Empowering Everyone Everywhere

Micène Fontaine, July 23, 2020

Words carry a lot of weight, yet some are thrown around so lightly that their meaning gets further diluted with each use. 

The words “disrupt” and “empower” come to mind. Each of these words holds bold promises, but “empower” is particularly tricky, in my opinion. It’s one of my pet-peeves (the list is long, but it’s in the top 100). Full disclosure, “empower” found its way into our vision statement as it has into many other vision statements. It’s also in the title of our upcoming Change by Design session: “Empowering Everyone Everywhere.” The irony is not lost on me, yet my gripe persists. I don’t believe anyone can empower anyone else (myself included in both cases).

The best we each can do is be intentional in setting up the frameworks and processes that lay a fertile ground for others to feel empowered. In other words, empowerment is not something that can be bestowed onto others as in: “ hereby declare you empowered. You may now take action.” That, to me, seems to be the opposite of what empowering and empowerment are about. Imagine my surprise when I read that Merriam-Webster defined empowerment as “the granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties.” How is me granting you power somehow empowering you? It simply does not - in my opinion. 

Deep breath. Let me put away my soapbox and get back to this idea of empowering everyone everywhere. Much like zero hunger or no poverty by design, it’s a bold promise, and it's one I wholeheartedly believe in. It’s also a promise that designers and architects can help bring to life in a meaningful way with this first step: Do whatever you can to make sure those you wish to empower have a seat at the table. Should you feel inspired to learn more about ways in which design professionals can lay the groundwork for empowerment, consider looking into our Change by Design series or watch Alastair Parvin’s TED talk about Architecture for the People by the People (it also touches on what might “disrupt” the architecture profession in years to come). 

Whatever you feel empowered to do or not do, I want to leave you with a quote I recently came across. While I can’t pin down who said it first, I feel it captures the spirit of empowerment: “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” 

Here is to empowering everyone everywhere - and reduced inequalities by design. 

:Change by Design