Addressing the brief of “Designing for minimum wage earners in New York City” in the Design Research and Integration class, students Ziyun Qi, Oscar de la Hera Gomez, and Isioma Iyamah created Project Dao—a free, alternative learning platform aimed at empowering children of minimum wage earners through valuable, targeted educational content, along with resources to enhance their entrepreneurial potential and employability. (The name derives from the Chinese concept of 'Dao', signifying 'way', 'path' or 'route'.)
Project Dao uses a gamified, digital platform to connect users to teams led by specialized, industry-relevant mentors. These mentors customize their users’ journeys by creating a series of digestible, micro-objectives in the form of timed challenges—such as skill building intensives and short workshops. Users participate in these challenges—both team-based and individual—to build a toolkit of successfully acquired skills. The Project Dao platform can then provide services in the form of an alternative marketplace for companies who are looking to hire such skilled earners.
Additionally, the platform offers a feedback system where mentors can inform the parents around their child's successes. In this way, parents can progress—along with their child—learning to offer advice and support at strategic moments.
Project Dao was sparked to life as a result of a particularly impactful interview the students conducted (among many) with a mother of a minimum wage family, who informed the team around the difficulties she faced transitioning from a middle class to a minimum wage income. During the interview, she brought up the inspiring story of her daughter Chloe—a 12 year-old who was helping her mother make ends meet by finding micro jobs such as app testing, selling cakes, and helping university students. Her mother argued that if you lack money, education becomes the fundamental factor in breaking through the minimum wage barrier. (Chloe was very motivated, overcoming low expectations through high aspirations. She was entrepreneurial—particularly in making connections that involved helping Columbia University students carry out research through a series of workshops.)
The design group solidified around a key insight: If you lack money, the most important thing to getting ahead is education. Further research revealed that minimum wage earners often have trouble accessing information, and lacke social mobility—often stuck in a “struggle cycle,” constantly focused on making ends meet. Regrettably, their children can often be stuck in that same cycle, sometimes due to a lack of guidance from their parents. (A considerable number of minimum wage earners drop out of college, as they can seldom sustain its costs.)
Ziyun, Oscar and Isioma hope to continue the project through conducting more research with interactive prototypes, and co-creation workshops with potential users—and their children.