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DSI / Social Design
About DSI

Elana Wolpert (‘20) on ‘New-ness’, Passion, and Design

Elana Wolpert has known since graduating from undergrad that she had a passion for doing good in communities. Shortly after obtaining her bachelors degree, she moved to Istanbul, Turkey to teach English, and found herself staying in the city for longer than she anticipated due to her appreciation for the culture, language, and people. Her stay in Istanbul also overlapped with the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis,  which stirred a newfound interest in reforming refugee rights and social impact work. She used this passion and her desire to learn to creatively solve social problems as her motivation to return to the states, and ultimately here, to DSI. 

While at DSI, Elana found the capacity and space to pursue a piece of her passion project through her thesis–Sisters Can. In collaboration with thesis partner Alisha Mahen and the Yemeni American Merchants Association (YAMA), Elana helped to create a self-sustaining English curriculum that assists Yemeni immigrant women along their career paths that is still running today. Though she considers herself lucky to have developed a thesis that allowed her to pursue her original topic of interest, her primary takeaway from the experience was the necessity of critical thinking and mastering the stages of the human-centered design process. 

“It’s not easily quantifiable, but critical thought and the ability to see and empathize with the client perspective as well as the user really takes time and practice. It’s almost like a muscle–if you don’t use it regularly, it doesn’t last.”

With a fresh mastery of critical thought and design processes, Elana has moved on to a role at Doblin’s newest branch since graduating last year. As a subsidiary of the greater Deloitte Consulting firm, Doblin Government Public Services (GPS) is a new division that is working to bring innovation into the public sector, which allows more space for social good in communities beyond commercial clients. Currently, she and her team are using research and user experience principles to improve government systems that determine eligibility for crucial government benefit programs.

In addition to focusing on the design process, another piece of advice she’d suggest to new DSIers is an openness to uncertainty–a capability she’s continuing to develop as part of a brand new company:

“Being in something that is so new like human-centered design, and studying ‘new-ness’ like innovation, you have to know that you’re a pioneer in the field. The field is still growing, and people are attracted to it. Yet the application of design, it’s processes, and the best way to apply it to projects is not yet defined–and that’s okay. There won’t always be a “right” answer on how to apply design or how to innovate. For me, learning to listen to the user and apply their perspectives will always be my North Star.”

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