Round Feather Academy 2017


The Round Feather Academy is meant to be a playground for young talents from the best universities worldwide, providing them with the canvas to express their passions and cultivate their talents from respective areas of expertise. The outcome of the Academy is to scale Round Feather’s reach across the globe, providing fresh talents for our rapidly expanding practice of Design for Happiness.

2017 saw the first ever successful Round Feather Academy to completion. Following is a summarized case study of the same.


The Client

Verhalenhuis Belvédère, Rotterdam is a social enterprise of independent entrepreneurs; a group of people who feel connected with each other & the place. There goal is to promote the happiness of people, in order to work towards a more involved (participating) city and society, by making people & communities more visible in the contemporary city through art, culture, and (personal) stories.

The Case


Rotterdam counts approximately 170 nationalities; one out of four Rotterdammers were born abroad. Verhalenhuis Belevedere was aiming to understand what makes a 1st or 2nd generation immigrant a ‘Rotterdammer’. Futhermore, what was interesting to explore was their connection to the city & neighbourhood and outside their family/own ethnic group? And finally, the manifestation of the feeling of being a Rotterdammer.

The Outputs


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Once the immersions were analyzed, concerns were synthesized and bucketed into themes. Concerns in opposing themes were classified as dilemmas. An example of a discovered dilemma: 
Feeling connected to former country v/s Feeling at home in Rotterdam: I want to feel at home in Rotterdam while feeling strongly connected to my country.



The dilemmas – composed from the data of multiple respondents – reflect concerns felt by the target group. To bring the dilemmas back to life they were illustrated by the stories of our respondents.


The Journey Map captures the perspectives of immigrants through their personal stories that they shared with the team. It is mapped as a timeline with several ‘stages of belonging in Rotterdam’, ranging from when they first arrived in Rotterdam to feeling at home and consequently spreading the feeling.

Each stage presents a threshold that as an immigrant, an individual crosses to proceed to the next stage of ‘belonging’. A few of the quotes from each of the stages that illustrate the threshold are as follow:

Feeling Lost: “At the begining, I was in many different refugee centers. I found it very hard to understand people there and they often thought of me as someone who was more in need because I came from Syria.”

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Adapting to a New Place: “It’s difficult to find a new companion in this city. Because of our belief we don't drink alcohol and we are not doing crazy things like partying. So that is difficult for me.”

Feeling at Home: “Rotterdam's Museum asked me if I wanted to be part of their instalation to tell my story. They made a real size statue of me and a few others. In my country, when someone important dies you make a statue for them, but I'm alive.”

Spreading the Feeling: “Someone came up lo me on the street near the station. He called me 'Sister' and asked about a medical condition. People recognize me here, they want me to be a nurse there on the street!”

The journey map provides insights into both what dismays these people and what amazes them about Rotterdam. Their dilemmas range from wanting to feel at home in Rotterdam and yet wanting to maintain connections to their former country, to wanting new experiences in a new city and yet wanting a certain degree of certainty in them.

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Design principles were generated from the synthesized dilemmas as foundation blocks for design ideas. It suggests what features/characteristics new interventions should have in order to successfully meet the context and concerns of the target group.


The following concepts were presented along with the dilemmas they resolve.


The I am a Rotterdammer Bus Tour is an activity hosted by Verhalenhuis where first generation immigrants can sign up to go on a set bus tour around the city. On the bus an ambassador of that particular neighbourhood explains by pictures and storytelling about specific locations/memories/landmarks along the route that have meaning to him or her. This can include differences as well as resemblances to their own culture and values, favourite memories, important events that contributed to them feeling at home, etc.

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The Welcome Box is a way for people to share the message of Verhalenhuis with friends and family to introduce them to the place. It is the gift of a mini Verhalenhuis experience. It contains two spices (like vanilla and pepper) that are handpicked to explain something of the recipients character. They represent the connection between Verhalenhuis and cooking and invite the recipient to come to the Verhalenhuis and use the spices for cooking. The recipient of the gift is further challenged to give away two more spices to another friend, spreading the message of Verhalenhuis to people that would otherwise not hear about it.

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Cultural Classes, a platform provided by Verhalenhuis, allows first generation immigrants to become ‘the experts’ by sharing their unique skill or talent hosting a class or a workshop. Verhalenhuis guests interested in a new and unique experience can find and sign up for these classes online, where they will find a brief description of the class, who will be hosting it and the number of people that will be attending.

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6. Key Learnings:

Finally, as recent graduates, the RF Academy was not only a demonstration of putting theory of a wholly new methodology to practice, but also further inter-organizational skills and intra-personal development as members of society. Four of the major insights as experienced by all the participants were:

  • Exploring roles as team members: You can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. This exercise involved identifying individual strengths and weaknesses and classifying them as easily identifiable personality types. Making individuals aware of their strengths and weaknesses helped in the conception of various permutations and combinations of the roles within the team.

  • Being in different roles: Participants of the academy were entrusted with different roles on a daily basis. One of the daily activities was creating a vlog to summarize the day, and two participants paired up to create content on a rotational basis. The academy also taught the participants a thing or two about management and leadership. Every participant had an obligatory ‘manager of the day’ role, which included overseeing the activities & tasks of the day and ensuring that the proceedings were as smooth as possible. Participants had the invaluable opportunity to channel their inner Gates or Jobs and refine their managerial skills.

  • Tip/Top session: Criticism hurts, no matter whom it comes from. If you’re someone who identifies with this previous statement, it’s impossible to entertain the notion that criticism could feel good. The tip/top session makes this possible by making it compulsory for all participants to participate in, and encouraging team members to reflect on one person at a time. Most of all, it’s a safe space for participants to experience their strengths and weaknesses from team members’ perspective. Criticism never felt so good.

  • Managing uncertainty & working under pressure: Finally, every day in the academy felt like an exercise in managing uncertainty whether it be dealing with changing schedules of respondents or overseeing design outputs as the manager of the day. While making participants aware of the emotional toll that such an intensive academy brings, it also taught to accept uncertainties and take setbacks in stride. This also highlighted the need for a more resilient mindset in daily life.