The Un-School NYC fellows on Day 1

The Un-School NYC fellows on Day 1

What an amazing, intense and inspiring week we had at the Un-School NYC Fellowship! 16 fellows from 12 countries dived deep into systems thinking, sustainability, social innovation, cultural change and creative practice. We had mentor sessions from a host of diverse leaders, change agents and provocateurs mixed in with our founder, Leyla Acaroglu's curriculum on systems based disruptive design for sustainable change! Phew, it was quite an adventure we had! 12 hour days, surprise schedules and creative educational experiences - that’s how we do things at the Un-School! 

There are SO MANY highlights that we want to share with our community. So we decided to do that in a pictorial essay with day-by-day accounts of what we got up to. These are just **some** of the highlights of what happened during our amazing adventure week at the Un-School HQ in NYC. 


June 14th 2015

Un-School NYC started off in a strange but fascinating park in China Town called, Collect Pond Park. Leyla started us off with the historical narrative of how the park was build on a large lake that ended up being destroyed by human misuse. Setting the tone for the week of empowered storytelling and environmental questioning. 

Un-School day 1 getting to know you games

After some getting-to-know-each-other activities, we headed to our friends at Impact Hub NYC to kick off our week with quick presentations.  

Walking ended up becoming a theme of the week after one of our fellows, Line from Norway told us in her opening presentation, "that in Norway we like to go for walks".  And right after all our fellows and the Un-School team presented their 3 minute Pecha Kucha's, we did just that, going on a mystery walk through downtown New York City.

line presenting at Un-School NYC

We were guided to the wharf,  where we then curiously boarded the free Ikea Ferry... Some fellows thought that we might be doing a design challenge at Ikea, but really we were jumping off at Red Hook to walk some more, and eventually end up at the incredible Pioneer Works. We spent the evening enjoying art and music whilst getting to know each other, at the Sunday sessions held monthly during summer at the eclectic art space. 

Presentations and community building at the un-school



June 15th 2015

Today was our first full workshop session day and it started off with a big pancake breakfast at our HQ in NYC. Each of our fellows shared a surprise treat from their city of origin and we kicked of our brain-activation with a discussion on the different interpretations of sustainability.

Pancake big breakfast day 2 of Un-School NYC

Pancake big breakfast day 2 of Un-School NYC

Once everyone was comfortably full and caffeinated, Un-School founder, Leyla Acaroglu, gave an info-packed session on systems and sustainability.

Artist, engineer and sustainability creative extraordinaire, Natalie Jeremijenko picked it up next, talking about creative interventions for ecological change, mutualistic systems design and more. She shared her extensive arsenal of projects (like Farmacy, #POLLUTIONxPENCIL and the Environmental Clinic, to name a few).

After a hearty, tasty, oozy lunch, fellows got active in a session focused on collaboration, connection, and group dynamics. Eli Malinsky, Executive Director of Centre for Social Innovation, and Bryan D'Alessandro, Cofounder and CEO of United Purpose led this session and had fellows play a new game they invented.

The last workshop of the day was led by Megan Fath and focused on understanding experiences and journeys.

Megan Fath Presenting at the Un-School NYC

Megan Fath Presenting at the Un-School NYC


June 16th 2015

Today was another firecracker of a day with our #unschoolfellows. Here are just a handful of the highlights.

Our fellows started the day at The High Line. Before and after a bagel breakfast, our amazing mentors Leyla Acaroglu and Dagny Tucker took the fellows on a walk as they explored social lifecycle analyses, systems thinking, sustainability and observational research methods. Have you ever noticed how many systems are involved in the highline, or any other space that you inhabit day in day out? And how all these systems are interconnected? Have you noticed how the design dictates the way in which people use the space?  

Dagny Tucker explores systems thinking in the dynamic system of the highline. 

Back at the Centre for Social of Innovation, our mentor Carol Shapiro did an impressive presentation focused on how to be a better leader and change agent, based on her experience working for over 40 years to change the justice system. She shared the importance of family units, strength-based genograms, ecomaps and many more insights into being an authetic and agenda driven leader.

Some favorite quotes from Carol's session:

"Instead of being deficit oriented & fixing all the time, tap into strengths & build from there."

"Good leaders need to know when to admit they aren't good."

Some favorite quotes from Carol's session:

"Instead of being deficit oriented & fixing all the time, tap into strengths & build from there."

"Good leaders need to know when to admit they aren't good."

After that we took a break to refuel, satiate our hunger, and boost our dopamine levels. We heard from the folks at Stewardship Farm and then enjoyed a home cooked Mexican lunch whipped up by our team under the guidance of the lovely Regina (here from Guadalajara). Before moving on to the next mentor session, the fellows did a Designercise ideation workout class to activate flexible, creative and agile thinking for the rest of the week. (Designercise is one of the co-creations of our founder; stay tuned for the Kickstarter in the Fall!).  

fellows playing Designercise at the Un-School NYC fellowship

Next, Matt Stinchcomb, Executive Director of, joined us. He shared the Etsy origin story, lessons learned along the way, and goals for the newly formed One theme that resonated with us was his motivation to "build more resilient economies on a human scale". He, and Etsy, are all about empowering lot of small companies as opposed to having an economy based on just a few big companies. He closed out his talk with a challenge for the fellows to break out into groups and design a new type of regenerative business school and curriculum for early stage entrepreneurs. 

Matt Stinchcomb presenting at the Un-School NYC

Matt Stinchcomb presenting at the Un-School NYC

After teams presented their ideas on this new type of business school, we said goodbye to Matt and jumped into peer-to-peer learning. In groups of four, fellows practiced transfering their tacit knowledge-- everything from zero waste policy to juggling to how to ride a horse (with no horse actually here).  

After feedback, we were hungry again. Day 3 came to a close with some fellows going to dinner with mentors and others going along with our team for a secret surprise dinner.

shared dinners at the Un-school emerging leaders fellowship program NYC


June 17th 2015

Day four of the Un-School Fellowship in NYC started out with a workshop on storytelling and communications by our Un-school mentor and FOOSSA co-founder, Lee-Sean Huang. Lee-Sean spoke about the power of stories, shared tactics for building narratives that evoke positive change,

and engaged the fellows in exercises for better communication. In addition to some non-traditional story archs, he introduced fellows to 5 mythical beasts that not only embody themes recurrent throughout history but also provide new lenses for approaching innovation.

After a tasty gourmet vegetarian lunch, we headed out on some adventures around New York City. Based on expressed interests, our fellows were divided on two groups for the field trips and they visited social enterprises in Brooklyn and Manhattan. 

In Brooklyn, we visited Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (BFDA), where the Executive Director, Debera Johnson, gave the fellows a tour of the space and talked with us about the importance of and challenges related to sustainable fashion design. 

“Good or bad, you need to understand the consequences and own them.” Debera Johnson

After the tour of the BDFA, the fellows sat down with one of the venture fellows, Teel Lidow, founder of Boerum Apparel. Boerum Apparel is a startup that designs, manufactures and sells sustainable and socially responsible clothing. Emphasizing full supply chain transparency, their clothes seek to be traceable from farm to closet, dirt to shirt.

Speaking of his motivation to start Boerum, Teel said, “I ran into a brick wall when I tried to find out where clothes were being made. I tried asking around to see if the wool in sweaters came from factory farms and no one in the industry would answer my questions.” 

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, the other group of fellows went to one of No Longer Empty's art exhibitions, and were introduced to the philosophy behind this community engaged institution.

The group was reunited in a pop-up storefront in Manhattan's Lower East Side, where they joined Melissa O’Young, founder of Let’s Collaborate!, and Eric Ho, founder of miLES to discuss the sharing economy, popup entrepreneurship, urban revitalization, fast entrepreneurship and more.  Melissa highlighted some statistics related to the rise of the sharing economy, "80% of the things in our homes, we use less than once a month, and 74% of cars on the road are occupied by just one person.” 

Bringing back the theme of storytelling, we ended our day together at the Tenement Museum for a private tour and evening of drinks and conversations. The fellows and Un-School team were treated to an amazing tour of the 19th century building in the Lower East Side (which used ot be the most densely populated neighborhood in the world and served as the home for many immigrants). Our tour guides shared personal stories of the struggles (and cooperation) the families that lived in the building experienced over the years. In addition to being touched by these stories, we learned about the history behind the building's design and how this influenced the people who lived there. 

Before and after the tour, we all got a taste of the local culture from immigrants past and present as we enjoyed drinks and bites from vendors in the LES that represent the diverse communities living there.  All the food and drinks were curated for us by the Tenement Museum in a private room within the museum -- they even shared the stories behind the treats!


June 18th 2015

Today was a crucial and exciting day for the Un-School Fellows: it was the kickoff of 24 Hour Design Challenge, an intensive experience to apply, engage and enhance the creativity and skills of our fellows.

To kick off the day, most of our fellows took a quick tour of the NYC TED offices, learning about how and why it got started. Meanwhile, 5 other fellows participated in a session at Wix Lounge where they learned how to build websites as communication platforms for their projects, passions and desires to change the world. 

nce everyone was back at the Centre of Social Innovation, fellows participated in a creative capacity building session on design, problem-solving and ideation, facilitated by Ashley Quinn and Andy Gillette of We Less Than 3. Fellows exercised their power to ideate with all sorts of problems, stimulating their creativity without the limits of 'right' or 'wrong' ideas. 

Right after, our founder and mentor Leyla Acaroglu jumped in and introduced the fellows to her powerful research on life cycle and systems thinking in design, production and consumption. She talked about the importance of learning to love the problem, because it often holds its own solution and tactics for building creative interventions. She shared ways to spark ideas and creativity, tactics for filtering through ideas and emphasized the importance of adopting a Do Philoshophy.

"Ideas are pointless unless you put them into action! Test! Rapid prototype your ideas, get feedback, evolve them!" - Leyla Acaroglu

un-school fellows working on the 24 hour challenge

Leyla's presentation was critical prep for the fellows to start thinking about the challenge. After lunch, fellows took an international briefing call with the client-- a large manufacturing company within the apparel industry. Our amazing, engaged and creative Un-School Fellows, were placed in teams and now have  24 hours to solve the client's sustainable design challenge, putting into practice everything learned and discussed during the Fellowship week so far!

The teams will pitch their ideas to the client and an amazing panel of judges on Friday at 2:30pm! Counting down the time, fellows... CHALLENGE IS ON!


June 19th 2015

The teams of #unschoolfellows worked through the night (with the occasional nap time) to finish their sustainable design challenge and create presentations for our client. Considering the teams were in competition mode, it was impressive to see collaboration and knowledge sharing throughout the research phase. The Challenge Brief was around sustainable manufacturing options for a sector of the apparel industry. 

After their 24 hours were up, teams came together in front of a panel of judges and our international clients to pitch their innovative sustainable design solutions! 

The first team brought together Melina from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sara from Guatemala City, Adam from San Francisco and Sabine from Schopfloch, Germany. Kicking off the presentations, they shared with us a concept called 'Manufacturegreen'-- a multiprong approach designed to address workforce safety and education, energy and water consumption, chemical use and waste management. Their goal was to get stakeholders involved throughout all stages of the garment life cycle to have a vested interest in the social and environmental impact that their work has. The team introduced a three phase plan to introduce, incentivize, and spread their sustainability pratices.

Group 1 during their sketch presentation on 'Manufacturegreen.'

The second team brought together Jen from Toronto, Sally and Jason from NYC and Lula from Zapopan, Mexico. They recognized what a valuable role water plays in the supply chain, community and country and thus proposed targeted initiatives focused on water stewardship. Their proposal included a stakeholder map centered on water and made short-term, medium-term, and long-term suggestions for social, industrial and ecological interventions. Long term goals included integrated closed-loop systems in which no waste would be produced and all water would be reused. While they started with practical, accessible goals for the short term, they built up to an exciting big picture vision including innovations in aquaponics, lucid's pipes and more. 

Group 2 presenting their challenge statement: "Developing a culture of water stewardship can help the company become a leader in sustainability"

Line from Oslo, Norway, Zach from the US & Guatemala, Paulina from Mexico & Finland and Marce from Mexico City made up our third team, "G3". They started out by sharing the narrative of a worker to highlight the human experience behind the manufacturing process (the fashion process is not as automated as one may think). The proposal was clean, rational, and relatively easy to start implementing. Focusing on leveraging small interactions and experiments, they suggested simple processes to identify points where improvements can be made and testing to see impacts before scaling.

Zach presenting for Team 3, "Change can be done next week, in a cheap and reasonable way." 

The fourth and final team was made up of Bec from Dunedin, New Zealand, Diego from Mexico City, Kiri from Australia & the Solomon Islands, and Nihan from Istanbul, Turkey. They introduced a holistic solution focused on selling sustainability, reducing resources, employing women and creating a peer-to-peer training program. Their proposal emphasized their belief that the manufacturer could sell a sustainable version of the product at a more premium price, to mirror consumers shifting demand and offer more options to buyers, consumers alike. Their approach to reducing resources focused on water, energy and raw materials and involved innovations in dyeing, zero waste cutting and more. Team Four also suggested making more durable products to extend the product's lifecycle.

Group 4: "From little things, big things grow."

After the teams presented, judges gave feedback and the fellows themselves voted on the pitch that they liked best. Then, finally, it was celebration time! We had a lively celebratory toast and some h'orderves and *almost* forgot how little sleep everyone was running on. 

Celebrating completing the 24 hour challenge 

Celebrating completing the 24 hour challenge 


June 20th 2015

Our final day together at Un-School's New York City fellowship was all about reflection and action. We were invited to the soon-to-be completed Prime Produce space by our mentor Chris Chavez. We spent the morning remembering and recording all the incredible things we had done that week. Chris then guided us through a reflective workshop session and we shared our highlights and learning experiences from the week. 

Chris Chavez conducting a reflection session 

Chris Chavez conducting a reflection session 

Leyla then did an impromptu session (upon request from the fellows) on change theory and action before we all departed for an afternoon off before our farewell dinner. 

fair well dinner at the Un-School NC fellowship

A big disruptive THANK YOU to all our mentors, the Centre for Social Innovation for hosting us this week, our fearless leader and Un-School Team and of course to all the incredible fellows who joined us on this adventure! 

At the Un-School we are committed to creating unique, educative experiences for adults wanting to activate their careers for positive social and environmental change. We are constantly experimenting with diverse modes and methods of communicating and evoking change. Our next fellowship week will be in Mexico City in November, if you’re interested in messing with the system for positive change, learning the Un-School of Disruptive Design's Methods and enhancing your leadership - then you should apply to join us!