Changemaker Club Innovates in Provo

Provo sunset

For busy college students, opportunities to serve can be lost amid the day-to-day challenge of balancing coursework, jobs, and relationships. But members of BYU’s Changemaker Club are bucking that stereotype by using their education to find sustainable solutions for social issues in Provo.

“We’re a group of students who see the same problems as everyone else, but we see them as opportunities to apply the principles of human-centered design and empathy—solving problems from the customer’s point of view,” said Matzen Shirley, a senior business major from Vancouver, Washington, who serves on the leadership board of the club.

The club is affiliated with the Marriott School’s Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, but students from all majors can attend.  This cross-disciplinary collaboration is what makes the group special. According to Sydni Dunn, a business management senior from Arroyo Grande, California, who also serves on the leadership board, the Changemaker Club provides a platform to learn more about design thinking and apply it in the real world.

“Rather than just learning about social innovation, we apply it directly to give students experience,” Dunn said. “There are three phases: learning about it, then working with a local organization, and then the case competition at the end of the semester.”

The local organization the club paired with this semester is Crystal Block, a Provo-based company that inspires and empowers individuals to create strong communities. Some of Crystal Block’s endeavors include running a community events calendar, featuring profiles of local restaurants and musicians, and, hopefully, building a community center in the near future.

“We’re in an age of connecting globally, and Crystal Block’s view is, ‘Hey, we need to bring things back to the local community and back to face-to-face interaction,’” Shirley said. “That’s just one organization that’s trying to do good things in innovative ways, and we’re applying the principles we’re learning to figure out how they can make a bigger impact locally.”

Twice a month at the club’s weekly meetings, members complete IDEO design thinking training. IDEO is an award-winning design firm that offers certification in human-centered design, which is becoming an increasingly valuable skill for employees and entrepreneurs to have in their toolbox. The course is an intensive online training that members complete in group meetings as well as on their own time.

“IDEO looks at problems from the human perspective: solving problems for people with people involved,” Dunn said. “Rather than just presenting a finished product, IDEO interacts with people to ask, ‘What is the real issue here and what would be a better solution?’ They’ve done that with social problems over the years like clean water issues, vaccinations, and access to good electricity sources.”

During the other two weeks of monthly meetings, the club puts their training to work as they plan Crystal Block’s community center. The Changemakers are currently researching and designing a women’s center focused on young mothers that Crystal Block hopes to start building within the year. In the quest to make a difference in the world, simple community issues can be overlooked, but the Changemaker Club is passionate about making sure that doesn’t happen.

“The Ballard Center gets a lot of international organizations that come in and want students’ help on different issues,” Dunn said. “Being part of the Changemaker Club really allows us to focus locally. We look for organizations that are socially minded and want to solve issues in a better way—not just to treat the symptoms but to ‘do good, better.’ We as a club want to have a sustainable impact. That’s what I love about it.”