Citizen HKS: A Powerful Agent for Change

By Julie Wellik

Ellen Mitchell-Kozack has a passion for leveraging sustainable design to address growing humanitarian needs of communities around the world. In 2014, she founded Citizen HKS as our firm’s answer to Public Architecture’s 1+ program. Citizen HKS is our impact initiative, enabling HKS teams to dedicate company time and resources to help communities in need. As Director of Sustainability, Ellen quickly inspired the support of enthusiastic and tireless advocates across HKS. In the five years since she founded the program, Citizen HKS has designed and helped build projects from Uganda to Dallas and many places in between. In the process, we’ve shown that for-profit companies can do well by doing good.

 “For me, sustainability has always been about so much more than energy use intensity or carbon footprint. Sustainability must extend to people – how do we sustain a culture or protect a way of life? How do we preserve and advance fundamental human rights around the world?”

– Ellen Mitchell-Kozack

As global citizens, employees at HKS are committed to serving marginalized communities in the places we live and work. Citizen HKS is guided by the belief that all people deserve to live in socially, economically and environmentally healthy communities. Focusing on three key actionable areas for socially responsible engagement, Citizen HKS is impacting lives and driving change through design, community service and financial philanthropy to help lift communities in need.


Joy, health, happiness and safety are fundamental elements of great design. To this end, every Citizen HKS design project begins by asking: how can our work improve the world? 

Empathic design takes the long view, beyond designing a single building. Our teams address complex dynamics and systemic challenges alongside the communities facing them. We partner with non-profits, civic leaders, like-minded contractors and design industry colleagues to get projects built, outfitted and operational. Together, we reimagine how design can transform lives.  


Giving is not a thing we do – it’s part of our culture. Each fall, all HKS offices join as one for a dedicated firmwide Month of Service. Each office selects service projects in their home communities, then spend evenings, lunch breaks or weekends volunteering for a worthy cause.

Whether we’re raising funds at an athletic event, swinging hammers to repair a home, painting a school, mentoring youth, making and serving meals, cleaning beaches and parks, planting trees or volunteering with veterans, seniors, in orphanages and gardens, our impact story is meaningful. Since 2015, HKS employees have volunteered more than 13,000 hours, serving nearly 300 non-profit or community organizations through more than 400 events. They have raised approximately $300,000 for charities across the globe.


HKS’ firm-wide employee fundraising campaigns are dedicated to ensuring that Citizen HKS design projects that need financial assistance get built. These giving campaigns engage employees on a humanitarian level, connecting us to life-changing projects and demonstrating our impact when we work toward a shared ambition. 

“Creating spaces that bring joy, comfort and positive connection to underserved communities has deepened my own relationship with design.”

– Lisa Adams

HKS’ global citizens have answered the call by exceeding fundraising goals to complete two Citizen HKS design projects:  the Kachumbala Maternity Unit in Uganda, and the Sensory Wellbeing Hub at Lane Tech College Preparatory High School in Chicago.

Next Up 

After five years, we have much to celebrate and much yet to do. With several completed projects and many more in various phases on the boards; after dozens of design competitions entered and awards won; and thousands of hours volunteered and dollars raised, our impact, however incremental, is inching us closer toward helping solve society’s complex problems. 

Within HKS, a multidisciplinary group of talented design practitioners, researchers, fabricators, structural engineers, marketers and more continue to engage with our communities and industry partners to dream, design, investigate and measure emerging ideas that effect lasting change. We invite you to join our journey toward authentic citizenship.  

Julie Wellik

Julie Wellik is a Senior Writer at HKS. Based in San Francisco, she writes stories about some of the world's most impactful design work coming from HKS' reach in health, hospitality, sports, education and sustainability. She is a passionate co-director of Citizen HKS, the firm's public interest and global social impact program.