How Prachi Saxena Turned Talk into Action at the Institute of Design

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By Andrew Connor

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When Prachi Saxena (M.Des. Candidate ’20) was growing up in India, she says she was fascinated by the cultural practices and “can-do” mindsets of the people living in the nation’s cities and rural areas, something she says still inspires her today.

“As I was growing up in that context, I noticed how people were innovative in their own culture,” says Saxena. “There were these workarounds that were so unique and informed, and it gave me this appreciation of the community itself. And that’s something that informs my own social impact journey. I don’t feel like I can just simply walk into a space and fix it, nor is that something I want to do.”

Wanting to drive her own social impact, Saxena studied psychology and anthropology in India for her undergrad, then came to the University of Chicago’s Division of the Social Sciences for her master’s degree. It was there that she began to notice the difference between the theory of making change and its actual implementation.

“I started noticing this disconnect between the issue I was talking about and any significant action taken on it. I felt this tension between writing about these issues but not having any toolsets to propose a solution,” says Saxena. “Social science is an inquiry-based field that asks important questions that I believe can change conversation in important ways, but for me it was one step removed from what I realized I wanted to be.”

Following her graduation, Saxena began working for Conifer Research, a design consulting firm in Chicago. Working alongside designers, many of whom graduated from Illinois Institute of Technology's Institute of Design, she realized that studying design thinking could equip her with the skills and tools necessary to turn talk into informed action. With no formal design experience, she joined the ID’s Master of Design and Foundations program.

“[In Foundations] you get thrown into a place that really makes you uncomfortable, but with a support structure that I think truly does not exist in any other institutional environment,” says Saxena. “And the way Foundations broke down the landscape of design to give me these building blocks and the skills for critiquing and providing feedback really laid the foundation for who I have come to be since then.”

Currently, Saxena is working part time for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Innovation Incubator outside of her studies, where she initially started as an intern during summer 2019. Collaborating with her fellow designers, she works on projects that look three to five years in the future and that aim to address larger, systemic issues that the health insurance industry could be involved in, from increasing the amount of people getting vaccinations to providing resources beyond health care for individuals in need.

“Working on these issues at a systemic level really appealed to me. Health care and health insurance is a really rich area that needs improvement; there’s a lot of opportunity to create systemic solutions,” says Saxena. “These complex industries have large networks and resources sitting there to be tapped into and pointed in directions where I would love to see change.”

Photo: Institute of Design student Prachi Saxena (provided)