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ND Design Students’ Project Receives Sappi ‘Ideas that Matter’ Grant

Author: Carol C. Bradley

Collaboration among University of Notre Dame faculty and students, Sedlack Design Associates, and Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns has resulted in a $50,000 Sappi Ideas that Matter grant to together+, a campaign to combat xenophobia in South Africa.

The Ideas that Matter grant program is an initiative of Sappi Fine Paper North America, producer of fine coated papers for the print industry. The program—the only grant program of its kind in the industry—was established more than a decade ago to recognize and support designers who donate their time and talent to a range of charitable activities.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, design students Dan Azic, Kassandra Randazzo, Lynn Yeom, Amelia Bernier, Brandon Keelean and Ali Tourville, with Professor Robert Sedlack In Johannesburg, South Africa, design students Dan Azic, Kassandra Randazzo, Lynn Yeom, Amelia Bernier, Brandon Keelean and Ali Tourville, with Professor Robert Sedlack.

The goal of the University’s design curriculum, says Robert Sedlack ’89, associate professor of design and director of graduate studies in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design, is to develop students who can make a difference—both in business and in the world. “It makes all the sense in the world given the mission of the University.”

In his class, “Graphic Design III: Design for Social Good,” Sedlack’s students spend 16 weeks exploring the intersection of design and social issues.

The idea to develop a campaign to unite a South African community divided by xenophobia was born out of community-based research done by the Center for Social Concerns and its community partner, Kgosi Neighbourhood Foundation (KNF), an organization based in a Johannesburg neighborhood greatly affected by xenophobia-fueled violence.

In April 2011, Paul Horn, KNF’s director of community outreach initiatives, approached Sedlack and Andréa Pellegrino, ’85, founder of Pellegrino Collaborative, a consulting group that partners with corporations, nonprofits, and educational institutions to develop strategies, actions, and communications for social impact.

“There was a critical need in the refugee community for some outside agency to try to address the problem of xenophobia, and I thought it would be a perfect fit for design and communication,” Horn says. “I knew both Andréa and Robert had a strong interest in and belief that design could effect positive change and be used for social good.”

Robert Sedlack walks in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, with Kassandra Randazzo and Daniel Azic Robert Sedlack walks in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, with Kassandra Randazzo and Daniel Azic.

Sedlack and Pellegrino traveled to South Africa over fall break to do research and fact-finding. “When I came back, I knew the project wasn’t going to stop at the end of the fall semester in December,” Sedlack says. Of the 12 students in the class, only two—BFA students with thesis projects due—weren’t able to continue with the project the following semester.

The class ultimately developed four projects designed to effect change through communication: a book on refugee rights; a campaign for health care rights, written in six different languages (English, Zulu, Sesotho, Portuguese, French, and Afrikaans); a replicable community event where people gathered for a cookout and painted over hateful graffiti; and a children’s book, “Blooming Together.”

Sedlack was able to take seven students to South Africa over spring break 2012. “It wasn’t a deep immersion, but it was enough to help them better understand the variety of challenges that the refugees are facing.”

The trip was critical to the project, he adds. “We put the projects in front of the people they would affect. We got to talk to teachers and students, did in-home interviews—it really changed the way the students thought about their ability to be agents of change through design.”

One student told him that she realized that in her lifetime, she’d moved from bubble to bubble. Meeting refugees is much different than seeing them on TV, or on the Internet, he says. “They realized that design is a powerful tool, that it can really make a difference in the world.

together+ project book, "Blooming Together"

The grant will be used to produce and distribute the various projects that the students created. Plans for the future include expansion of the story and curriculum for older children, impact measurement tools, and scaling the campaign for other South African communities, as well as refining it for other regions of the world affected by xenophobia.

Says KNF’s Paul Horn, “This grant takes together+ from a theoretical level to practical implementation. What’s really exciting is that because of the committed partners who are part of this program, the project has a major chance to influence thousands and thousands of people and really make a difference in society.”

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Originally published at today.nd.edu.