What we do. How it works. Who we are.

Travel. Share. Design. Learn.

Our mission is to facilitate immersive, collaborative and design-based projects around the globe between creatives (students and professionals), and underserved communities. We use a human-centered problem solving approach and design-thinking tools to capacity build within those communities.

These projects create solutions to meet local needs determined by the communities themselves. CoDA sees this work as an equitable exchange of services. Our projects ask designers and local participants to work together and share skills, culture and ideas through a framework of design thinking. CoDA design participants gain valuable experience, a broader worldview and a greater understanding of global design practices. Communities gain new resources to prosper culturally and economically. The goal is for all to benefit from purposeful work and solutions.

At the basis of all we do is working with heart. Outcomes differ according to the project, but the goal is to meet needs identified through design, be it economic, physical or emotional. Along the way we aim to empower, build confidence, understanding and create meaningful solutions.


Our methodology is based on established design processes and a human-centered approach.


Learn more about how our trips are structured and funded.


Built on more than 30 years of design and design education experience.



Learn more about the benefits for participating designers, students and communities.

What we do

Our methodology is based on established design process and ‘design-thinking’ approaches, as well as our extensive experience as designers and makers. At the core of this method is a human-centered approach. This means applying collaborative problem solving with the people who will most benefit from the solutions. 

Most projects begin with a problem or opportunity for design intervention, however, through the process there is always a period of discovery where needs are evaluated and resources assessed. As a result, problems are often reframed to ensure we are working on the right problem and that it is a problem worth solving. 

The process is not rigid. It relies at times, on lateral (divergent) thinking skills and at others, analytical (convergent) thinking. It is a cognitive process with built-in checks and balances that keep project goals on track. Our process is an iterative one. We are constantly modeling and testing our ideas by whatever means necessary. Failure is an option. We learn from failures. We build upon failures to achieve success. Finally, these empowering and problem-solving skills are transferable to many aspects of life.
In brief, our design process can be described in the following steps:


Establish trust. Share. Engage. Explore. Empathize. Observe. Interview. Build Understanding.


Synthesize insights. Identify need. Reframe the problem. Assess resources. Establish objectives and criteria.


Think laterally. Brainstorm. Go wide. Conceptualize. Work from idea to concept to idea. Create.


Iterate. Select. Prototype. Analyze. Realize. Finalize. Test. Evaluate.

With all our projects there is a final phase of evaluate conducted by CoDA after each trip. It is important to reflect upon, analyze and assess the work that was done and how it can be improved upon, in an effort to build projects with sustainable solutions. We do not see any of our projects as one offs, but rather projects upon which we can incrementally build upon, visit after visit.

The steps listed above are not necessarily linear, they simply provide a framework for navigation. The process is an active one. It must be reactive to the needs of the community. These steps help organize the work to be done while ensuring a mindful process. CoDA brings its expertise to guide and shape all projects.

To learn more:

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Seeing a project from beginning to end. Right from first principle design, design methodology and design thinking. Going from ethnography to thought clouds, categorization, problem identification. Slicing that up into concept visualizations and prototyping quickly, like doing maquettes. Going all the way through to delivering a production prototype in two weeks. That was amazing.

Dylan Horvath, Zanzibar 2018
How it works

CoDA strives towards finding the right balance between community work, project context and down time for our participants. Our groups tend to be small with six to 12 participants. This ensures our projects are truly collaborative, that experiences are rewarding and that voices are heard.

Our trips are ten days to three weeks in length. During this period, CoDA arranges activities to provide context for our design participants. This may be experiences with local artisans, trips to museums, or cultural activities. The goal is to develop an understanding of the people and the place where we work, as well as to provide an enriched travel experience.
For project work, seven to 12 days is the preferred length of time. This allows time for discovery, project definition and for ideas to incubate. It also allows time for practical constraints such as material sourcing and fabrication to produce tangible design solutions. By tangible, we mean realized outcomes, not simply ideas. CoDA provides translators and facilitates all community interactions ensuring a co-operative, relaxed and fun environment to work within.

Finally, our small group sizes also mean that we can be flexible and more easily accommodate individual needs. In all our trips, safe accommodation and ground transport is included, along with most (if not all) meals. During each trip, we also try to offer unique experiences by way of optional excursions that could range from a cultural evening, to a day trip to a nearby site of interest or snorkelling.

How our trips are funded

For now, our projects are primarily funded by the participants. This allows CoDA to provide design expertise and collaborative solutions at no expense to the communities we work with. 

However we are always looking for supporting partners!  Have you got an idea for a project? Would you like to put something together for a group? We’ve got lots of ideas.

Contact us
Who we are


CoDesign Abroad (CoDA) was founded in 2016 is dedicated to connecting creatives and participants with social enterprises abroad.

Educator, Industrial Designer

Kirsten White, the driving force behind CoDA, has been an active member of Canada’s design community for almost three decades. As an industrial designer, she creates practical and thoughtful product designs. Her furniture is found at some of the world’s most prestigious spaces, including London’s Canary Wharf and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. During the past decade, Kirsten has travelled professionally to Indonesia, Peru, and China to explore how to combine the world of mass-produced design and the work of individual makers and craftspeople to offer better, more sustainable products and careers. Since 2004, she has taught at OCAD University and Sheridan College in Toronto Canada. Kirsten’s experience in teaching, facilitation and design thinking leadership in combination with her practical skills, helps guide those she works with towards tangible outcomes. When not sharing her passion for design, she can be found gallivanting across the globe with her family.


Steve Brearton is a Toronto writer who began working as a journalist at Maclean’s magazine and later chose to pursue a career as a freelance magazine writer. Since then, he has been a contributing writer for Toronto Life, Chatelaine, Today’s Parent, Spacing magazine and Report on Business magazine, among others, and has written columns, features and shorter items for many, many more publications. He has been nominated for 15 National Magazine awards, winning three gold and two silver awards, and finds time to work as a policy and communications specialist at the Catherine Donnelly Foundation.

Connie Chisholm has extensive teaching experience in the fields of designing and making, having taught at Sheridan College’s furniture program for ten years and more recently, the industrial Design program at OCAD University. Connie is also the principal of Codesign, a social enterprise that brings post-secondary design students together with Canadian communities to work on projects of mutual benefit at a local level. Connie has travelled extensively in North America, Australia, Europe and West Africa, which included a six-month placement volunteering in a small rural village in The Gambia.

Ben Durrell is a designer and an educator. His work—rooted in contemporary, conceptual design—remains accessible, playful, and often appears as furniture. Ben designed and produced exhibits at the Boston Children’s Museum and led the 3-D design studio at Artists for Humanity, where he also taught and mentored youth. He is an instructor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and a visiting critic at Wentworth Institute of Technology. His diverse body of work includes custom furniture, exhibition design, institutional and corporate furnishings, product design and development, and countless impromptu playthings for his and his friends’ children.

Dylan Horvath is Founder & Chief Product Officer at Cortex Design in Toronto. A co-inventor on 11 utility patents (and counting), Dylan was recognized with a Bold Epic Innovator X-Prize among other awards. His work has appeared in Popular Science, The Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, Forbes, and Canadian Business’s Fastest Growing Companies. He is a board member and Director of Industrial Relations for the Association for Industrial Designers of Ontario (ACIDO) and a regular speaker at events where he advocates for the power of design to expand human capability. Dylan holds a degree in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo.

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