Co-creating with marginalized communities through CityBridge Education

Richard Furman Haynes
Furman Haynes ’17, Project 55 Fellow at CityBridge Education

Furman Haynes is originally from Nashville, Tennessee. He cares deeply about public service and is interested in the intersection between domestic politics, technology, and social welfare. As a politics major at Princeton, Furman concentrated his on using social science and statistical techniques to understand the institutional capacity of the American government to improve citizens’ well-being in the country. He also tutored prison-inmates in entrepreneurship skills, played rugby, and worked as a research assistant for Professor Tali Mendelberg. As a White House Intern in 2016, Furman worked on President Obama’s TechHire initiative, which introduced to him a new interest in labor economics and workforce policy. Furman is excited to bring his social science background to CityBridge Education, where he hopes to learn about ways in which the public, private and non-profit sectors can work together to address serious inequities in education.

One widely held belief in the social sector is that that we already know the answers to the most pressing problems. Consequently, the most important work is identified as merely practical or political, i.e., implementing or advocating for existing policies and other solutions. This confidence in existing solutions is especially prevalent in education. My experience at CityBridge Education, however, has taught me an important lesson: solving entrenched social problems requires letting go of existing solutions and engaging marginalized communities in a process of co-creating innovative new ideas. In short, you cannot understand–much less solve–anything of complexity from a distance.


Haynes CityBridge
Furman at the CityBridge Education office in D.C.


At CityBridge Education, we invest in and incubate entrepreneurs to launch excellent and equitable new schools in Washington, D.C. In addition to being a traditional funder, CityBridge focuses on providing adult learning experiences to educators. These workshops and other tailored supports are rooted in a suite of programming called equityXdesign, which combines the urgent ethos of racial equity work to the methodology of design thinking.

 The hardest and most rewarding part of equityXdesign for many entrepreneurs is “breaking  up with your solution” and then “falling back in love with your problem.” School designers often think they already know what their school will look, feel and sound like. Individuals in equityXdesign workshops, however, are forced question their assumptions and conduct empathy interviews with students, parents and other community members.

In addition to interviews that surface what their end-users are looking for from the school experience, entrepreneurs also prototype their school models with these communities to test whether or not their ideas will in fact work.

Understanding and addressing complex social problems instead begins with designing solutions with, and not for, those in marginalized communities. I now believe that school entrepreneurs in CityBridge’s portfolio are building schools which will uproot traditional narratives of power and inheritance because they begin from this important premise. My experience here at CityBridge has taught me that true innovation in the social sector requires the courage to acknowledge that no single person or organization has all the solutions, and the commitment to engage end-users in the process of co-creation.


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