DEED Research Lab

Development through Empowerment, Entrepreneurship, and Design

The DEED (Development through Empowerment, Entrepreneurship, and Design) Research Lab, founded in 2007 by Parsons & Milano faculty, models more sustainable ways to support artisans globally. Through international fieldwork programs, strategic institutional partnerships, and academic research, we challenge the artisan sector to become, truly, “fair”. Approaching our 10th anniversary, DEED Lab’s mission has slowly shifted focus over the years, to move from “just” awareness-raising (mainly for our students and faculty) about the artisan sector, to prioritizing strategic partnerships which can allow us to collaborate on systemic change – truly making meaningful and social impact within the artisan sector globally. As a member of the Aspen Institute’s Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, the DEED Lab is the only academically-focused member of this important group of companies and organizations that focus on the sector which is the second largest employer in the developing world.

One recent example of the direction on which we are now focused is the Fair Craft research study we launched in 2015. Via anonymous surveys and one-on-one conversations, we collected information from over 120 companies in the artisan sector, who openly answered questions about compensation and fairness in their processes. Though yet to be published, the early results of the survey show great ignorance across the companies about how much, in fact, artisans receive as payment (because many are working via middlemen or paying by product which does not result in an understanding of hourly wage.) It was clear to us, with this study, that in fact this new direction we have taken is the best way our Lab can contribute to artisans globally.

In our fieldwork programs (which have connected over 50 students and faculty with artisans in Guatemala and Colombia) we have sought to support artisans (via direct collaboration and participatory methods) in the creation and sustaining of income-generating craft-based opportunities. These programs also have allowed us to model meaningful outside-of-the-classroom learning opportunities for our students, and to empower them to become agents of change. Our methods are committed to horizontal pedagogical and organizational structures, in that the spring course “Designing Collaborative Development” is taught through horizontal pedagogies, which are then carried through on the ground by students who are the facilitators of workshops for artisans in the areas of design, business, marketing, computers, and basic English.

Thus far, there’s been a lot of interest in the lab because of the way we work (not necessarily because of the focus on artisans.) The key to the fieldwork programs has been a flexible process that can be adapted in each case, and therefore responsive to artisans’ interests and needs.


DEED Research Lab:

Fabiola Berdiel, PhD Student, Milano School for International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy

Cynthia Lawson, Associate Professor of Integrated Design, Parsons School of Design


Parsons School of Design

Milano/Schools of Public Engagement





In Progress