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Tanya Bhandari: Co-Designing for Adolescent Health with Ylabs

When we last checked in with 2014 Alum Tanya Bhandari, she was working on a series of global ventures as part of UNICEF’S Office of Innovation in NYC. Now, she’s tackling a series of projects involving adolescent health and economic opportunity with YLabs: a non-profit design consultancy at the intersection of design, data, and youth-driven programming. 

It’s been just over a year since she took the role of Project Lead at the organization, and she’s since worked on a multitude of projects that center the perspectives and experiences of youth between the ages of 15 and 24. “At YLabs we ensure to have youth experiences inform the design process from the beginning to the end,” she says, “we always have at least one youth designer on the team, and they have the opportunity to offer perspectives and also receive professional training from our team. Young people are  so open to new ideas and methods, which makes working with them really amazing.”

In addition to contracting youth designers, YLabs partners with known organizations in fundraising, design, and outreach. 

At the beginning of her work with YLabs, Tanya jumped straight in as Project Lead for  Boomerang, which explored and worked to offer solutions to large scale youth unemployment in Rwanda. Much of this work  involved facilitating connection between unemployed youth with young entrepreneurs via a combination of field research, prototyping, and storytelling. A major outcome of this work was running a model of “Story Nights”: an evening in which the young entrepreneurs shared their journeys of starting their own businesses, something many young people in Rwanda–and around the world–don’t always perceive as legitimate or promising career paths due to the many challenges involved. 

In 2020, Tanya has undertaken two major projects, one in collaboration with MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation that worked to develop youth-driven content to increase diverse, accurate, and engaging representations of sexual health and mental health in media. Alongside this project (which has since been completed) Tanya began leading a project that will stretch across the next two years on menstrual hygiene management for young refugees in Ugandan settlements. Coincidentally, one of her colleagues on this project is fellow ‘14 alum Joseph Kwesiga, who is conducting field work as a part of team YLabs in Uganda. 

Across all her work since graduating from DSI, Tanya cited a particular appreciation for DSI’s emphasis on data visualization and systems design perspectives. “They’re both things I felt existed in a vacuum while I was learning them, but now I feel like I use them every day. I’m always finding practical applications.”

To learn more about Tanya’s work at YLabs, you can visit her website here.

Images provided by Yagazie Emezi/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment.

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