Statement of Purpose


Design professionals have been trained and conditioned to work on behalf of those with greatest net worth rather than those with greatest human need.

  • Unlike other professions (public health, legal aid, social work, public education, etc.) design industry does not offer opportunities to work in the public interest
  • Studies have shown that:
    • engineering education actually reduces the empathy of undergraduate students
    • Architects increase in their desire for public interest work after leaving school, which suggests that the academic study does not sufficiently engage this need.

Problem Statement

  1. How might we put design practitioners into an anti-oppressive, rights-based framework for practicing creativity as liberation?
  2. How might we reallocate the skills to design, build, permit, create, monitor, and operate appropriate technologies and projects into the public interest?
  3. How might we create space for clients, partners, and end users to develop creative/liberating pedagogy – both powerful people who have ignored need, and needy people who haven't had access to power?


  • Design for those in greatest human need rather than greatest net worth
  • Hippocratic Oath: design/enhance/create, do not exploit/destroy/diminish
  • Apply movement-building participatory strategies to engineering industry, anti-oppression, rights-based framework.
  • Apply engineering rigor to environmental justice movements, evidence-based testimony.
  • Offer support, credibility, counsel, and resources based on technical skillset and proven track record.
  • Value local expertise as an invaluable resource. Center the voices of those most oppressed while engaging in the struggle in solidarity despite privileged professional backgrounds.
  • Assist civil society by offering data-driven evidence-based consulting as part of truth and reconciliation process to rebuild public trust.
  • Educate and empower a new generation of design professionals to transform their industries from within.

Towards a new paradigm of sustainable activist organization

  • Worker-owned cooperative. All proceeds/revenues beyond project compensation reinvested as dividends in the firm for future project/travel costs, hiring external consultants, paying local collaborators, and pro-bono work.
  • Earn money that reflects the value of the work, without a premium or markup for privileged expertise, and wherever possible, making the work accessible to those without ability to pay (much) for these services—for example, working on a contingency basis.
  • Bring cooperative framework to activism and engineering, engage local stakeholders as members/partners. Wherever possible start a local cooperative for ongoing management of the project and enlist local participants JusDes members on an ongoing basis.
  • Work will be transformative & restorative, promoting reconciliation and trust via reparations and leadership development.
  • Commit to not undercut local engineers in emerging markets by reflecting the true cost of foreign intervention or hire local folks on the ground.—for example, in regions where no co-op members can support project work, clients would need to cover travel expenses for foreign staff, but receive discounted engineering services (total budget would be higher than local engineering firm or non-profit, but more relevant expertise, rights-based framework, anti-oppressive philosophy and lower rates than foreign engineering firm). Wherever possible, we would build local connections to work on behalf of JustDesign in a culturally appropriate, locally-led, interdisciplinary project team with support and input from our global network.
  • Infrastructure projects to be managed by member-owned cooperatives. Local labor performed, to the extent possible, by worker-owned cooperatives or local businesses.
  • JusDes to host open source design archives and databases for environmental justice monitoring and environmental assessment. Receive payment for data collection, but not data access. Designed for good and free for all. Open source as the default unless there's a compelling reason to do otherwise.

Business Model

For-profit versus non-profit: both are problematic. Is there a third way?

Model For Profit (and b-corp) Non-Profit Both Models Cooperative
Pitfalls pitfalls of social entrepreneurship pitfalls of philanthropy Pressure to incorporate and meet public documentation requirements, payroll, tax obligations that are intimidating for start-up, organic organization. New paradigm of anti-oppression DNA in resistance work with self-sufficient economic model.
Perception profiting off the bottom of the pyramid anesthetizes funders from impact Need startup funding without surrendering ownership/autonomy. Partnership as membership as ownership
Accountability exploiting social justice for personal gain eliminates sociopolitical critique by remaining neutral (tax exempt) Are more accountable to benefactors/investors rather than beneficiaries. Internal accountability, transparency as foundational.
Critique protesting for profit. charity industrial complex. Need to be subverted so that end users truly define accountability metrics and best practices. Anti-oppression informs all activities of the firm: membership, job selection, governance.

Philosophical Underpinnings: Why bother?

We only have one world, and we have seen the extent of destruction. We believe there are people who are able to stop this race to the bottom, if only they had a platform from which to work. JustDesign empowers designers, stakeholders, and the world to stand up to the rich and powerful, with an eye to preserving resources and beauty for future generations.

  • Promote environmental permits for projects that deserve them, while watchdog/opposition to degradation of the environment. Establish team of professionals experienced in permitting [renewable] energy projects worldwide and leverage international best practices.
  • Monitor and provide evidence-based testimony against non-compliant mines or plants in support of environmental justice advocates.
  • Partner with indigenous and environmental activists worldwide to build a network of best practices for creative, transformative justice, implementing participatory strategic planning and sustainable, human-centered design principles, when appropriate.
  • Form cooperative economic models which are less prone to undemocratic, profit-based outcomes.

Why Anti-Oppression

Much of the work of Engineers Without Borders USA and other technology based non-profits funded primarily by multinational corporations. This gives rise to tendencies that are doubly-problematic:


The so-called humanitarian sector works internationally across race, class, gender, etc. identities and layers upon layers of privilege and oppression. It's a "service" industry that derives much of its purpose from the existence of oppression and deprivation (clean water, sanitation, poverty, etc.) Therefore, we share a common pitfall with many peers in the humanitarian sector for the ways in which our projects may serve to perpetuate oppression and dependency.


The practice of many engineering has displaced countless individuals as a direct result of natural resource extraction and neocolonial exploitation of both ecosystems and human labor. The practice of humanitarian engineering puts practitioners directly within communities displaced from their land and livelihood by multinational corporations (potentially even sponsors of the INGOs performing the "humanitarian" work). Therefore, we share a common pitfal with many peers in the engineering industry who are unlikely to recognize the full social and humanitarian impact of technical interventions in vulnerable communities.


The practice of design is a science and an art heavily regulated by policies, client requests, and budgets which we, as an industry complain about but rarely organize to challenge or change. There is a pervasive sense of scarcity that impels us to satisfy the requirements placed before us. We are discouraged from thinking critically about the impact towards justice or injustice by our education, clients, municipalities, and the punitive legal environment in which we serve. And yet, the ultimate value that design can deliver is health. We share a common pitfall with planners and health professionals in seeing only the problems presented as ours, which results in passing the buck for gentrification, environmental injustice, car-centric design, displacement, and global warming.


Artists and designers seek the diamond in the rough, and are often housed out of the down-at-the-heel area of town, with a tendency to colonize and attract further development. Because we are so often employed to make things look good, we are good at just that: attracting attention, finding beauty in pain, glorifying moments of tragedy and conflict. We share a common pitfall with many peers in journalism, business, and governance, who capitalize on the cultural value whatever the human cost.

So, for this reason, we have a duty and an obligation to start with the oppression we witness in our own organization and our global partnerships in order to interrogate problematic aspects of our work. Only then can we develop an anti-oppressive framework to minimize harm inflicted by our attitudes, behaviors, and actions at home and abroad.

Co-operative Principles

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.

3. Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5. Education, Training and Information

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community

Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.Therefore, local participants and stakeholders must have opportunity partners/members in the work itself.