Impact Challenge Partners with Puentes de Salud

Sponsored by Haverford Innovations Program and Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership, a daylong workshop led by Alexandra Wolkoff ’14 from Puentes de Salud gave participants direction on how to support Latinx immigrant communities in Philadelphia.

On Saturday, October 26, students from Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges met for a day of design thinking and creative problem solving sponsored by Haverford Innovations Program (HIP) and Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership (CIL).

Impact Challenge is a daylong design sprint or ideation session wherein students learn and implement human-centered design tools,” said Shayna Nickel, VCAM’s Haverford Innovation Program manager. “Partnering with a local organization, students gain an understanding about the background, mission and issues facing the agency.”

The annual event is designed to be an applied-learning workshop so students can learn how to tackle a real-world problem and be able to integrate feedback from would-be users. 

“Our hope was participants would understand the process of how to design for a solution and implement these tools in other areas, issues, and problems they encounter and look to solve,” said Nickel.

The first Impact Challenge took place last December, with food-justice organization Philabundance as the community partner. This semester, Puentes de Salud, a health and wellness nonprofit serving Philadelphia’s Latinx community, and Alexandra Wolkoff ’14, its director of education, was on hand to speak about the work her organization does to support Philadelphia’s Latinx immigrant communities. 

“This year, in looking for a partner, we asked for suggestions from our home institutions,” said Nickel. “There was already a strong Tri-Co connection to Puentes de Salud. Alexandra Wolkoff ’14 not only gave students an excellent overview of the agency’s history, work, and current challenges, but also stayed long into the session to give greater insights and user-centered feedback to groups on their concepts.”

After learning about the needs and mission of Puentes de Salud, students entered the design-thinking process in order to formulate ways to provide aid to the organization. They learned about the importance of empathy mapping and used startup methodology to develop their plans. 

The first step was empathy, where we tried to understand the challenge faced by Puentes de Salud,” said Anubhav Sharma ’23. “Then, each group considered specific portion of the larger problem and brainstormed ideas for user personas by identifying their needs, wants and fears. The next step was ideation, where we brainstormed a lot of ideas and ranked them in order of viability.”

Following the prototyping and testing stages, the students were prepared to present their innovations. Sharma’s team developed plans for a mobile app called Salvame, designed to help undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

“Salvame means ‘save me’ in Spanish,” he said. “This application is basically designed for emergency use, where if an undocumented immigrant is detained, they can pass the information promptly to the organization who first approves the alert, and using the group/direct-messaging function, finds staff/volunteer to help in the process.”

Two other groups, Puentes Development Division (PDD) and Puentes on Campus (PC) focused their suggestions around the mobilization of students on college campuses. While both suggested creating a grassroots strategy for raising awareness and fundraising, PDD offered a way to leverage Puentes’ organizational structure to implement the idea, and PC took into consideration how the adroitness of college students on social platforms could raise awareness in a more systematic way.

The fourth team, Youth Emotional Support Volunteer Program for Puentes de Salud, focused on children and looked to design a child-centered support team focusing on the physiological, nutritional, and emotional needs of Latinx immigrant children, especially those whose parents are undergoing forced detention.

For Nickel and participants, the generation of this student-led, socially motivated solution to the challenge presented is part of the invaluable impact of the workshop. 

We look to introduce a number of tools that can be applied to both problem-solving and enterprise building, along with practicing leadership soft-skills,” she said. “At the end of the day we’re thrilled when we see students creatively and thoughtfully rise to a challenge, and new friendships emerge.”

“I learned so much just in day,” said Sharma. “The design-thinking process gave a guide for how to start building up ideas to solve a problem. One of the key takeaways was to focus exclusively on the problem first, and then work slowly on the ideas. That is important because, no matter how great an idea is, it is useless if it does not apply to the specific challenge as visioned. No doubt, I will highly recommend this program to other students.”