From little things big things grow

In summary: 
  • UTS students are using their design, communication and marketing skills to generate community engagement around aid and development issues 
  • The Oxfam program Design for Change was first established by a UTS graduate and has since worked with various universities to give back to local and global communities

When Oxfam Australia created their 3things initiative, their aim was to ensure today’s youth continue the movement against poverty and injustice well into the future. From developing a marketing and communication strategy to designing visual branding, the 3things Design for Change program – established by a UTS School of Design graduate – is allowing final year UTS students to see how their classroom ideas can make a difference in the real world. 

If you could do three things to help change the world, what would they be? This is the question 3things prompts young people to consider. Running since 2008, the Oxfam initiative is based on the belief that small actions can have a flow on effect and impact the wellbeing of our poorest and most marginalised neighbours and the environment.

“3things came about by breaking down the barriers that inhibit people from getting involved in global poverty issues, because sometimes they can seem so overwhelming and daunting,” says 3things Design for Change Program Coordinator Sophie Weldon. 

“It’s about personalising the cause, making it meaningful to you but also showing that small, local actions can really have a positive impact on the global scale and generate community engagement around aid and development issues.”

GROW visuals supplied by 3things

The Design for Change program, one of the many projects born out of the 3things initiative, works with tertiary communication, design and marketing students to use their skills to give back to local and global communities.

In 2007, UTS was the first university to take part in the Design for Change pilot program, with visual communication students designing the initial 3things branding and engagement strategy. As Senior Lecturer and Director of Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, Darrall Thompson 
has seen firsthand how the collaboration between students and Oxfam has produced positive results.   

“We’ve done 10 projects with Oxfam over the last three years. They’ve all been part of a core subject taken by third year students to develop young designers’ ability to respond to intercultural issues and develop a sense of social responsibility.

“Design for Change, along with many other youth-targeted programs, was actually developed by one of the graduates of our visual communication degree, Mitra Gusheh. It’s a good example of how UTS graduates can have an impact on large charitable organisations like Oxfam.” 

One of the Oxfam initiatives supported by the Design for Change program is GROW, a campaign looking at why one in seven people still go hungry. Visual communication students were briefed to dig deep into the facts about food shortage and sustainability to develop fun, engaging ways to communicate to the general public how they can better grow, consume and share food. 

“They created collateral pieces like bags, postcards and seed packets to get people planting their own seeds,” says Weldon. “It was basically a way to make people aware of the GROW campaign without giving them a lot of dense information to take in.” 

In the past, Oxfam has distributed more than 50 000 postcards and produced thousands of t-shirts using student designs. “The latest GROW designs the Visual Communications students developed last semester are now being looked at by our marketing department. They’re keen to produce some of them in the near future. People have just been so impressed with the ideas coming out of the project,” says Weldon.

In 2011 the Design for Change program expanded to include students from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As part of the curriculum for the new capstone subject Integrated Communication, public communication students looked at what activities could be done across communities and networks to engage more young people in what three things they could do to change the world.

Oxfam briefed the students about their campaign. The students then put together a strategy in response to the brief and developed suitable communication tools.

“Some of the ideas were about connecting with 17- to 18-year-old school students, building on increasing their engagement as they finish school and move on to think about their practices in life,” says Lecturer Vicki Bamford. 

“Being university students themselves, others came up with ideas that suited their demographic, such as setting up community networks around a number of different universities so students could express their commitment or ‘three things’ through university games or challenges on certain themes. Between them they developed banner ads, websites, community events, YouTube clips, viral and social media campaigns and audio ads.”

Bamford believes the experience is invaluable for students and benefits all parties involved, with many of the students’ ideas being looked at and potentially implemented by Oxfam’s campaign and marketing divisions. 

“For students to be able to work with an actual client and see their projects come to fruition is an amazing personal experience and excellent for their CVs. Some students may be offered internships so they can continue working on those projects further down the track. It’s been really fantastic and we are just kicking off again for 2012,” says Bamford. 

This semester students will be involved with four other clients in addition to Oxfam. “With 130 students involved the last time, Oxfam found it a bit overwhelming and a bit crazy in terms of managing the logistics,” explains Bamford. “So this time we’re doing the same thing but across a number of organisations.”

The Design for Change program will also be extended this semester to work with the Business School’s marketing students. With 5500 people visiting the 3things website a month and 6500 friends on facebook, Weldon hopes to extend their online community further and get their social media audience more involved in Oxfam’s campaigns. 

“This semester, marketing students at UTS are coming up with strategies to assist 3things in being the ‘go to’ place for young people to engage in aid and development issues. We want to sustain our position in the youth market and continue to provide relevant opportunities for young people to contribute to the world in ways meaningful to them. At the end of the semester, students will present their ideas back to us – we can’t wait to see what they come up with!”

Weldon reinforces the Design for Change program is also about creating a level of meaningful engagement for students in exchange for the pro bono work done, with guest speakers often attending UTS lectures and students invited to Oxfam’s Sydney-based office in Surry Hills. 

“We particularly target universities like UTS because they harness the emerging leaders in their fields. We want to give them a really immersive experience so they not only understand Oxfam’s vision and what 3things is all about, but they also feel empowered to continue their journey of creating positive social change using their skills and profession  – whether it’s with us or another cause they believe in.”

This project is conceptually brilliant and inspired. Although it is early days, it would be interesting at some stage to have a record of follow-up and outcomes, so that the project could be fine - tuned as it develops in the future.