Kiran Bir Sethi

Kiran Bir Sethi is the Founder-Director of the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India and the Design for Change organization. She has a design background, having received her diploma in visual communication from the National Institute of Design (NID).  She is also the Founder of “aProCh” – which stands for “A Protagonist in Every Child” – an initiative that is attempting to make Ahmedabad more child-friendly, for which she was made an Ashoka Fellow in 2008.

Kiran ma'am developed a Design for Change curriculum for middle school students, which is being piloted in 64 schools in India and 5 schools in Spain, Peru, the USA and Taiwan. The related Design for Change (DFC) School Challenge was initiated in 2009 and has since spread to over 72 countries, challenging children to design and implement solutions to problems they see around them. DFC has a collection of over 50,000 stories of change by children across the globe and involving 2 million young students through their programs.


Manthan Shah  00:02

Back in 2019, when I started this podcast, I was working at Ashoka. And one of the first guests was this Ted speaker, internationally acclaimed thought leader in design thinking. She is the founder of design for change. Riverside schooling and about India. And the proprietor of the feds model, which is filled imagine to share. Her name is Mrs. Kiran Bir Sethi. We spoke around this time last year. And interestingly, after a conversation, she asked me, what what's next for you? Where are you headed next. And I said, I'm going to Madrid, Spain for an exchange semester, surprised. She said, she has an office there. And I could volunteer there if I liked. Gladly I accepted. For the next four months in Madrid, I interned with our office. And interestingly, that is when we were organizing the ICANN childrens global summit to be held in Vatican, Rome. And it was inaugurated by Pope Francis, and had the time of my life just working with this amazing team. So in the next 20 minutes, you'll get a sneak peek in the conversations. I'm fortunate to have with Ms Kiran Bir Sethi . Okay, so you started designed for change? And when when was this Feds more like how did this evolve? When did it start? And like how over the years has it evolved? or changed? Or what do you think because it's very similar to the design, Sanford design schools. Design Thinking model like empathy.

Kiran Bir Sethi  01:45

I mean, it is a design thinking framework or process. And it's not similar or dissimilar. I think it's just demystified. It is in a language that is so accessible, right? That's the whole point. So we had to capture the basic process, but make it so simple that kids would respond to the language. That's really how it started. And just to give you a little bit of a background, when I thought of design for change, I didn't call it design for change anything at that point, it was to fit into the joy of giving week, which shrinker had started, right. And it was called joy of giving it to just fit into that. Well, how do you have children, you know, design forgiving, sorry, design forgiving. Anyway, long story short, I had invited friends of mine from IDEO, and Stanford, to work with me when we were idearating and thinking about this. And I, after a lot of conversation back and forth, I realized we were making too complicated, you know, there was a hiatus and I remember sleeping, and then in the weekend, like I said, it has to be just four steps. And I will say it has to be seen, because that's easy. They think it means they have to brainstorm, do and share. And and I remember Sandy from IDEO and said, you know, think is a little smaller, let's talk about imagine. And so that's really actually how you feel imagine to share, so that was created in 2009. So that's really how foods sort of got created. I have to say that over the years, we've not had to change anything, because we've realized that it is so comprehensive, in terms of it captures everything we want. It is simple, it continues to be simple. And now that in 10 years, we've tested for language for context for all of the other what would say barriers, we've seen that it doesn't need change. Couple of my country partners have added a step. So for instance, my partner in in Spain has added evaluate in evolve and evaluate. So in volume and one one of my partners very early on in the UK had said can feel the magic do share then continue. Don't let them just stop there. So have continued So, some people have have kind of added or deleted but overall feel imagine to share has stayed consistent over time.

Manthan Shah  04:29

I get how it was like the middle of the night eureka moment when it was formulating.

Manthan Shah  04:39

So design change has won a lot. So what has been your favorite design success they make recently we I mean the pope appreciated it in front of everyone. So what would you consider the biggest successful design for change and since the model

Kiran Bir Sethi  04:58

the first one TED, my my speaking out on TED in 2009. Because had did not happen, I don't think it would have gone global. So quick, so far so easily. Alright, so I would definitely attribute a lot of the the visibility and scale to take. So that would be one milestone. I think then book then can be a really good milestone. Other than that, not Yes. I mean, we've won awards, and we've been all of those, I think just for natural, just progressions. I think. Me, huh. Yes, I would say, meeting face to face my partners. I remember once the first time I met Kate, in Taiwan, was was she was one of my first partners. And I think just because everything was through, through through Skype, that tonita, Skype, Skype conversation going on. And just to physically meet the person who's taking your idea to their, to their countries, I think, for me, meeting my partner's face to face, it has actually been my highlight, not the awards. Those are, those are just the work you do and it's fine. But I think every time I have had the opportunity to meet and hug a partner, and just thank them, I think that has been super. So I would say dead, then meeting people. And then maybe Boethius.

Manthan Shah  06:35

Remember, when in the backroom when you met all the partners from around this thing, and the parents are setting and you're soliciting each partner, the energy was, like next level in that group. And I had this one question, I always wanted to ask, What is your deal with this yellow card? you avoided while meeting the pope? You were very good. So why is it like see,

Kiran Bir Sethi  06:59

I think couple of things I have realized that the less number of decisions I have to make, the better it is for me to get. So over the many years, couple of outfits I have bought seem to work. Okay, so there it is this yellow quota that seems to work. And then once I know it works, then I don't have to worry about it in filling out a talk, I just know that it works. Let me focus on the talk. Maybe I focus or whatever. Right. So I realize it, the less number of decisions I have to make that asked me to think about other stuff rather than my work, I would simplify. So I have a couple of outfits that I know now I will take to every country, I will have three sort of events, I read them, I go to another country with the same tree. It's pretty cool. So I traveled very, like I remember when most recently to, to, to Peru, to Chile to Paraguay, and back and I took a strolling outfit. I was in every country for two and a half days, I suppose.

Manthan Shah  08:22

I didn't know that side of yours, but now.

Kiran Bir Sethi  08:26

I don't like clutter. I like to declutter, I'd like to declutter my day. I like because otherwise my life is so full. It requires so much of me that so I feel it in every other field. If I can simplify, the better it is.

Manthan Shah  08:42

Yeah, I'm now going to be a person like you have lived a very full life. I mean, from childhood really experiencing being good at academics, to having a really good married life, amazing children, the design for change is growing so much. So how would you? How would you rate design thinking as a thing? As a would you call it as a backbone to every decision that you make? Or what decision over this course Have you made, which has come from design thinking?

Kiran Bir Sethi  09:14

I think one thing that always possibly prompts me is the question what if? And why not? And who said, I think these are the three? So I find I have found that even in hindsight, when I look at all the things I've done, even in my childhood was not prompted by necessarily a very rational thought. But it was always this was it. Why not? What is it is that the idea to question the status quo, I believe was part and bustle of hope. I believe my upbringing. I mean, I was given the opportunity to question the status quo and not you see, yes. You You said it is okay. And then when I did question the status quo I was given the opportunity to action that so if I did say something I was not shut down. I was not saying no, no, God should keep quiet. So I didn't understand any of those that became my belief system. And then eventually going forward, it helped me. In each of the decisions I made, whether it was designing restaurants, whether it was designing whatever, or even for my kids that I grew, why not? You know, as long as you're willing to take the responsibility for that. I think I don't think it's a very rational intentionality. But now it's become more intention testing, okay, why not? Let's try, then I would start the process, then I would start with user and all that. But the first questioning the status quo is why go to mindset

Manthan Shah  10:52

is so powerful, especially coming from India. Like I personally, hate mediocrity, some but I've been trained to thinking what is this like, has to be something exceptional, something beyond? I think a lot of my readers are going to be the people who who want to challenge the status quo and go beyond their mediocre circles, right? And this journey gets overwhelming, at least for me, always challenging time to be better time to be best. So how would you suggest me and readers to take it easy when creating a gr?

Kiran Bir Sethi  11:26

I am not, I don't get driven by Let it be the best in that I don't, I don't think that's that's the reason I do anything. I do it because I believe it has to be done. I believe that it is an opportunity to to get the user whoever it is to have a more fulfilling life. So it is not about best at all. So I don't think I'm ever driven by Yes, quality of the work I like I like to ensure that the quality is not. And that comes from a design, I think frame so I like quality. But I am not driven by best at all. I don't think that's the reason that prompts matter. If the quality of life can improve, then that's a terrific reason to do something. Otherwise, best just first, you everyday just make the quality better quality better. Yeah.

Manthan Shah  12:28

Yeah. Awesome. So right now, I asked you this specific question, because this is exactly what I want to write in the book. So ask you the God shall do a lightning round questions. So what is the code that you live by everyday?

Kiran Bir Sethi  12:51

You only have today?

Manthan Shah  12:55

What is your favorite travel destination?

Kiran Bir Sethi  12:58

within myself?

Manthan Shah  13:01

Never heard that one before. Who's your favorite writer?

Kiran Bir Sethi  13:11

I have so many but now I would. I think the one that made the biggest impact at one time. I don't necessarily feel but it was a really life changing story with JD Salinger. Catcher in the Rye.

Manthan Shah  13:28

Classic. You haven't hidden talent that not many people know about.

Kiran Bir Sethi  13:37

I will be the best actor in a South Indian film to be the mother in law. mother in law in a South Indian soap opera.

Manthan Shah  14:10

I don't know what your energy would like a bomb

Kiran Bir Sethi  14:17

can be this dramatic.

Manthan Shah  14:22

Are you a climber or are your happy go lucky kind of person.

Kiran Bir Sethi  14:27

I can be whatever that moment is. I don't miss the plan for it. But whatever it is, I like being authentic to the moment but

Manthan Shah  14:43

I aspire to be like you became my life my 5% become like your own success.

Kiran Bir Sethi  14:48

Now you should be your own authentic self. You're the best I tell you. You are amazing.

Manthan Shah  14:58

The next question is in the last five But have you become good to say no to?

Kiran Bir Sethi  15:12

actually, I have said yes. More to myself. In the last five years, I've said yes to myself in terms of Yes, I need rest or Yes, I need to be kinder to myself. So I'm saying more yes to myself and my intellect like a, in a way a preservation are kind of the same. So and yes to to. Again, when I say yes to myself means, then my self is linked to my family in the most immediate because I've said yes to everybody else in the past. So I'm taking a little bit of yes to myself.

Manthan Shah  15:53

Oh, wow, that's a good answer. I love this answer. When when you feel overwhelmed, or overwhelmed or unfocused? What do you do?

Kiran Bir Sethi  16:03

I do I do I

Manthan Shah  16:16

do you feel? Anytime that

Kiran Bir Sethi  16:19

I'm trying to pick it up? I am, I'm sure I know that Rome was a lot of work. And it was. Yeah, um, I think what has happened is that over time in, my ability to do more work has just increased. And so therefore, I've been able to, okay, but he is a great word for making lists,

Manthan Shah  16:42

spreadsheets for spreadsheets.

Kiran Bir Sethi  16:47

I just like I like, leaving my phone. I mean, I would like I feel that's that's a relief. And in my head, I, if I keep put it down, and I didn't, then it's off my head. So I can put my reminder on the three days down. If I put it in and into my phone, I'm able to remove that speed that that additional weight. So I've been able to get clearer and better with reminders and stuff. I think that that was

Manthan Shah  17:21

the last question is, if you want to give once a recommendation to the Indian youth to be better, to grow to make more impact to change the world? What would you ask them to do?

Kiran Bir Sethi  17:34

Well, I would say you have to stop with a set of new beliefs. I have seen that too much of focus has been on skills, or let's have communication skills and curiosity skills and critical thinking skills. But if these serve is 21st century skills, or 20th century mindset or beliefs, you're not going to do very well. So be very aware of what you believe about gender, about people about professions about yourself. Because every skill and everything you do, will be lived out from those beliefs. So so you have an opportunity to, to, to re craft a set of beliefs for you that are more universal, that are more compassionate, that are more inclusive. If you build that belief that you know that I'm first a member of the human race, or my other identities come later. And my first responsibility is to get the human race to thrive. independent of you know which community which religion, which politics, which all of that, and then you will really live out your full potential. So be aware of where your beliefs. Wow,

Manthan Shah  19:00

thanks for sharing that that is such a powerful, powerful thing. And I think I picked that up subconsciously, while I was working for design for change in Spain and throughout Rome and our conversation. And this book, as I clicked from day one, I was driving like all the interviews, I had 60% like more women than men because normally the representation is less. We have included like five people from LGBTQ community to give their presentation. And the language that I use is very consciously inclusive. I always say he or she pronouns, everything and it's not like one of the books which says like I've used over here. So thanks for doing that. Thanks for giving me those cents. Thank you so much for everything. This interview has been very insightful and thank you for making time for me on a Sunday evening.

Kiran Bir Sethi  19:46

Be safe, and then hopefully come and meet me soon.

Learn more about Kiran:

> TED: Kids, Take Charge

Get in Touch with Kiran:

> Instagram: @kiranbirsethi

> Twitter: @kiranbirsethi

> LinkedIn: Kiran Bir Sethi

Follow Manthan and Planet Impact Podcast:

> Instagram: @manthanshh

> Instagram: @planetimpactpod

> LinkedIn: Manthan Shah

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