Community Exploration Vol.2 Global Goals Jam – Tackling SDGs with design thinking! Two-day workshops held in 90 cities around the world

Once a month, this series digs deep into the communities active at FabCafe. In this article, we introduce the Global Goals Jam, a two-day workshop that is held annually under the theme of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Global Goals Jam was launched in 2016 in 17 cities around the world through a collaboration between the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and the United Nations Development Program. Participants from different fields, including designers, programmers, engineers, researchers, and citizens use design techniques to work together on challenges related to the SDGs. The 2-day designathon has received a great response and is now being held annually in September in over 90 cities around the world.

In Japan, Fukuoka was the first city to take on the event. In 2017, the Global Goals Jam also started up in Tokyo, hosted by Loftwork and FabCafe. Making use of FabCafe’s global network, the event has also expanded its scope to include Kyoto, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Bangkok.

We hear the term “SDGs” frequently these days, but the tools and methodology for taking real steps forward are often unclear and concrete actions often fail to materialize. The Global Goals Jam uses the Jamkit, a design method tool kit developed by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences with the aim of creating a prototype by the end of the two-day period. The core of Global Goals Jam is “to think in global terms, start small with things that can be done, and to quickly transfer this into action” through the design problem-solving method.

What does it mean to work on SDGs with design methods? What kind of communities are formed through the workshop?

We interviewed Shinichiro Ito, the first person to run Global Goals Jam in Japan and the current organizer of Global Goals Jam Kyoto, and Kelsie Stewart, who organizes Global Goals Jam from FabCafe Tokyo.

Community name: Global Goals Jam


Event activity: Designers, programmers, engineers, researchers, and other people from different backgrounds tackle challenges based on SDGs in a two-day workshop using design techniques. The event is held every year in over 90 cities around the world.

Number of participants: 50 participants in Tokyo each year, 10 in Kyoto, 25 in Fukuoka. Some people participate every year. Globally, there are over 650 participants, with organisers and participants from all around the world interacting on Slack. Different languages and cultures interact and form energetic and dynamic connections.

Past reports: 2017 Tokyo / 2018 Tokyo / 2018 Kyoto (JP only)/ 2018 Hong Kong / 2019 Tokyo


Shinichiro Ito 

In 2016, while studying at graduate school at Kyushu University, held the first Global Goals Jam in Tokyo. Has run Global Goals Jam every year since then. Moved to Kyoto in April 2018 and is currently working primarily on digital fabrication and inclusive design at Kyoto Sangyo University, Faculty of Information Science and Engineering. Graduated with a masters degree specializing in design strategy from Kyushu University Graduate School of Design. Completed FabAcademy.

Kelsie Stewart

FabCafe Tokyo Barista/FabCafe Global Communication Coordinator. Born in Florida, USA. Studied perceptual psychology at the University of Florida with a focus on taste and smell, then went on to study the relationship between religion and society in modern Japan at postgraduate level at the University of Florida. Joined FabCafe in 2017. Participated in Global Goals Jam Tokyo in 2017. Finding it interesting, became the organiser of the Tokyo event in 2018.

Two days tackling global challenges using a “common language” and “prototyping”

── The pioneer of Global Goals Jam in Japan was Global Goals Jam Fukuoka, which was started by you, Ito, at Kyushu University. How did you come to find out about Global Goals Jam?

Ito: When I was enrolled in the master’s program at Kyushu University Graduate School of Design, I had the opportunity to study abroad for a year at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. While there, I was part of a research institute known as MediaLAB Amsterdam that carried out project-based research and education activities working with industry and academia.

After I returned to Japan, two researchers I had met at MediaLAB invited me to take part in a project that they were starting called Global Goals Jam. They asked me if I would like to join them on the project at Kyushu University. That’s how it all started.

I had already been actively continuing my work on the theme of “Design Across Cultures” and we had already held two-day design workshops at Kyushu tackling local social problems, so agreeing to do Global Goals Jam was a natural progression. This was 2016.

── What methods and approaches are you using during the two days of Global Goals Jam? How is it different from other workshops? What are its strengths?

Ito: Addressing social issues through design is not brand new. It is an extension of ideas raised in “Design for the Other 90%” and Victor Papanek’s “Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change.” However, by adding the power of the Internet to this progression of ideas, we are now able to take action globally, at the same time and openly share the process and results.

To this, Global Goals Jam adds the Jamkit, a tool that acts as a common language. When people from different backgrounds come together, their ways of thinking, the processes they employ for moving things forward, and their communication styles will also vary. This produces a lot of what is known as “design waste.” The various insights that arise through the process of design are neither recorded, shared, nor re-used. They end up wasted.

When there is a common language, you no longer get this design waste. At the Global Goals Jam, this common language is provided as a physical card. It can also be accessed online, and the various methods related to design, the aims and time required for each of these methods, and even the form of the output—all this can be understood at a glance. There is also a template for deepening and sharing your ideas.

Recently, the term SDGs has become a buzzword. There is a tendency to see SDGs as ipso facto good, and there are consequent concerns about the absence of critical thinking. Having this kind of template makes things easy to understand when thinking about SDGs and transferring this thinking into real action.

── The phrase “design across cultures” has already come up in this conversation. I felt that this is not about the global unification of ideas, but more about taking advantage of unique local cultural characteristics while using a common language and facing the same direction together.

Kelsie: The tools used in Global Goals Jam are designed to be easy to understand. I, personally, did not study design thinking in any specialized way, but I find the Jamkit easy to use.

These tools are designed so that people can state their opinions in a fair and equal way. In large organizations such as schools, universities, or companies, it’s important to eliminate traditional hierarchies and create an environment where everyone can share their opinions equally.

My favorite tool is Dark Side. This tool forces you to come up with ideas that are the complete opposite of the solution to a problem. For example, in response to a question like “How can we reduce the amount of plastic used?”, we think of “measures for using large amounts of plastic.” Doing these kinds of exercises helps create an environment where your thoughts soften, and you feel open to give your opinions.

── Global Goals Jam Tokyo was launched in 2017. What was it that made you want to get involved?

Kelsie: I feel that the Global Goals Jam is an exercise in community development. The participants don’t know each other before but after spending two days working together, they inevitably end up getting along well. This includes their enthusiasm for the SDGs.

Another thing that resonated with me is that participants in Global Goals Jam take a hands-on approach and get involved in concrete action. When tackling these different sustainability and social issues, they are doing more than just, for example, exchanging opinions on social media. I think that this hands-on experience and the creating of a prototype, no matter how small the scale, is extremely valuable.

Ito: I did not have any sense of community when I started Global Goals Jam Fukuoka. The dynamics of having different people spending two days together on a specific task are definitely effective. The community has gradually formed over the course of the four years since 2016.

A community of about 90 cities taking advantage of local characteristics to participate in global issues

Global Goals Jam Tokyo 2019 participants

── No matter how small, taking a hands-on approach with other participants is a worthwhile experience. Can you both talk to us about what you find distinctive and appealing about the Global Goals Jam community?

Ito: I think we can discuss this from two perspectives: local and global. At the moment, we have about 90 cities around the world participating in Global Goals Jam, so it’s natural that their distinctive features are going to be different, depending on the locality.

In Fukuoka, we have people who come to participate each year. These are people who can share their knowledge about social problems and form solutions, with a focus on Global Goals Jam. People naturally gather around those participants, and individuals build up their knowledge as a result. As there is a cycle of sharing this knowledge with new people, I feel that perspectives on these issues grow more and more each year.

Thanks to the Fukuoka community, we have ideas that can actually be implemented in society. A service known as “Baby BnB”, which was an idea hatched in the 2017 Global Goals Jam in Fukuoka, has plans for proof-testing in Fukuoka this year. “Baby BnB” is a platform where all kinds of people can access spaces for breastfeeding or changing diapers with ease, anywhere in the city. I feel that developing solutions as the community develops is interesting.

Speaking in terms of global connections, one of the participants of Global Goals Jam in Fukuoka last year started up a new Global Goals Jam in Barcelona this year. One of the great things about Global Goals Jam is that you can cross over urban or national boundaries—a participant in Kyoto from last year can participate in Fukuoka this year.

Global Goals Jam uses Slack, an app that’s used everywhere in the world. A total of about 700 people are on it, including organizers and participants from countries all over the world. I also think it would be beneficial to create an accumulative, open source of information, containing documentation of the results and processes of Global Goals Jams from different locations it is held.

Kelsie: As Ito said, each location will have different characteristics and a different number of people taking part. Global Goals Jam in Tokyo has always been run in English, which has attracted many international players. There have also been many events led by members of the community. Taking advantage of FabCafe’s global base, Global Goals Jam has also started up in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Bangkok. It’s interesting how the Asian network has started to take shape.

Global Goals Jam also launched in Hachioji this year. There is no rule that says that it can only be held in one location in any given city. Neither is there a requirement for it to always be held by the same person. I think it would be fun if the event was held at the same time in all the wards in Tokyo, and we had a Global Goals Jam Shibuya, a Global Goals Jam Shinjuku, etc., etc.

Global Goals Jam Kyoto 2018 participants

Falling in love with the problem, not the solution: What do you get from a two-day workshop?

── Global Goals Jam is held over the course of two days each year, and I imagine that in the face of big problems like SDGs, it attracts criticism along the lines of “What’s going to change with just two days?” What are your tricks for creating a bigger impact from small actions?

Ito: Global Goals Jam has a motto: “Let’s fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” If you focus on the solutions too much, it tends to end up too small, while the actual problems associated with SDGs are really huge. The most important thing is that each participant goes home after the event with an awareness of the issues.

We are also conscious that the insights that participants get from one Global Goals Jam event can be carried over to the event the following year. Starting this year, we are planning to create spaces for building the community, to share information about the SDGs.

Kelsie: Global Goals Jam values the ‘Aha!’ moment of discovery that each individual experiences. For people who are normally not used to doing things hands-on or taking action, their experiences from Global Goals Jam will give them confidence and will impact their subsequent mindset.

Something I thought was wonderful about this year’s Global Goals Jam Tokyo was that an elementary school girl took part. Exchanging ideas across generations is a theme that I want to keep thinking about.

── Precisely, because we are dealing with SDGs, a theme that is related to the future, you’d love to have young generations involved in action more.

Ito: Normally, university students and adults take center stage, but it may be interesting to update the Global Goals Jam format so that it can also be used by elementary and junior high school students. It might also be good for children and elderly citizens to work together.

── Finally, can you summarize the value that the Global Goals Jam community can provide society without being swayed by the big words “SDGs?”

Ito: The SDGs are a big challenge, so no one can do anything on their own; even experts can’t solve them. The role of design activities is to help us take a step out of this hazy space and take action. I expect there are many events and workshops on SDGs that are only talk and do not go so far as action. This is why it’s important for us to be hands-on and to continue to do this, while we are all seriously concerned about the situation.

Kelsie: Individual action and awareness is important, of course, but the impact of big companies and organizations taking action also remains important. There is not a lot that I can do for the forests in Brazil while I am sitting in an office in Tokyo. I want to keep thinking about what Global Goals Jam can do to engage the big players so that we can create systematic structural change.

── There are roles and responsibilities for individuals and for companies. We look forward to seeing how the Global Goals Jam community will grow in the future. Thank you to you both.


You can see the output from Global Goals Jam 2019 from participating cities across the world on the Global Goals Jam AWRD page.

Check out the event report from Global Goals Jam Tokyo this year here!