Engaging Youth for Financial Empowerment

Winner of the 2015 THINK Prize sponsored by OpenIDEO, CO-OP Financial Services & Mastercard


Sponsor: OpenIDEO Financial Empowerment Challenge, Co-Op Financial Services, Mastercard

Role: Project Owner, Service Designer

Sector: Social Service Design

Industry: Finance


Project Overview

This project  is a concept born and developed on OpenIDEO as a part of the Financial Empowerment Challenge. The idea takes the form of a grassroots youth campaign engaging our current generation of students, ages 17 and up, in open discussions in order to break down social taboos and change the way we think and communicate about money and financial stability. Full details can be viewed here



My Money & Me Process.png

Design Summary

The problem is broad. It strikes a a universal chord. We all need money to survive and thrive on this planet. It is at the core of our basic needs. However, many people around the world find themselves lacking the necessary education and support to build financial stability. The goal of this project was to develop a design solution that would tap the power of communities to extend the reach of financial education, resources and support, ultimately leading to a brighter financial future for everyone.  

"How might we use the power of communities to financially empower those who need it most?"

I looked to a bright spot in my local community to get started. Chaco Credit Union puts it's mission, "people helping people" into action every day through community financial education programs. I sat down with four of these dedicated community leaders in recorded video interview sessions to get their take on the issues.

Four themes surfaced:

Empowerment — How Chaco empowers the community through investments and a member-run business model.

Programs & Services—They launched two education initiatives for teens and adults, a new budgeting app and second chance checking.

Collaboration—They partner with community organizations such as schools, churches and shelters.

ChallengesTheir obstacles include engagement with the community due to lack of motivation to change, volunteer needs and apathy.

After speaking with the team at Chaco, it became clearer that there were many bright spots around the country, and many dedicated public servants aiming to improve the lives of those in their community through financial empowerment. So, I posed the question: How could the success of Chaco and other local credit unions around the country, be distilled, expanded or channeled to inform a global solution?

During my interviews Mitch Vocke from Chaco Credit Union mentioned “Rock the Vote” as an example of a successful movement that got young people motivated and interested in the elections. That reference was the spark that initiated the idea for a grassroots campaign that engages students in open discussions about money. I posted the concept on the OpenIDEO global platform and over the course of the first month, 11 other people from the OpenIDEO community joined my virtual team to collaborate.

One of those contributors was Ryan Zimmerman, a teacher from a K-12 school in Atlanta, GA. He decided to shape his design thinking curriculum around the My Money & Me idea. He engaged his 76 students and gathered their feedback for the concept.  As the process moved along to prototyping, we asked his class to test a prototype called Money Talk, a conversation starter kit for teens. The kit was designed to initiate conversations in a supervised classroom setting, collect information about youth psychographics, and test student willingness to participate outside of the classroom with online and take-home activities. The downloadable kit can be used in high school and university classrooms, clubs, churches and community groups to spark conversations about money. 

As momentum built, the concept grew and expanded rapidly thanks to the global, collaborative effort of dozens of people from around the world. They contributed their ideas, provocations, questions and feedback to help build on the idea.


User Journey




This idea was a winner of the THINK Prize 15 and was chosen as a Top Idea for the OpenIDEO Financial Empowerment Challenge. It was also a catalyst for the founding of the OpenIDEO San Diego Chapter in September 2015 and that chapter's participation as workshop facilitators in the THINK Conference 2016 in Coronado, CA.

This story was recently published on the OpenIDEO Stories Medium Page.

OpenIDEO – Financial Empowerment Challenge: Announcing Top Ideas

OpenIDEO – Financial Empowerment Challenge: Announcing Top Ideas

CO-OP Financial Services – THINK Prize 15 Top Ideas Have Been Chosen

CO-OP Financial Services – THINK Prize 15 Top Ideas Have Been Chosen

CO-OP – THINK Prize 15 Ideas Are True Winners

CO-OP – THINK Prize 15 Ideas Are True Winners


"Design Forward" and Beyond


Sponsor: OpenIDEO

Role: Chapter Founder & Organizer, Workshop Facilitator

Sector: Social Impact Design & Leadership


Project Overview

What can a small group of passionate Design Thinkers do in a year? Anything they want. The experience of the Financial Empowerment Challenge and Higher Ed workshops acted as a ripple effect through the community. As the chapter tied in with other like-minded design organizations, the group became known in San Diego as the place to "learn about and practice Design Thinking." 

Chapter Journey

  • The year kicked off to a great start with the news that the Higher Ed challenge idea was selected in the Top 25 on OpenIDEO.com!

  • The series of Higher Ed workshops led to the establishment of the Open IDEO SD Leadership team. The team gathered together in February to solidify chapter goals for 2016.

  • March led to an opportunity to "adopt an idea" and spread the HCD love by contributing research, ideas and provocations to an existing idea for the OpenIDEO Water and Sanitation challenge.

  • In an effort to further the education mission, another chapter leader and I, participated in the Acumen HCD Facilitator course and held a free, all-day HCD workshop for the San Diego community.

  • We went local in April with a Map-a-thon night aimed at identifying and and mapping out local design challenges around San Diego.

  • At the request of the members, we turned our attention back to the global platform in May to contribute to the OpenIDEO End of Life Challenge research phase. We spent the evening re-thinking how we, as a culture, can make the end of life more comfortable, rewarding and "less of a bummer".

  • June took the chapter to a new level of engagement. In addition to hosting an HCD course and holding a meeting to solidify the chapter's local design challenge, member's designed a salon exhibit that engaged hundreds of people in a journey mapping exercise at Design Forward, a city-wide event aimed at putting San Diego on the map as an up-and-coming Design economy.

  • July and August brought us into the Research phase of a local design challenge aimed at improving transportation in San Diego. I had the pleasure of leading that workshop with a truly excellent co-facilitator! We led the group in an activity that ended in a field research plan.

  • As a little side project a few of us participated in a Food Waste Challenge event where we picnicked in the park and left no waste behind, sharing food with those in need.

  • We continued our field research in September when we jumped on the trolley and interviewed passengers on their transportation experiences. That data we collected helped inform our October and November workshops, where we honed in on some concepts to improve our local transportation system.


The launch of the San Diego Chapter fulfilled a need within the design community that had previously gone unmet. While there were many experimental elements to the events and activities, the group is proud to say we've become integrated into the design community as educators and advocates for Human-Centered Design in San Diego. Many members have moved on to work more closely with Design Forward as board members and community advocates. Our chapter's workshops and collaboration with Design Forward and the UCSD Design Lab has paved the way for infinite opportunities to educate, practice and apply Design Thinking in our city.