On Sunday, twenty fellows from eight countries descended on the beautiful Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco, to kick off the #UnSchoolSF Fellowship, our weeklong emerging leaders program for creative rebels and change agents.

#UnSchoolSF Fellows & Team!

#UnSchoolSF Fellows & Team!

Leyla started the day with some cognitive trickery, challenging Fellows to remember names and facts about everyone in the group, while standing on one leg! By leveling-up the challenge and marrying physical exertion with memory, we’ve etched each other’s names, fears and favorite things into our minds forever.

After getting acquainted, the cohort took a merry march to TechShop, a community-based DIY workshop and fabrication studio. A fantastic tour of the studio, where ideas become reality, got the fellows and team psyched for an inspirationally explosive week.

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We then dove into getting to know each other better with our rapid-fire review of everyone’s lives and passions, using a hacked Pecha Kucha-style format. Cramming a life’s journey into 9 slides and three minutes was a constraints challenge, especially since people with an UnSchool attitude often have more lives than a cat! Aussies are representing hard at this UnSchool fellowship (Leyla, the founder, is from there!), and we also have fellows from the Bay Area, Manila, Mexico City, Detroit, Boston, Oklahoma, Singapore, Vancouver, Kentucky, Amsterdam and New Zealand! There’s a convergence of community and creative change-making in this fantastic group of doers and innovators, with fellows ranging in age from 21 to 60! Life experiences include being a radio DJ in Singapore, studying textile making in India, founding a Makers Space in Manila, launching a community farming business, along with sociology and behavior change degrees. Collectively we’ve traveled the world dozens of times over and engage in a wide range of methodologies to make change happen. Best current job description? “Aspiring beam of light”

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After an hour of getting stoked by our fantastic new friends’ passion for making the world work better for all of us, we rolled right into Leyla’s first session – an overview of ‘sustainability’ at breakneck speed. Reminding us that everything comes from nature at some point, Leyla used awesome stories of humanity’s hubris, like Biosphere 2 (a somewhat disastrous attempt to create a complex ecosystem in a dome) to highlight our dependence on this fragile rock. Introducing us to concepts like fractals and self-similarity (Leyla LOVES triangles), the session ended with the idea of the movement towards the circular economy – a regenerative nature-mimicking global economic system instead of the linear make-use-waste world we’re living in (and destroying). Time to flip the script and change the narrative about conspicuous consumption! Whatever this week holds in store, these fellows are ready!

For the final act of the day, “the Mayor of the Tenderloin”, Del Seymour, led a walking tour for us covering the history of the famed district, along with his personal relationship with drugs and homelessness and giving back to his community. Fellows saw beautiful and historic locations like UN Plaza, where the United Nations charter was created, and the LEED-certified Federal Building, as well as the Christian Women hotels where single women lived in the 1920s and 1930s in San Francisco if they didn't’ want to “get called a whore.” Since its heyday, the neighborhood has become notorious for drug use and homelessness – a trap Del fell into, and has devoted his life to helping others avoid.  

Del founded Code Tenderloin, which helps people with criminal records and drug histories get jobs in tech, as well as The Gubbio Project, which serves as a place for “Sacred Sleep and Sanctuary” for 300 unhoused individuals every day. Clean for nine years and counting, Del’s on multiple boards and works on homelessness for the city of San Francisco. Based on his experience, Del warns local kids “you can’t TRY drugs. They’re stronger than uranium.”

After Del’s thought-provoking and inspiring story, fellows were getting hungry and ready to debrief on the first day’s delights at length, over biryani and saag paneer at Little Delhi.

The week will be full of UnSchool adventures, challenging change-making concepts and community building around how we can each activate our sphere of influence and participating in helping make the future work better for all of us. Stay tuned...!