In Brief Hilary Cottam OBE is an internationally acclaimed author, innovator and change maker. She combines new thinking with radical, concrete practice. Hilary lives in London. She holds a PhD in social sciences and is an Honorary Professor at the Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose at UCL. You can download a short biography here.
Longer History Hilary started working in Northern Ethiopia in the late 1980s, embedded within the areas held by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, supporting the work of famine relief. She later worked in the Dominican Republic on a range of community projects, returning to the country to live for extended periods in the barrio of La Ciénaga as part of her doctoral research. In the mid 1990s Hilary worked for the World Bank, based in Washington D.C. but travelling widely with responsibility for urban poverty in Southern Africa.
Returning to the UK in 1998 Hilary started the social enterprise School Works Ltd to transform approaches to school design, integrating new thinking on learning with the design of infrastructure in a low cost approach. She started the Do Tank Ltd to extend the work into prisons developing a new, affordable prison design which would accommodate a regime proven to reduce re-offending. As a Director of the Design Council she created the pioneering RED Unit which developed design led approaches to public service reform.
In 2006 Hilary started Participle a ten year experiment to develop new models of welfare in collaboration with communities and local government across Britain.
Hilary was named UK Designer of the Year in 2005 for her pioneering approach to social design and in the same year was recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader for her work in the field of social change. Throughout her work, Hilary combines new thinking with the development of working methods that enable deep participation. Influences include the methods of Rapid Rural Appraisal, her studies in anthropology, feminism and psychoanalysis and her collaboration with designers.
Hilary’s first book Radical Help was published to acclaim by Virago/LittleBrown in 2018. In 2019 Hilary moved into a new studio at Peckham Levels to develop the next stage of her work and practice. She is a regular commentator on social issues and in addition to comment pieces in the press has appeared on the Today programme, Newsnight, Woman’s Hour and Sky News. Her work has been widely written about from Wired to Rolling Stone magazine and featured in international design exhibitions in London, Vienna and New York.
In 2019 Hilary was honoured with an OBE for services to the Welfare State.