|Flourish Online Magazine||Spring 2012|
Designing for a cause
By Johanna Brown
Screenshot of Destiny Reflection website
Websites completed for this project:
Google. Facebook. YouTube. That’s where many of us go to get our information – from current events to mundane questions. But, if you are a small nonprofit, in say India or Uganda, it’s quite possible that no one will find you on the Internet. “In this age of technology and interactive media, a website is the quickest way for people to learn about your organization,” explains Lin Hightower, Kennesaw State professor of art.
Last spring, Hightower and her colleague Carole Maugé-Lewis, professor of art, had students in their ART 4022: Digital Design course create seven websites for nonprofits based in India, Uganda and South Africa. “Not only did I want the students to gain international experience and practice their intercultural communications skills, I also wanted them to feel a sense of power at their ability to positively affect the world at a grassroots level,” explains Hightower.
Throughout the semester, the students interacted with their nonprofit clients via Skype and email. “Working on this project helped build my confidence and communications skills as a whole. I had to learn to work with others’ schedules, be flexible and be part of a team,” says visual arts student Andrea Dowis. Her team worked with Destiny Reflection, an organization dedicated to ending sex trafficking in India.
“To know that we were doing this project for a real client was exciting and made the experience more challenging,” explains Daniela Dwendt, another visual arts student. Dwendt’s team worked on the website for Good Samaritan Women’s Project, a Uganda-based organization working with children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Dwendt was so moved by the project that, when the semester was over, she continued to maintain the seven student-created websites, first as a volunteer project then as an independent study. She also founded the KSU International Web Initiative Club, an idea proposed by Maugé-Lewis. “We are currently applying to be an officially recognized student group,” Dwendt says. “We are open to everyone, not just visual arts majors. An effective website requires web designers, programmers, copywriters, photographers and the like.”
In fall 2012, the Department of Visual Arts will partner with GlobalGiving to select a new pool of nonprofit clients. Based in Washington, D.C., GlobalGiving provides alternative sources of funding to nonprofits across the globe. “It is becoming more and more difficult for nonprofits to increase their impact in the community without a website,” says Alexis Nadin, a program associate with GlobalGiving. “A website opens the door for funding opportunities and allows likeminded organizations and individuals to find each other.”
However, many nonprofits don’t have the resources to cover the cost of hosting a website. To address this issue, the KSU students suggested that Hightower and Maugé-Lewis contact Doteasy, a Canadian-based web hosting company. Many of the students were already using Doteasy for their personal websites and felt the company would make a good partner for the web design project. Doteasy quickly agreed to host the student-designed websites for free. “You don’t often see this kind of project in our fast-paced society,” says William Wah, marketing coordinator with Doteasy. “We wanted to help make the web more accessible for everyone and support the KSU students’ global awareness.”
By focusing on global organizations, Hightower hopes the students will challenge their assumptions about the world and encourage them to think critically about their role in the global economy. “When the students graduate, they can no longer assume they will be working locally, regionally or even nationally,” Hightower explains. “Often they will be dealing with international clients and it’s critical for them to learn how to navigate a global workplace.”