Designing Transitions to Integration

Master's Thesis Research

Middle East Technical University


The growing intersection of design with systems science and social innovation gave way to new directions to the design discipline today, making it an actor in guiding and leveraging transitions for more sustainable futures. One of the critical transitions today is migration, for which Turkey has been a major scene since the civil war in Syria started in 2012. The current population of 3.5 million Syrians (by June 2019) living in Turkey face infrastructural challenges brought by the unexpected influx of population, which are only aggravated by the added problem of discrimination.


This shift of populations required mobilization of actors and resources at a systemic level, for the integration of Syrians. Such mobilization is not reserved to nonprofit organizations or public agencies but it seeks to leverage the will and capabilities of the people at the very center of the issue in order to achieve sustainable impact. Yet goodwill and mass mobilization are not enough to address such systemic issues, they require a harmonious activation of resources with a sight of the larger picture. How can design, as an artful way of identifying patterns can play a role in addressing issues of such a scale? And just as importantly, how can it help leverage the capabilities of people beyond addressing their needs with band-aid solutions?


In this research, I investigated entrepreneurship as a strategic approach towards integration through the case of Build Your Future entrepreneurship program for Syrians. Throughout 16 months of research, I conducted field observations and interviews with actors of the program, from organizations to Syrian participants. The research draws four main conclusions:

  • capacity development towards social change can be approached from a Transition Design framework,

  • open-ended processes can be employed to accommodate changes in the social context and leverage existing practices,

  • shared visions and cooperation is needed among solution stakeholders for systemic impact, 

  • entrepreneurial capacity development activities towards refugees can be approached as agents of integration of refugees to local entrepreneurial ecosystems.