Today we are honored to have De Andrea Nichols as our How I Innovate guest blogger.  

De is the Founder of Catalysts by Design, a social design team that supports young entrepreneurs and change agents nationwide by teaching them design-thinking methodology as strategy in unlocking their creative capacity within communities. She is a graduate student at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, where she specializes in social entrepreneurship.  Her post follows:

I often consider my generation of peers as the catalysts of the world. Surrounded by thought leaders, doers, social entrepreneurs, and trailblazers who have barely entered our twenties, I confidently know that the innovations transforming tomorrow’s world will spew from our midst.

However, there is a gap within this social impact renaissance that we must fill. Thousands of amazing social ventures, start-ups, and NGOs, launch by the minute, but many young leaders are unprepared to make a dynamic impact and build capacity within communities.

And, this is part of where my team, Catalysts by Design (The CXD) finds its purpose. The CXD exists for two primary reasons: 1) to ignite creative solutions to the humane challenges that communities face and 2) to help individuals and organizations unlock their creative capacity within communities.

We achieve these missions by developing design-driven and evidence-based ventures, interventions, and community projects that tackle prominent issues within communities. Our scope of focus intersects youth engagement, socio-economic development, and education. Design Serves, our 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University commitment to action, serves as a primary example of how this works. Piloted in 2011 as an intergenerational service project that helped youth living in rural Mississippi provide aid and service to elderly members of the community, Design Serves (D*Serve) guides teens through the design thinking process as a way to identify what they feel their community deserves and use design methodologies to create solutions. Youth participants–identified as “catalysts”–work alongside members of our team our community partners to gain skills in design (graphic, architecture, communication design), prototype and develop their projects, and advocate community support. The TEDx Talk that I gave below shares more about how Catalysts by Design and our Design Serves initiative work:

Making an Impact as a Team

A lot of key components foster strength, growth, and achievement for the Catalysts by Design team.  The top paradigms that guide us include:

1. Be Bold. Be Fearless. Fear is not tolerated with CXD. We nurture our team members to sustain youth-like optimism with trust that we are supported in an ecosystem of mentors, advisors, and partness who will not let us fail. This allows us to not hold back, but to think radically about how our efforts can help organizations transform the systems in which they work.

2. Connect. Create. Catalyze. At all points of operation, our members operate in one of these action phases. We are a team of connectors. We recruit people who are connectors, ideators, and doers.

3. Understand failure as part of the process. As a design-driven organization, we produce work in an iterative process. We connect. We research. We engage and empathize. We prototype. We gain feedback. We iterate. We continue this process toward success.

4. Harness your unique, authentic gift. We believe that every individual that we work with–including ourselves–should feel liberated by our structure to unlock the best of themselves as we implement works with partners and communities. Whether a person wants to conduct research, build a program, host parties, or more, we seek to support those interests, and instead of asking “Why?,” we focus on How?”

To learn more about Catalysts by Design and our efforts, engage with us across the web:



Twitter: @catalystxdesign


Thank you De!  What does De’s post tell us about how we need to be preparing students for the future?  As you reflect on this school year and begin thinking about next year, what’s one step you could take to move closer to the vision of students as innovative collaborators?