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For the first time, I attended an event which didn’t spoon feed me with information but rather edged me on to find my own answers. On May 19, 2017, I joined over 160 participants at the China Europe International Business School-CEIBS, East Legon in the first edition of the Design Thinking Conference, 2017. This event was organized by the Design Thinking Ghana Meetup Group, Ashesi D:Lab and Ghana Design Network with the help of a number of partners under the theme “Winning Through Today’s Challenges With Design Thinking”.

It was a first of its kind so honestly, I didn’t know what to expect but the fact that the room was full to capacity and others didn’t mind sitting comfortably on the steps was quite impressive. Dr. Dordon Adomadza, Founder of the Ghana Design Thinking Group, addressing the participants didn’t hesitate to comment on the remarkable turnout for the event. According to him most events have a full house during the morning session but numbers reduce drastically in the afternoon especially on Fridays but that was not the case at the Design Thinking Conference, it seems more kept coming in as time went on.

Participants had the chance to interact with experienced minds in Design Thinking, in and outside Ghana including Arne Van Oosterom (Design Thinkers Group), Dr Gordon Adomdza (Ghana Design Thinking Group), Ashwin Ravichandran (MEST Incubator), Ashlee Tuttleman (Consultant), Jorge Appiah (Kumasi Hive), Freda Yawson (ACET, Innovate Ghana) Dela Kumahor (Cobalt Partners) and many other world-renowned Design Thinkers.

A fair number of the participants were new to the Design Thinking process, so many would agree that one of the most interesting part of the event was how facilitators such as Arne Van Ooosterom, Dr. Gordon Adomdza and Ashelee Tutttleman showed us presentations and videos of how Design Thinking is being used in solving everyday problems relevant to entrepreneurship.

Design Thinking provides a methodological based approach to solving problems but mind you, none of the speakers set themselves the task of defining Design Thinking thereby preventing us from limiting ourselves to the definitions and possibilities of it. With that being said, Ashlee Tuttleman, a Start-up specialist in Design Thinking led an open discussion which helped in figuring out what Design Thinking means to us individually.

As part of the conference, the audience formed about 20 groups that either concentrated on design thinking for Product development, Service development, Program development or Policy Development in solving the plastic waste problem in Accra. For 30 minutes, groups brainstormed and generated ideas with the aid of the facilitators. Selected groups were then chosen to present their solution on how they would solve plastic waste in Accra using the Design Thinking Process.

The afternoon session was a panel discussion with Dr. Gordon Adomza (Design Thinking Ghana), Constance Swaniker (Accents & Art), Marissa Fee (GN Electronics), Ouborr Kutando (Office of the President), David Hutchful (Bloom Impact) and Peter Kersten (Ghana Design Network). These panelists delved into how they use Design Thinking in their areas of specialty to gain the best and maximum results.

Design Thinking is being used by companies and institutions like Coca Cola, Ashesi University, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, IBM, Apple, Google, China Europe International School-CEIBS, Samsung and countless others around the world. This proves the need for Design Thinking not only in academia but also in problem solving. Design Thinking tackles problems by observing, engaging and empathizing with people to get a better understanding of the situation. This will help define the problem in gathering ideas for a prototype solution which can be tested before final implementation.

Personally, I would say design thinking is about thinking outside the box and empathizing in order to find ideas and solutions. One might even go a step further to state the need to permeate design thinking in every sector of development in Africa. And I totally agree, if we want to nurture change makers to facilitate the change we want to see and move us to the next stage of development, then we need to change how we think and approach problems. The best solution may be introducing Design Thinking in the primary up to the tertiary level of education to encourage thinking outside the box and finally wipe out the “That’s how we’ve been doing it” (please translate to Twi) mentality in our country.

I’ll end with a quote from Arne Van Oosterom, the keynote speaker of the Design Thinking Conference and Founder of the Design Thinkers Academy, according to him “Design Thinking is not just for product development, it’s not just creating new services, it’s for changing behavior and culture. It’s the way we look at things, it’s how we collaborate, its about empathy, it’s about speaking a common language and being able and open minded to listen to others and ask the right questions. It’s this movement of positive change, no matter where you are. The world really needs change makers”.

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