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DSI Alum Sebastian Barrera Integrates Design Into Development Organizations Around the World

Sebastian Barrera (class of ’14) came to DSI with two questions: What is the role of design in the public sector, humanitarian aid, and philanthropy? And how can I help integrate and validate design practice in these contexts?

Through DSI and its network Sebastian is now a designer at the Design Impact Group (DIG) at Dalberg Global Development Advisors — where he is answering those questions, using service design, rapid prototyping, and systems thinking to foster innovative solutions to complex problems, and increase social impact. At DIG, Sebastian is helping to develop design capacity in organizations that have not traditionally embraced these approaches, but understand their value. It’s a perfect role for someone who’s really driven by the desire to bring design to the people and organizations that need it. “In my head, I have this ideal scenario, where non-designers get excited about the role of design, embrace a broad set of methods, tools and approaches in their daily work, and as a result, a new breadth of opportunities to work with these institutions emerges.”

Sebastian credits his DSI experience in preparing him for his role, and says the exposure to systems thinking, mapping systems, and data visualization is particularly relevant to his work.

Born and raised in Colombia, Sebastian was also interested in how technology and new media can help to promote collaboration between Diasporas and their countries of origin. His DSI thesis project, El Encargo, explored how to connect the Colombian diaspora with the critical issues that are still happening back home. For his thesis, Sebastian created a method for Colombian expats to contribute to improvement of life for people still living in their home country.

Sebastian believes DSI is great place to come to develop ideas. “You’ll find the right people to help you push it forward, build the network of support that you need, and by the end of year two, have something tangible that you can share and own beyond DSI.”

Sebastian found the program at DSI to be a highly collaborative and, at times, challenging experience. As he points out, “It’s not always easy to find the right rhythm between teammates, working with people from really diverse academic backgrounds and cultural contexts.” To succeed at DSI, students need to make time to understand all the variables that make a team work. It’s an experience he’s grateful for. “I can draw on a lot of lessons learned from those successes and failures in my job.”

Dalberg shares his workplace with another DSI alum, Pragya Mishra (class of ‘15). So what’s it like to go to work every day with a fellow DSI alum? “Fantastic! We always act as a sounding board to support each other in our projects. Also, she is an admirable human being, professional in her work, and people enjoy working with her so much. From a personal point of view, I work with a really close friend on a daily basis, and that’s a luxury that not many people have in their lives. I’m extremely grateful for that.”

Photos: (1) Design research + Concept prototyping: Digital financial services for smallholder farmers – Kirehe, Rwanda. (2) Design research: Digital financial services for smallholder farmers – Kirehe, Rwanda. (3) Ideation + concept prototyping for sustainable artisanal fisheries – Coquimbo, Chile
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