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Designing the Cause

I met Liz during my first week in Rwanda. Liz, a student with the School of International Training (SIT), was spending six weeks in Rwanda with this unique study abroad program that paired students with global policy and health experts in developing countries.  Access Project’s founder, Josh Ruxin, a world-renowned public health expert and Assistant Clinical Professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, was leading a discussion with the group of SIT students on critical global issues.

The majority of the students were public health and global policy majors, who wanted to gain field experience in countries like Rwanda, while learning from local experts. Liz stood out because she was the only graphic design major in the group. When we spoke after the meeting, she expressed concern about pursuing a major in graphic design, and asked me to discuss my experience with applying communications and graphic design strategies to address global issues. I met with Liz the following week and was able to share with her some of my previous communications and design experiences. I also showed her some examples of organizations that are successful because of great design, i.e. logos, websites, and effective marketing campaigns. These organizations tackle critical issues like global poverty, the unsafe water crisis, environmental issues and HIV/AIDS by engaging and inspiring the public with creative logos, websites and other communications tools. As a Communications and Media Fellow working with an organization that works to improve health systems in poor areas in Rwanda, I empathized with Liz’s concerns about the frivolity of pursuing graphic design as a major.  I felt the same way when I was in college and thinking about my own career prospects. Even though I majored in Marketing Management, I took design courses in college and after graduation. Those courses have aided me tremendously in my time here in Rwanda as I have been working to improve the Access Project’s communications system. I have not only been able to write articles and success stories for the website, but I have also developed a strategic online marketing communications plan for Access Project’s online activities. First, I benchmarked five successful non-profit /international development organizations that used simple but effective design to deliver their core message and influence donations. These organizations also cross-promote with consumer brands to create cause-conscious consumers eager to donate by buying t-shirts, books, and other items. Then, I designed two templates in Photoshop that highlighted key features of the benchmarked sites such as a prominent multimedia slideshow on the homepage, social media links, well-organized media page and a simple short mission. I also designed an email template for the Access Project to use for their mail distribution list. I believe that these designs will complement the work that the specialists are doing in the field by giving our audience a more in-depth, interactive look into their work and allow them to share information about the project with their colleagues and friends. I will begin working with a web consultant in the next few weeks to implement some of my ideas onto the Access Project website. My conversation with Liz was an important reminder that Access’s most important communications channel is its website. A well-designed website will increase the number of visitors, sharing of information about the organization’s mission and number of donors. It is the key ingredient in helping public health experts like Josh and future SIT graduates solve critical global issues.

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