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Catching up with Malé Sandoval, ‘18

Malé Sandoval, ‘18, has been working at Dalberg Design since she graduated from DSI. What began as contract work has become a full-time gig, with work that spans international development, from financial inclusion to agriculture to health and reproductive health work, for a number of different clients, such as The Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Facebook. For the most part, Dalberg’s clients are aligned with social impact and international development. A number of DSI alums work at Dalberg Design (including Pragya Mishra and nowadays Stephen Morrison) some of whom Malé invited to the 2018 Thesis Show. When they saw her work, she was invited to do contract work that preempted her full-time employment.

Currently, Malé is working with a team to support Facebook’s Community Leadership Program, which seeks to “elevate the role of community leaders as a critical piece in building diverse, supportive societies that bring people closer together, despite their differences.” The Dalberg team worked to create an “educational curriculum around leadership development, strategic community engagement, and technical skills,” and offer personalized mentorship to leaders around the world.

Malé is originally from Colombia. Before DSI, she had worked for several years there doing service design and research projects focused on topics like artisanal mining and financial justice. Malé eventually came to know that she wanted to return to school for a Master’s degree. She reached a point where she says she wanted a more solid base for working with communities. The work itself had proven to be a great learning experience, but Malé says she wrestled with the ethics of learning directly from communities rather than coming to them with a solid base. She wanted to be able to serve communities better and without causing harm to them. That’s where DSI would come in.

Finding DSI was refreshing, Malé says, because she wanted a program that taught design for social impact on a systems level, not just ethical product design. During her time at DSI, Malé cites a few key learning experiences for having shaped her current work as a social designer. First, she had the opportunity to work with InWithForward, a Vancouver-based social design agency that works to transform social service delivery agencies. Malé was inspired by InWithForward’s goal of shaping social services not as a safety net, but as a trampoline for those in need. Her work there inspired her 2018 co-thesis project, with partner Nicholas Chan, The MakeGuffin Project, which created a “relating-by-making environment for and by individuals on the Autism spectrum.”

Malé also had the opportunity to work with Rachel Brown, who is the executive director of OverZero, an organization founded in response to the global need to counteract and prevent identity-based violence and other forms of group-targeted harm. Malé met Rachel through the Global Guest Lecture series, and went on to work with Rachel and others to create an understanding biases training for communities in the Midwest to improve discourse around immigration and immigrants.

Now in her work with Dalberg, Malé is able to pinpoint a number of learnings from DSI that shape how she works. Primarily, Malé credits the diversity of the cohort with helping her to let go of her ethnocentrism and understand how different cultures work and approach research. Malé says she was able to learn her own blind spots, and how to show up in a team more curious and more open to how others approach the problem-solving process. At Dalberg, Malé does work around the world. If she arrived with unchecked biases, these would impact her project outcomes and the project learnings would just end up reflecting her and her teams biases. Becoming aware of these biases allows Malé to minimize their impact. Literally, Malé says, “DSI made me a better person, and definitely a better team member.”

Malé credits Karen Proctor’s Leadership and Entrepreneurship class as key to her leadership transformation. From Miya Osaki, Malé’s thesis advisor, she learned how to structure the messy process of design to keep advancing the process. Malé came to DSI with a strong design background and experience; what she learned at DSI was beyond design skills, it was true personal growth and an ability to reframe design according to different cultural contexts.

For current DSI students, Malé advises that they think deeply about what their human values are, and find work that aligns closely with it. She recommends developing a great portfolio that can be reshaped according to the cultural context someone wants to work in. Malé also says current students should work to document their processes; take photos, notes, and write reflections, as all of this will aid future work.

“It’s not just what you learn, but how you can share it with the community of practice — we built on others’ learnings, and documenting one’s process is one way of building collective knowledge.”

For now, Malé is content where she is. Eventually she dreams of returning to Colombia to open her own design agency, staffed by fellow Colombians who can best apply design for impact on a local level. Now that Dalberg is now expanding into work in South America, Malé is sure to find interesting ways to grow her work for years to come.

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