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Stories from Design Bridge: designing for good

Design. It can excite, provoke, challenge, inspire, frustrate, delight. And design is what unites us at DB. It’s part of our DNA.

But what if… you could enjoy designing and, at the same time, do something good for society? Ivan Cervantes, a Designer based in our Amsterdam Studio, had been asking himself this question and decided to make it a reality.

In his spare time, Ivan has created a charity jewellery collection called The Starwatcher, and is now collaborating with one of the winners of this year’s What Design Can Do (WDCD) Refugee Challenge. But this is just part of the story. Here’s Ivan to tell you more…


How it all started

I’ve always thought that, as individuals, we can help to change the world. Since I arrived in Amsterdam 3 years ago I hadn’t been involved in any social causes and I wanted to prove myself that, as a Graphic Designer, I could use my skills to do something to help people. My first step was to do some research, and I discovered the UN Online Volunteers - an online platform which enables organisations to connect with people from all over the world who are willing to volunteer and utilise their skills (outside of their work environment) to help make a difference. Looking at the opportunities to volunteer design skills, I noticed that the projects available were varied and constantly changing – anything from brochures to icons, books for children, logotypes and much more.


My second step came when I saw the tragic images of the people who had that tried to reach the coast of Greece in an attempt to escape the Syrian war and died along the way. I decided then that what I wanted to do was to meet and help people who had been displaced due to armed conflicts. That’s why I started collaborating with the Libraz Foundation, an Amsterdam-based non-profit organisation which helps women and children who have been through through traumatic experiences (and especially war refugees) through artistic and cultural projects. I was involved in the creation of a big mural, consisting of a sequence of drawings made by children living in the international shelters. It will be fully developed in Lebanon over the next couple of weeks.

Refugee Connect Project

I then met a Syrian designer and, through him, I learnt that many of the newcomers arriving to Europe were highly skilled people. People who wanted to be treated like the professionals that they were, and not as refugees. I also realised that to continue developing your skills you need the right tools for it. And in the case of a designer, an engineer or an architect, that means a computer.

That’s why I decided to create what I called the “Refugee Connect Project”. I asked my colleagues and friends if they had any old computer hardware that they would be willing to donate and the result was better that I could have ever anticipated! I had a bunch of computers, but a new problem came with them: some of the laptops needed to be repaired and I didn’t have the skills, nor the finances, to make them fit for purpose.


The Starwatcher

To raise the money to fix the computers, I wanted to find solution that involved design. Something that would be interesting and that could also help me learn new skills. My solution was The Starwatcher – my own adventure into jewellery design, but with a humanitarian point of view: to use 100% of the profits to raise funds for humanitarian causes.




Now that The Starwatcher is up and running, I fundraise projects for periods of three months. I’m currently able to support Help Your Neighbor, a collective I met in Athens which helps people living on the streets – mainly Syrian refugees, but also homeless and people with drug addictions.

The opportunity at WDCD

At the same time The Starwatcher collection was born, I was also working on a project at Design Bridge on an entry for a contest organised by What Design Can Do (WDCD) – the Refugee Challenge. I teamed up with my colleagues Ane Maguregui, Leanne Addy and Richard Rigby, along with Hamzah Kashash, a Syrian friend and we ended up being finalists with our (H)OUR BANK idea (you can find out more about that here). Despite not winning, it gave me the opportunity to meet some brilliant new people and find out about some fantastic initiatives. One of the winners I met was the team behind Makers Unite. Their project is all about collecting the life vests from the Greek shores and using them to create new sustainable products, connecting the local people with the newcomers. And I’m excited to say that I am going to be collaborating with them organising graphic design workshops for newcomers with the help of my colleague Alicia Mitchell.

What you can do

If you feel inspired to do some good for society outside of your work life, using the skills you learn in your day job, then there are plenty of places you can look. For example, in Amsterdam you can find flexible volunteer activities though Nederland Cares. Or you can even purchase one of The Starwatcher jewels – here’s the link to the website!


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