NYU’s Design for America Chapter Takes Its Bindi Project to Queens

Bindis are marks of good luck and energy in Indian culture, and the Bindi Project launched by NYU’s Design for America (DFA) chapter aims to foster communities of women centered on energy, support, and strength. (Collaboration and community are the watchwords, however, rather than luck.)

Following a 10-day pilot trip to Nepal in January 2016, DFA members, accompanied by faculty advisor and Associate Professor of Management Anne-Laure Fayard, tested its OpenIDEO-winning program — which helps women in low-income areas to become leaders and catalysts for change in their communities — during a second pilot in Queens, New York.

DFA NYU’s Queens pilot was mounted in collaboration with Wishwas, a non-profit organization that works to empower low-income immigrant women through social integration and financial self-sufficiency. DFA NYUand Wishwas sought to discover how the Bindi Project could be adapted for use in a different community and context. “When we came back from Nepal and talked to the group in Queens and the women involved, we realized that there are many issues that are similar across countries in terms of lack of confidence, financial empowerment, and role of male actors in the family,” said Fayard. “But also their creativity and willingness to take on some of these challenges were similar. It was an interesting dialogue that took place between our experience with the two groups of women.” In March 2016, through interviews and observations of women in sewing classes, the team found that the Bindi values and community-centered vision could be combined with the nonprofit’s technical-skills program to effectively equip the women with sewing training and business skills. From April to May 2016, DFA NYU prototyped their idea with a group of five women participating in the Wishwas sewing program.

The level of engagement and positive feedback from the participants confirmed the efficacy of the plan. “The five women came to all workshops and they were always on time,” said Izabela Correa, project leader and recent recipient of a master’s degree in Management of Technology. “During the classes, they were very engaged. The women felt that what they were learning would help in their future endeavors — whether starting their own business, working in a company, or even just functioning in their everyday lives.” The Bindi Project’s Queens pilot provided Wishwas with an invaluable opportunity to refine and expand its current program to enable the women to be socially and economically independent.

Through the Nepal and Queens pilot experiences, DFA NYU was able to test and refine the Bindi Guide, an open-source guide that details a step-by-step process to help non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups create community-based programs for empowering women. “I think the lack of opportunity is one of the biggest issues,” commented Fayard. ”We had to keep telling [the women] that they could do it because they were a little worried at first, but as soon as we created the friendly and interactive environment, they became very confident. These women really want to do things for their lives, for their children, and be more independent.”

Judy Lee
College of Arts and Science
B.A. in Sociology, Class of 2018