As everyone in the Architecture and Design world knows, swag and give-aways are fool-proof ways to catch your market’s eye. But what would happen if the give-away was also a give-back?
This was a question izzy+ started asking a year ago as we made plans for our annual Valentine’s Day promotion, which introduces a new izzy+ product to nearly 5,000 interior designers each February. Sure, the event should include colorful izzy+ bags and custom-made chocolates (it is Valentine’s Day, after all), but what if instead of doing a drawing for something flashy, like plane tickets to anywhere in the world or the newest Apple gear, we gave away something that would support our corporate values around giving back?
“The big prizes we had done the last couple of years were flashy, but there’s no substance,” says Brandon Reame, izzy+’s Market Development Strategist and learning expert. “We wanted to promote the ideas we care about most, like giving back, supporting relationships, and offering opportunities for unexpected learning.”
So, during February of 2012, members of the interior design community were given not just chocolate and other goodies, but also a chance to go on an izzy+-sponsored trip to Nicaragua. Over 1,700 designers indicated interest in the promotion, 80 of whom later followed up by filling out a questionnaire about themselves and their interest in the trip. On November 1, six interior designers from around the U.S. flew to Nicaragua, joining Brandon and Jill Horning of the izzy+ team, along with two members of the Grand Valley State University Applied Global Innovation Initiative, which played a key role in planning and laying the groundwork for the trip. The group just returned from their giving-back adventure on November 6.
The main goal in Nicaragua, Brandon says, was helping a group of teachers in the North Central town of Esteli design and build learning toolkits for young students. The izzy+ group had to think through the interior and exterior designs of the kits and how the curriculum could best be organized.
“We’re trying to make the learning experience more inspiring and engaging for the students,” Brandon says. “Designers have great skills and an understanding for what sparks people’s curiosity and engagement. Watching these designers work side-by-side with elementary teachers who make one or two dollars a day—it was just amazing to see everyone work together to really make a difference in such a short amount of time.”
The available resources for most teachers in Nicaragua are so limited, Brandon adds, saying that many schools are little more than metal shacks with dirt floors. Students often have to bring their own chairs from home.
The izzy+ group also contributed to the design of a building that is being converted into a new learning center in Esteli. Leveraging the skills of the designers, Brandon says they reviewed architects’ construction plans then focused on providing recommendations for one aspect of the interior—creating an entrance that would be welcoming and inspiring.
In addition to the design work they did, the izzy+ group toured other schools, visited local markets and a sustainable coffee farming community, experienced cultural traditions like the holiday known as Day of the Saints, and shared meals with many local business people, leaders, teachers and university administrators.
Karin Dax, a designer from Boston, said the trip was an “amazing experience.”
“As soon as I heard about the trip I thought ‘I definitely want to do that,’” says Karin, who is an avid traveler and a fluent Spanish speaker. Helping to design the learning kits was a highlight, she says. “Once we started to understand our role and our goals, and we began talking to the teachers more about what they needed, it was really easy to contribute—we just had to dive in and use our skills to help make their vision a reality.”
And the positive effects of this trip will continue to ripple out—not only for the communities in Nicaragua the izzy+ team visited, but also for the designers back home.
“I think a trip like this puts our everyday lives into perspective,” Karin says. “In Nicaragua, the questions are, ‘Do they have running water and food? Are they able to learn what they need to learn to have a sustainable future?’ Then you come home and a client is upset about a paint color not being quite right. It makes you take a step back and realize all that we have. You reevaluate what’s important, what matters most, and what kind of work you want to be doing.”
As far as izzy+ is concerned, these types of giving-back trips are definitely a part of the company’s future.
“Giving back is a core value that runs deep at izzy+—all the way to our parent company, JSJ,” says Brandon. “And this trip reminded me of an important lesson: Bringing together a creative group of people to help support meaningful causes is extremely addicting. I cannot wait to host a similar trip again.”