From June 1st to the 7th, I participated in the UX for GOOD annual challenge, the initiative launched in 2011 by Jason Ulaszek (Manifest Digital) and Jeff Leitner (Insight Labs) with the idea to push design as far as it can go in developing effective solutions to complex human and social systems.
This time, the context was Rwanda, 20 years after the Genocide, during which approximately one million individuals were murdered in 100 days.
There is a Genocide Memorial in Kigali, implemented by Aegis Trust, to commemorate the victims and give people a place to grieve those they lost. The Centre is built on a site where over 250,000 people are buried, and it has become an important repository and display of data, stories, images, objects, and remains that let Rwandans and visitors remember what happened. It represents a reference point for the education of the new generation of locals, who discover the genocide and the path towards peace right there. The space also engages tourists, who mainly travel to Rwanda to see the gorillas in the national park, and gets them to visit the Memorial at the beginning of their trip.
Lots of people go through the museum every day, but the profound sense of loss that follows the visit doesn’t translate into any kind of action, donation, initiative that could support survivors and volunteers. How do you give a voice to the Rwandan story or even help prevent other similar crimes to happen all over the world?
We started by interrogating ourselves. Who are the people that could be activated? When and where should activation happen considering the entire journey before, during, and after the visit? Why should people outside of Rwanda care about the Genocide? The only place to find the answer was right there: we spent three days in Kigali, experiencing the museum but mostly meeting individuals and communities, to observe the interaction with the Memorial site, as well as immerse ourselves into people’s stories, lives, culture, and habits.
It’s our last day in Rwanda, and we all feel the need to take a step back and breathe. From the first morning visit at the Memorial up until now, our minds have been processing myriad emotions, from pain to joy, together with a large amount of information.
We were tireless in observing the space and measuring our reactions, as well as intercepting tourists outside the museum, interviewing genocide survivors, refugees and perpetrators, shadowing students during their visit and workshops, listening to the stories of teachers and educators.
We have learned how reflection and recovery from such an emotional shock is an intimate and slow path: the Memorial experience needs to evolve and take that into account, by displaying and celebrating the rebirth that followed the genocide atrocities, and by including moments of decompression across the entire visit.
Visitors can’t be activated if lost in their pain; only when people experience hope, they become willing to take action.
When we moved to London for the synthesis and design phase, the energy of the team was vibrant. We were eager to start making sense of all the insights collected in the field and do something ourselves. The Red Bull office became our basecamp and for two full days and nights, we stuck post-it notes on walls, drew on any white surface available, and built on each other’s ideas.
We designed a new model oriented at expanding the experience of the Genocide Memorial outside the physical space and turning it into a scalable prototype for humanitarian activation. The foundation of this model is a new visit journey that integrates the experience of pain, with moments of reflection and hope, which are needed to shift visitors from empathy to compassion. This experience will enable action. Thanks to this process, an aware person can develop an empathic mode; an empathic visitor may decide to propagate information to other people and places becoming an activist; an activist may try to reproduce the same nuclear experience somewhere else to activate other people, turning into a catalyst.
As described, the model becomes the center of several activation cycles for locals and tourists, and allows focusing on all the phases of their journey (from awareness to immersion, experience, hope and action) to maximize each of those moments, through tangible ideas.
Yesterday, we presented our work to a group of members of Aegis Trust, including the staff of the Genocide Memorial in connection from Kigali. What we designed, from the conceptual model to the ideas, appeared incredibly powerful to everybody; the reactions consisted of thankfulness, astonishment, and admiration.
Our contribution is obviously just a starting point of a longer process of prioritization, fundraising and implementation. It’s a solid foundation that we all believe could evolve that Memorial into a Centre of Humanity: the reference point for all humanitarians in the world who want to learn how a rebirth is possible, prevent genocides and actively participate to good actions with a local or global impact.
The empowered Centre needs to continue being the protagonist of the education of future generations. “You saved my life,” said one of the students at the end of the visit, “because I was waiting to grow enough to have a gun, to kill the man who murdered my family.” At the same time, the empowered Centre can embrace the mission of bringing values of rebirth and peace alive in front of the entire world, as a symbol of a process that we all started to refer to as “The Rwandan Miracle.”
We, designers, were all too humble to realize that what we shaped can have immense social impact. The only thing we knew at the end of our presentation was that 10 strangers, with different backgrounds stories and personalities, could join forces and come out with something unique. It took one week. Only time will tell the rest of the story.