The Un-School Mexico City Fellows

The Un-School Mexico City Fellows

It was an amazing week, with 16 fellows from 6 counties, 5 mentors and 7 intense 12 hour-long days of brain-activating adventures in social innovation, sustainability, systems thinking, disruptive design and making change! 

So what happened you ask? Well, we have complied the full (and somewhat intense) summary of exactly what went down each and every one of the amazing 7 days at #UNSCHOOLMX...

DAY 1: Mexico City

November 1, 2015

And so it begins! Today we kicked off our week-long intensive fellowship program in Mexico City. Our 16 fellows joined us at the studio of We Are Todos, a design collective and co-work community in Roma.

Un-school mexico City fellowship day 1

Being our first day, today was all about building community, getting to know each other and setting the tone for the rest of the week. To start off, we played The Sober Truth (a Designercise game, based on the American Sobriety Test) to challenge us all with a split attention test. Doing our best to keep our balance and strength while standing on one leg, we successfully made it all the way around our circle of 20 people, learning each other’s names and interests in a way we won't forget.

hile enjoying snacks that fellows brought from their hometowns (crickets, chocolate skulls, havana cakes, maple chips, etc.), and some Day of the Dead treats, fellows gave more in depth introductions as they did their Pecha Kucha presentations. It was excellent to finally start to learn about everyone in 3D and to hear about their passions, projects and quirks.

un-school fellows mexico city

Our fellows are working amazing projects! Icnelly is the founder of two projects, Hey Chula, which makes homemade preserves and delivers them via bike across Mexico City, and Commune Project, which promotes unique and responsible tourism. Another one of our Mexico City locals, Arlette, has recently started a small organic fair trade honey business. Mariana, our representivite of Colombia, runs a sustainability and design studio with her partner and has a blog, Cualquier Cosita es Cariño, about living a vegan and sustainable lifestyle, with minimum resources. Beyond a focus on food and living resources, this group of fellows has worked across the disciplines of design, education, social justice, human rights and food security. Rodolfo, since 2012, has been the president of the Civillian Advisory Board of the Migration Institute in Mexico(INM) (an evidence based advocacy group within a global network). Our fellow Peter, from the US, is now directing his expertise in marketing and graphic design on a personal project to cure Type 1 Diabetes-- the aim is to find a cure within 3 years and he is leveraging design strategies and creative thinking to reach a global diabetic community and network of practitioners. And that's just the half of it --this cohort of fellows has so many things cooking! (This post is just a teaser-- stay tuned for for more.) 

un-school fellow presenting their sustainability work

After shared projects and some further bonding over Emilja's spicy, salty, licorice candy from Finland, (an indescribable surprise that definitely needs an acquired taste!) the fellows played a question challenge game and geared up for our surprise field trip.

In Xochimilco we shared some quick quesadillas and then jumped into our very own chinampa -- a traditional boat that takes people through the canal system, which extends for 162kms (see more here)-- to embarked on a mystic, mellow, candle-lit boat ride. Floating along the canal and being serenaded by the mariachi bands on other boats, we began our Day of the Dead festivities! This UNESCO heritage site mixes of modern celebrations with the traditional and unchanged heritage of Mexico's City's market gardens and waterways,  offering views into suburban and agricultural backyards, callejones, and more. 

un-school mexico city

We finished the day off with a visit to Jilotepec cemetery, where we got to experience the real Day of the Dead celebrations. On the way over our host, Regina, and our Mexican fellows shared personal stories and general backgrounds about Day of the Dead and we all discussed the relationship with death across societies. As we walked through the cemetery, Mexican families brought flowers, foods, drinks, instruments, toys and everything their loved ones enjoyed while still in the world of the living, as well as as a couple of traditional items such as copal, zempasucil flowers and veladoras to build altars on the tombs. Families and friends sat around graves, waiting until the strike of midnight when supposedly spirits come to enjoy a family dinner shared between both the living and the dead.

This was just the beginning of both our fellowship and Day of the Dead activities. The cemetery visit was a very touching and reflection-inducing experience to end up the day that marks the birth of a new community. 

DAY 2: Mexcio City

November 2, 2015

Day Two is deep-dive workshop day, so it began bright and early at Centraal (a special thanks to Mexico City for not delivering the expected rain!) Since last night’s festivities finished late - we were all grateful for the breakfast and fresh espresso coffee from the social enterprize Capeltic to jump start the morning for our first full day of workshop sessions.

Our lead mentor ad founder, Leyla Acaroglu workshop at Un-School Mexico City

Our lead mentor ad founder, Leyla Acaroglu workshop at Un-School Mexico City

Leyla kicked off our first session with an introduction to sustainability, and the way to use this an a holistic filter for viewing and acting on change. Her session dived deep into the concepts of leveraging change outcomes and embracing approaches to activated leadership

We invited one of our fellowship alumni, Marcela Zetina, a Mexico City local who was part of NYC fellowship cohort, to led an interactive activity for the group. She focused on perception, visual illusions, relativity, framing, stereotypes and behavioral economics and how these tools can be used to decode marketing and design perceptions, examining how they motivate and influence our decisions within the market.

There was quite a bit of excitement when lunch arrived, by bike from Los Loosers, the one-and-only Mexico City vegan food company that operates off social media and delivers via bikes. They provided us with fresh, local, organic and extremely tasty vegan lunch treats.

Our afternoon guest mentor was NYC based Alexa Clay, provocateur of alternative economic forms and co-author of the Misfit Economy.

After Alexa’s stimulating presentation and discussion session, where she shared her experiences with researching non-traditional economic activities, from camel milk farmers to Somali pirates,  we all got to split into groups to hack the business canvas model, to design cults…  yes CULTS! That’s right-- we had our fellows (and the Un-School team) think up wildly original cults and create thought-through origin stories, value propositions, brand identities, commandments, key activities for sustainability and more for them. 

Each team energetically pitched their cult to the group, and then we all had to decide which cult we would join (if they were to ever join one). We won’t get into the details as we need to honor the anonymity :), but let’s just say in general our cult values incorporated included: living with less and escaping the consumerism obsession; solidarity in imbibing and group bicycling during rainbows; a secret safe sex community; the promise of attracting your true love having a lifetime of incredible sex and procreating the children that will save the world; and a promise of infinite entertainment if you sacrifice eating milk products. yep. That’s what happened on day 2’s afternoon.  

Leyla and Alexa then facilitated an impromptu discussion on ethnographic and observational research techniques, sharing personal stories of how to find your personalised approach to applying research techniques. They then set a quick thematic challenge: fellows have to work in pairs to access and examine informal entrepreneurs in Mexico City using these new skills in the next 24 hours. To kick that off, we moved to our low-key evening adventures: continuing our Day of the Dead festivities at UNAM exploring the facility built altars, and then followed by dinner in Coyoacan, where Alexa facilitating a great lively conversation around alter egos, and using personality as an approach to activate outcomes.

MX Un-School Fellows

DAY 3: Mexico City

November 3, 2015

We started our morning off at Centraal again, fueling up on the coffee that Capeltic has so generously provided us with for the week! Freshly caffeinated, we jumped right into a workshop, led by Leyla Acaroglu, on systems thinking. We unpacked the interconnectedness of all things and examined the complex interplay that ties everything together.

After learning techniques for systems mapping, fellows worked in groups to map out relationships and impacts for factory farming, sustainable fashion and more. (Also, a tangent on fractals and self similarity in nature tied to human and natural patterns led us outside to check out some plant fractals!)

Fellows shared their groups’ systems maps, and we were joined by one of our mentors, Luis Sosa,  co-founder and Creative Director of More Starch. Luis led a fascinating session that covered the power of narratives ("Reality is too complex. Stories give it form.") and shared examples of effective campaigns for change-driven organizations, movements and causes.

Right as Luis’ session was wrapping up, the team from Capeltic arrived and shared the story behind their coffee, and the social enterprise and cooperative that power it forward. Food is a big part of the Un-School philosophy, and so we were all extremely happy to have an array of super delicious vegetarian tacos (think: hibiscus flowers, cactus, beets and yams, etc.!) from La Nueva Chul -- even our meat eaters admitted how tasty they were (one of our Mexico City local fellows said that he didn’t even know vegetarian tacos existed!). 

Following lunch, pairs of fellows presented their processes and findings from their ethnographic research challenge that was set by Alexa and Leyla the day before. People interviewed street traders, shoe shiners, books sellers and an array of informal economic activities around Mexico City. The findings helped to build a shared narrative of micro entrepreneurial activity.

Leyla then threw in an extra workshop on gamification and game theory before our fellows and Un-School team members headed off to a secret dinner party at La Metropolitana, where Yvette and Heidi had prepared a delicious dinner experience for us all. La Metropolitana, who generously invited us to share their beautiful space, is a Mexico City based design studio specializing in furniture, architecture, interior, and graphic design solutions. Our fellows arrived to cocktails on the rooftop (for some post-brain-stimulation unwinding) and then headed inside for completely gamified dinner party, designed by Leyla & Luis Sosa, focused on exploring the ways in which we strategize to influence others.

un-school secret dinner party at MX fellowship

Over four rounds, fellows and our guests were given secret missions that they had to complete before the timer rang and the next round began. Each round increased in difficulty (and weirdness) and decreased in time. One person slyly convinced us all we needed to shut off the lights to conserve energy, another got us to give her a full round of applause, one person convinced three people to form a human pyramid, another fellow “kidnapped” our founder Leyla (blindfolding her and took her on a mystery walk on the roof), and the list goes on! After each challenge round we shared our successes and failures to see what was uncovered. It was fascinating to see how different people strategized to complete their secret missions: some acted covertly, while others were very open about what they needed to do, and while some people formed alliances others acted solo, etc. After the game wrapped we discussed why and how people operated the way that they did within the context of the game and revealed the different categories of missions they had been given -- empathy, cognitive biases, reward, challenge and influence.And that was Day 3! We were all exhausted but excited about what the next day would hold (although this did not stop some of our fellows from continuing on the excitement with some after hours Mezcal drinking...)!

Day 4: Mexico City

November 4, 2015

Day 4 of #UNSCHOOLMX started off with a pancake breakfast at the family home of our host, Regina, in the historical neighborhood of Coyoacan, South of the city. We were lucky to have beautiful weather and took advantage of this by laying rugs out on the lawn and playing some creativity generating Designercise games.  

Once the group was reenergized (remember some of us had a little too much Mezcal and a little too little sleep the night before), we sat down for a brief conversational workshop session with Leyla on the brain, cognitive sciences and how understanding these complex neural activities can help us craft positive interventions and make change.

The group then headed to the Viveros de Coyoacan park (which serves a dual function as the place where trees are grown for reforesting the city as well as the home for recreational activities such as running and practicing bull fighting). We split in two groups, with one group being challenged to develop their observational research and perception skills around system analyses and the other looking at the fascinating history of the park, actively discovering the ecosystem disruptors and social dynamics all whilst walking!

There was a quick visit to a 17th century colonial home and then a delicious lunch of fried quesadillas in the local market before our surprise afternoon mentor session, which was a visit to our surprise mentor's studio, the incredible artist, Pedro Reyes.

Artist Pedro Reyes presenting to the Un-School of Disruptive Design Mexico City fellows 

Artist Pedro Reyes presenting to the Un-School of Disruptive Design Mexico City fellows 

Whereas we started the day with a local experience in someone’s historic home, we ended our night with our most touristy stop of the trip: an experience at the Museum of Tequila and Mezcal. In addition to a tequila and mezcal tasting, we learned about the processes of production, cultural relevance and role that design plays in the creation of each product.

The night ended on the earlier side as Leyla announced that tomorrow would be the start of a 30 hour design challenge, beginning with a 9AM meeting that would lead us to research field trips outside of the city…

Day 5: Mexico City

November 5, 2015

Today is design challenge day! We all met at 9AM sharp at Plaza Villa de Madrid, where the fellows were given their briefs and assigned groups for our 30 hour design challenge. The client is a for profit microfinance company that has been around for over 25 years -- the challenge is to design “new opportunities to facilitate socially equatable, environmentally responsible and economically viable (sustainable) financial inclusion models within Mexican communities that are currently financially disadvantaged”. Fellows were given an hour to unpack the brief and prepare clarifying questions to ask the client before splitting into two cars and heading out of the city with the client to conduct ethnographic research on the current process and business model.

One team’s driver got utterly lost and after 3 hours of driving around the outer ring of Mexico City, the teams collaboratively decided they had to abort the mission.  Whilst Van 1 never made it to their original destination, Van 2 shared a intense experience as they witnessed a ceremony in which a group of women were given the loans they had requested. Some informal conversations between the fellows and lendees followed the ceremony and then the group got back into the van to head towards the city.

The two vans came together at the beautiful, serene, and all around awesome Huerto Roma Verde, a community garden and ecological haven in the middle of Roma. We happened to stumble upon a high energy dance class, with primarily middle aged and older women, and couldn’t resist joining in on the fun.

Almost all of the fellows and Un-School team jumped into the dance class a hip-shaking, endorphin-boosting, exercise break (these moves were tough!!). Energized, we went on a tour led by  volunteer / sustainability educator, Veronica, who showed us the community garden, a rain-collecting sculpture that doubles for art and irrigation, and some of the works in progress -- an aquaponics pond, and a geodesic dome (we love Buckminster Fuller at the Un-School!) to name a couple.

We ended up loving Huerto Roma Verde so much that we decided to stay after the tour to eat our homemade lunches (thanks, Yvette!) and dived right into an important debrief and discussion about the research experience. We discussed ethics for responsible research and the fellows decided to facilitate a self organized “fishbowl” style knowledge share so that the two teams that completed their research could share what they experienced with the two teams that were stuck in the lost van. A few hours later they wrapped up the exchange, excited about the rest of the challenge. Everyone departed and went off to casual cafes and bars to work on their projects.

What a day!! This is classic Un-School style-- we plan one thing, something else ends up happening and whilst it’s a little hectic, we all embrace the chaos of the experience and make something even more amazing out of it! Viva la chaos!

DAY 6: Mexico City

November 6, 2015

Today was Day 2 of the 30 Hour Challenge and teams arrived early to the co-working community space, We Are Todos, where this whole Un-School Mexico City adventure first began. Teams spent the morning and afternoon continuing to work on the challenge, applying a range of different methodologies and approaches to address the brief. On top of the techniques we covered together throughout the week, each fellow brought their own unique approach and skillset to the challenge. With the clock ticking, fellows collaborated within their teams to work through their ideas and get ready for the 4PM pitches (of course, coffee was flowing and we had many snacks!).

After a long day of bain-activated engagement the groups got ready to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, made up of innovation, communication and design experts as well as our client. Teams had 20 minutes to pitch and the ideas varied from analog interventions to system wide propositions to standard business models.

We celebrated the end of the challenge with a cold beer and a cheers! Most of the fellows then decided to go off together for pizza and, despite the exhaustion, to high energy dance battles at the famous Patrick Miller!

Tomorrow is our last day together, we can’t believe what adventures and beautiful chaos we have embraced this week!

Day 7: Mexico City

November 7, 2015

That's it folks! Today was the last day of the fellowship and it was all about reflecting and setting action goals to move forward. We met at 11 AM (not so early today!) at the beautiful Chapultepec Park, where we strolled to a shaded grassy section. We broke into small groups for solutions salons, where fellows helped each other move through some of their current challenges, and then moved onto a session focused on setting clear goals and sharing experiences for putting our projects and ideas into action.

Leyla and Regina improvised and used a mystery box as the board for our “what happened this week” activity, and the group collaboratively wrote down all the amazing, crazy, and sometimes bumpy things we got up to-- from magical boat rides, to cars getting lost, to a dance class in Huerto Roma Verde, to the Secret Mission dinner party game and Pedro Reyes amazing studio visit, it has been quite the week! Leyla facilitated a feedback and sharing discussion before we all headed over to the lake where Yvette and Regina had set up a beautiful picnic for us to share and enjoy.

After lunch, we pulled out the fellows' cards from Day 1, where they had written their goals for the week. We took turns reading each card out at random, guessing whose it was, and reflecting on whether the goals had been met (most had!).  And sadly, that was the end of our Weeklong Intensive Fellowship in Mexico City. But the fellows all agreed that this was just the start of something… Stay tuned for updates! :)

un-school 2015 Mexico City fellowship for emerging leaders alumni