As part of our Worldette Heroine series we feature another inspirational woman and female leader who has impacted our world. This time we look at Hilary Cottam, a woman using her skills in design and to improve the lives of low income communities.
How can one woman use her skills as a designer to help youth, senior citizens, families, and prison inmates; people with low incomes, people in poor health, and people without much education? It doesn’t sound possible, but Hilary Cottam has done it all, using design to help others.
Hilary is a design strategist, meaning she uses design to solve the major problems facing our world today.
She has said: “I am interested in the concrete – innovative ideas that are affordable and work in practice – in how we can combine thinking with doing to solve the knottiest of problems. I have been working in this way for over 20 years in eight countries, evolving a highly participative, inter-disciplinary approach that I believe is best suited to solving some of the more complex, systemic social issues of our time.”
Changing lives through design
While she is based in theUKher work has an international focus. She has worked with and for the World Bank, UNICEF, Demos, RED at the Design Council, central government and local authorities in theUK, schools, prisons and communities. In 2005 she was named UK Designer of the Year for her work in public service innovation, and has also founded various companies that use design to address social issues.
In 2007, she founded the enterprise Participle which is a not-for-profit organization that designs and develops projects to solve social problems from the bottom up. They have a project called The Circle Movement, which is a network for older people to meet and provide support to one another, and they provide services for the ageing population in theUK. It has proven to be very successful.
Another of Participle´s many projects is the Life Programme, the goal of which is to use resources and social workers to help troubled families improve their lives. The families must be willing to enter the program and make changes, and they work with staff to make sustainable plans for the development of their family. They have had very successful and cost-effective results with this program.
One of the big projects that she organized was to get a team together and design a new prison system so that they cost less to build while maintaining the highest security measures. She designed a ‘learning prison,’ which takes up less space and is divided into houses, forming a small community for the prisoners and allow for a less repressive learning environment to help prisoners contribute to society. Unfortunately, due to government restraints, the system has not been implemented yet, but hopefully things will change soon.
She has also worked to redesign and refurbish schools in low-income areas in the UKto better facilitate learning and create a better environment for teachers, students, and administrators. She looks at how design-led initiatives can change school systems and classrooms and modest budgets, and she created a not-for-profit called School Works Ltd. to work on such projects.
Hilary has many more projects and organizations that she works on and with, so if you interested in finding out more about Hilary Cottam and her innovative design projects, check out her website.