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Leveraging the power of grandmothers

Worldstudio and AIGA are pleased to announce the 2015 Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award winner, Gma Village. The winning entry – developed by (from left to right, below) Catalina Garcia, Johnna Flood and Maggie Ollove – comes with a $10,000 prize. The Gma Village is an affordable childcare service for low-income families in Oakland, California that leverages local grandmothers as trained and trusted providers.

WS_Gma_1The Challenge of Child Care
Child care is an expensive prospect for most parents, but for low-income parents it is prohibitive, often keeping them from work or going to school. In the State of California, assistance is available, but with 200,000 on the child care subsidy waitlist and an average waiting period of four years, most low-income parents are unable to benefit from this scarce resource.

Catalina and Johnna had experienced difficulty in finding reliable child care for their children. Both had access to options, but they were expensive and designed for their traditional 9 to 5 work schedule. The team wondered what families struggling to make ends meet did, especially if they worked odd hours or went to school in the evening. Catalina says that the “the purpose of our project is to provide low-income families with an affordable child care alternative that is responsive to their schedules.”

Although they had personal experience with issues around childcare, what really drove them forward were the stories they heard from families throughout West Oakland, a low-income community in the Bay area. “Many had to make tough decisions and chose between working and leaving their kids in unfavorable situations, or not working and staying in poverty,” says Johnna.

WS_Gma_3The Solution
Through an embedded service-design process, the team engaged over 100 community members to help them identify childcare needs and desires, prioritize concepts and test potential solutions. They found that while parents – predominately single mothers – very much need childcare, they are reticent to trust most providers and desire a more personal relationship. Maggie relates, “we met many (grandmothers) who have ample time, the desire to be with kids and to support the community.” Leaving their child with a trusted elder from the community gave the parents confidence.

Out of this process, the Gma Village was born. This service leverages a powerful community asset – grandmothers – to meet the need for childcare in a way that is both affordable to parents and beneficial to providers. Affordable and reliable childcare is a need in all communities and the potential to scale this program is enormous. Parents will have access to trustworthy childcare which will allow them to work or go to school and escape the cycle of poverty, grandmothers can find fulfilling work that supplies them with supplemental income and children get consistent quality care.

WS_Gma_5The Award and Jury
Sylvia Harris (1953 – 2011) (above) is widely recognized as a pioneer, a generous mentor and a vital inspiration in the field of social impact design. This award – established to celebrate her life and indomitable spirit – is presented by Worldstudio, thru their social initiative Design Ignites Change and AIGA, the professional association for design, in collaboration with Harris’s family, friends and supporters to honor her legacy by recognizing other vanguards dedicated to public design.

The 2015 award jury with expertise in a diverse range of social design issues included: Humberto Arevalo, principal, Erre Architecture; David Gibson, co-founder and managing principal, Two Twelve Associates; Chelsea Mauldin, executive director, Public Policy Lab; and Kyle Reis, Tech Soup Global.

In the spring of 2016 Worldstudio will announce the 2016 deadline. Click here for more information.