  1. Mario Nimal says:

    The words “change” and “engage” really jumped out at me while browsing the Project Hive website. This is amazing. It forces you to think and want to become more involved. I feel like people don’t understand much less care about what these refugees are going through and it’s really sad. Thanks for shedding light on this program, Beth!

  2. Hi Beth – thanks so much for highlighting our work with UNHCR and Brian’s team. We were very excited to sponsor the Purpose Lounge during SXSW and to co-host the #gamestorm with Brian on Sunday. Brian’s team at the Hive is leading the way with our new technology platform The Groundwork ( – a scalable platform for activating community.

    We are looking for new nonprofit partners to join our beta program for the Groundwork and would love to work with orgs who want to scale their fundraising and engagement. If you’re aware of organizations with this strategic focus, we’d be interested in having a conversation with them.

  3. Christopher Keiner says:

    Hello, this is Caiman Haiti Foundation, we are non-profit organization helping the people of Haiti. We lovingly extend our hands to the people of Haiti to provide excellent, life-changing opportunities. In addition we strive to prepare them so that they may overcome daily challenges and receive a better future. Please visit our website at

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