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Design for rural social innovation

Investigate and design future propositions that would revitalize social and economic fabric of the Odemira region affected by rural exodus.

Project Brief

This was the social innovation challenge at the interdisciplinary summer school by Weareholis in 2019. CLARA, a center for the rural future in the interior of Odemira, Southern Portugal was starting its operations and it wanted us to investigate future scenarios that would revitalize the economic and social fabric of the region.

Nomad camp at CLARA. Image credit: Holis/ Clara


My contribution

As a part of the team, I contributed in the entire design process - contextual and exploratory research, sense-making and insights, systems mapping, idea generation and presentation to name a few.

Sketchnoting about collective intelligence design. Image credit: Krstan Petrucz

Systems mapping during the process​. Image credit: Henryk Stawicki

As we had rotating team roles, I was able to take roles of team leadership, chaos pilot and well being officer. This helped in building capabilities for such diverse roles, as well as sharing of responsibilities.





The process

Interviews with different local stakeholders

Clustering ideas using MoSCoW

Assessing concepts on a Health Checklist and a triple bottom line criteria



The concept

After an intensive week of research, data-synthesis and ideation, the concept we proposed is called          Co-demira, a co-working space inside the old brick factory near Saboia, in the Odemira region. Co-demira wants to bring digital nomads and people allowed to do remote work into peaceful surroundings of rural Portugal and offers them a co-working space and accommodation.


Coworking at CLARA:

CLARA provides accommodation and working space with internet and amenities to remote workers, away from the crowded urban environments, to do deep and dedicated work in a natural and quiet environment. CLARA will promote this service through its diverse channels to reach out to digital nomads and remote workers. This will provide a sustained income stream to CLARA as well as an influx of talent that may be helpful to revitalise the area.


Connecting through the local currency Co-in: 

A crucial aspect of this idea is the exchange of a local social currency called “Co-in”, to promote getting involved with locals and foster social bonds. CLARA will create a local network where the locals list their current challenges (with which they would be happy to be helped) and the kind of experiences they can offer to remote-workers. Several Co-ins will also be offered to locals as an induction token to this network. This way locals will be able to give Co-ins to the remote-workers who helped them out with their challenges. The local challenges will be shared with the remote-workers, who will be able to choose to help out in any of them, according to their skills and availability, and get Co-ins from locals, in exchange. After receiving these Co-ins by helping the locals, the remote workers will be able to exchange the Co-ins for a local experience of their choice offered by the locals.


The social currency : Co-in. A prototype and concept flow for the presentation.

Presenting the Co-demira concept to the locals and other participants at the end

 One of the locals with one of our Co-in

The Co-in doesn’t represent a business transaction, but an incentive to get involved and socialise with locals, as well as to discover rural life and resources of the Odemira region.



Exploratory and investigative research along with synthesis of observations helped us understand the causes of the rural exodus and the slowly disintegrating social and economic fabric of the area. We also uncovered roles that national politics, geography, local temperament, culture and market forces play to make it a multi-headed beast of a problem. But we couldn't come up with fully developed solution in ten days, and I think it wasn't expected either. We as a cohort came up with four distinct concepts that CLARA can trial and pilot, but a lot still needs to be done.

Only altruism or philanthropy will not revitalize the social and economic fabric in Odemira or other parts of the world suffering from rural exodus. Neither will trying to recreate what worked in the past. We need alternative economic models that are sustainable and viable product-service ideas that appeal to the young generation and their needs.

It was a humbling and heartening experience to be able to contribute some ideas for Clara’s road map through the medium of Holis. As I reflect, I want to do more and anticipate about what are the next challenges for the CLARA team. It seems like we have touched only the tip of the iceberg and there are many more aspects that need to be explored, designed and iterated.


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