05/02/2012 08:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

American Design Students Service Learning with Kofi Boone in Ghana

This is the second blog in my series, The Pulse of Africa talking with Global Africans working in Africa and across the Diaspora. It takes an inside view on Africa's progress, issues on arts and culture, technology and opportunities in this decade. See the first here.

In 2000, when I joined Parsons School of Design as the Associate Chair of Product Design to work with the chair Tony Whitfield, he was clear about his mission: design and social interventions, collaborations with not profits and global engagements. From Guyana, Sweden to France, we took Parsons design students across the globe to educate them about the role of design and thinking outside the box from social entrepreneurship to designing for social good. Then, it was impossible to get design publications to pay attention to this unique sector and focus. We walked alone in the world of glamour design. How time has changed and shifts things. Now, it is all the rage in design schools and publications.

One place we never really got to was Africa, which was an issue for me as an African and Tony Whitfield as an African American. The continent was one of our goals; we did get students to develop projects for Africans in many other ways. So, this year when my South African friend and design colleague Nii Commey Botchway, who sends me a weekly email on what's going on in design from an "Afrikan" focused perspective, sent me an email about the work of Associate Professor Kofi Boone at North Carolina State University's School of Design was doing in Ghana, it took me back 12 years.


The international studio, sitting on the steps of the Governor's House in Cape Coast. The house served as studio in the final weeks of the course. (photo credit: Charles Joyner)

Boone teaches a service learning course in Ghana West Africa that is a partnership between KNUST College of Art, NCSU College of Design, and this past year an NGO called Women-In-Progress. In Ghana, he teaches with to other faculty -- Professor Charles Joyner (Art+Design) and Assistant Professor Kathleen Rieder (Art+Design); along with design educator Precious Lovell (who I have heard fabulous things about -- I say this because the world of black designers is small and connected in some many ways). They worked with the Global Mamas group to create clothing.


(photo credit: Kofi Boone for images 1 and 2); Alex Peden (Art+Design Junior) sharing the service learning project work with Ghanaian batik artists. (photo credit: Charles Joyner)

I know of Global Mamas from my retail store -- Calabar Imports -- they are a great cooperative that uses training in batik cloth and fashion design to provide entrepreneurial and business skills to women in Ghana. I have watched them from their inception and seen their growth into more interesting clothing. To date, nearly 500 women have gone through this program, coming out of poverty and gaining access to fair trade global markets.


Ian Thomas (Graphic Design Junior) journaling the lost wax brass-making process (photo credit: Kofi Boone)

North Carolina State University design students collaborated with batik artists in Cape Coast to develop new products to extend their market, especially chlldren's clothing. Additionally, students developed concepts for a larger scale facility that includes environmental and social innovations inspired by existing craft village traditions in Ghana. They created a a design sourcebook for Global Mamas which can be found here.

As a designer and educator who grew up in Nigeria, got educated in the US and the UK, I have valued the global experiences I have had. Design is a global practice and social design is a path that designers should engage in. It is our responsibility to make design relevant. I learnt that very early from the late architect Max Bond, my mentor. Design has the power to change the world - be it architecture, fashion or product design. It is up to the next generation to will this power positively and engage its users - everyday people in the process.