By Joe Gammal

Joe Gammal, Synecticsworld

As athletes from around the world gathered in Boston on Marathon weekend and contemplated the 26 plus miles that awaited them Monday morning, the Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Club and Design Club, together with the innovation and design firms Synecticsworld and Makibie Design, harnessed the strengths and minds of a diverse student population to help Inner City Weightlifting to Design a Better World.

Inner City Weightlifting (a Boston non-profit organization) uses Olympic Lifting to redirect young people away from gang involvement, and to help former and active gang members and young victims of domestic abuse.

The dedicated staff (many of whom came to Inner City Weightlifting to break their own negative life cycles) help their students build the confidence to say no to violence and yes to opportunity, including career opportunities in the field of personal training.

For Jon Feinman, Executive Director and Founder of Inner City Weightlifting, and his dedicated team, the event was a chance for members of the greater Boston community to give a hand in return.

In their quest to get more young people on the right path, Jon identified the essential need to increase the acceptance and engagement of the communities in which Inner City Weightlifting operates and its students and coaches live. Specifically, the challenges are

  • How to encourage Corporations to donate funds/services and provide jobs for students?
  • How to increase the desire of local government and government influencers to welcome Inner City Weightlifting in their neighborhood?
  • How to encourage collaborations with charitable youth organizations (YMCA, etc.) toward education and careers?
  • How to encourage volunteers to be mentors, and the community to be clients of Inner City Weightlifting?

That is why on a warm Boston day, the Harvard Innovation Lab buzzed and bustled with fifty plus students from multiple Harvard Schools, plus a team of Inner City Weightlifting staff, facilitated by Joe Gammal and Joe Giordano and their team from Synecticsworld, and Andy Jordon and his team from Makibie Design.

The event (spearheaded by Daphne Leger and hosted by the Social Enterprise Club and Design Clubs) was the inaugural initiative of the Social Enterprise Club’s use of design thinking to solve social challenges.

Held at the new Harvard Innovation Lab (where students from the many colleges gather to cross-pollinate and take advantage of the diverse thinking across Harvard), the event commenced with Joe Gammal sharing the techniques of Synectics, that for over 50 years have changed the way people interact and inspired the way they relate to their world.

In a panel discussion, the Inner City Weightlifting staff shared their life experiences and struggles, giving the other participants a window into the impact of Inner City Weightlifting through the eyes of the ICW students and staff. In human centered design, this empathy is essential for effective breakthrough innovation.

The disparate group unified as an integrated team to generate over 150 beginning ideas for Inner City Weightlifting. The 22 most intriguing  ideas were chosen by the full span of participants and Jon Feinmen then selected  the eight ideas that were developed further into solid concepts for Jon and his organization.

The Harvard students learned hands-on human-centered innovation and creative thinking techniques, as well as the importance of being able to see with new eyes and step into others’ shoes to solve real social problems.

In the words of Jon Feinman ”We presented a difficult topic, a topic that most people don’t have exposure to. I was impressed with the open mindedness of the group, how welcome our Inner City Weightlifting students felt, and the interest people expressed outside of the session. We are eager to push forward with some of the suggestions.”

“It is inspiring to see what happens when great minds release their creativity, and we hope that this will be the first of many Design a Better World workshops and continued engagement with Inner City Weightlifting,” Daphne Leger, Social Enterprise Club, Harvard Business School.

Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Club and Design Club, Synecticsworld’s Joe Gammal, Makibie Design, and InnerCity Weightlifting


Synecticsworld – Changing the way people interact with each other and inspiring the way they interact in the world.


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