Did you know that we bought a farm in Portugal and are restoring it into our rural campus for UnSchool programs, retreats and all things creative change-making?? This year as we set up the main space, we are running small cretaive residency retreats. You can apply now!
Applications Are Officially Live for Our Cape Town Fellowship Program!
This May, we are hosting the UnSchool’s weeklong intensive Emerging Leaders Fellowship program in Cape Town! Applications for this brain-busting adventure for emerging leaders are now open!
Our Mumbai Fellowship adventure was an incredible experience, and we’re thrilled to announce that our next one will take place May 26 - June 1, 2018, in the incredible city of Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town is a microcosm of the world’s imminent social challenges. A city of almost four million people, Cape Town suffers from extreme income inequality. It struggles to supply sufficient housing and education, and is in the midst of the most severe water crisis in its history. Throughout the week, our incredible team and lineup of mentors will guide Fellows through an immersive learning experience in the Disruptive Design Method, Systems Thinking, and creative change making. Build your leadership activation and much, much more at or 9th Emerging Leaders Fellowship!
Our Fellowship programs are designed for emerging leaders who want to expand their mental toolsets, develop strong connections with like-minded people, and activate their leadership skills. This opportunity is for the misfits and mavericks of positive change, the curious, Fellowship programsOur and / or for those that are perhaps a little ‘stuck’ in their current positions. We take people from a wide variety of professional backgrounds and provide an immersive and highly engaging (cerebrally and personally) environment for activating change!
We always aim to make our programs both accessible and equitable. With that in mind, we offer generous partial scholarships which reduce the cost of participation. Scholarships are awarded on a sliding scale based on demonstrated need and merit.
DAY 6 & 7
The Design Challenge Day is here! Every Unschool Fellowship involves a unique design challenge that requires the fellows to participation in a time-crunched challenge where they apply the knowledge they gained throughout the week. In line with the themes we’ve explored this week, they worked with their group to choose a problem arena encountered during the week that they were passionate about diving into.
Team 1 decided to look at dispelling culturally influenced myths around menstruation, Team 2 chose to address the issue of fast fashion, Team 3 explored fostering curiosity, and Team 4 addressed closing communication gaps between generations.
The teams were asked to look at the issues through the week’s overarching theme of collaborative community engagement for positive social and environmental change. With the offer of a possibility to present at the DIF Festival the following week, the fellows had extra motivation to dig deep and present an idea with substance and potential real world impact.
The challenge day witnessed our fellows excitedly getting more deeply immersed into systems mapping, observational research, landscaping, synthesizing, prototyping and documenting. They drew from all the resources at hand, even going out into the public and interviewing people on the street and UnSchool team members about all manner of topics. They worked late into the night, fueled by samosas and Pao Bhaji, a Mumbai speciality.
The next morning, the fellows grabbed some breakfast and finalized their sketches, taking turns practicing their pitches with Leyla. In these practice sessions, Leyla shared her tactic knowledge on how to create engaging and evocative presentations that help share your vision with the audience. She helped the quieter of our community find their voices and the nervous ones see the excitement in their time on stage.
To draw on the inclusive, collaborative and diverse themes of the week, the judging panel took the shape of a peer review format. Seats were assigned to represent Community Stakeholders, Social Impact Feasibility, and The Environment, with each fellow offered the opportunity to rotate seats and view the presentations through each of the lenses.
The intense week of collaboratively engaged initiatives provided inspiration and support, as each team did an incredible job with their ideas. The scoring was close - in one case only 1% difference! - and a final winner was selected. With such close scores, however, we were all the appreciative recipients of hearing about positively impactful projects with both heart and substance.
The fellowship week thus came to an end with the popping of a giant bottle of bubbles, music, delicious dumplings, and handmade gifts passed around, along with hugs and a few happy tears. Cohost Myrthe transitioned us into a final group session as the fellows reflected on big learning revelations, needs & wishes, and most memorable moments. The entire group then turned inward with an X map activity to identify how to move forward on their personal projects from here.
In the final moments, we gathered in a circle to offer thank yous, gratitude, love, availability for collaborations and acknowledgments of the week’s impact on each of us. Leyla and the team also offered themselves up as peer mentors if any of the fellows wanted help moving forward with their challenge projects. With inspired hearts, we drew out the goodbyes (or see-you-laters) for as long as possible and finally parted ways - now all part of the UnSchool Alumni family.
See you at the next UnSchool creative change-making adventure!
Day 5 kicked off with a breakfast-of-champions panel led by Leyla and Emma, and accompanied by three incredibly inspiring local change-makers:
Perses (Envision, Earthsoul india and Converging World) develops multiple projects to fight climate change and create positive environmental interventions at a macro level. Among many things, he has developed compostable plastics, is prototyping a Graphene battery for electric cars, a spray that re-nourishes the organisms in the ocean and a program that involves re-foresting Tamil Nadu via wind farm investment.
Nishi works with Akaar Innovations, a hybrid social enterprise with 2 main initiatives - one which makes affordable compostable sanitary napkins in micro factories run by and for women, and an education arm that increases hygiene awareness, dismantles taboos, and normalizes menstruation (#FreedomFromShame).
Nimish has developed a clothing and accessory brand, Shift, that makes beautiful artisanal products with a range of sustainable and traditional materials, end of line fabrics, and smart cutting to minimize waste. Remnants left over from cutting are turned into blankets, while fibers left over from blankets are turned into paper. Nimish works with regional artisans from all over India who operate their own small home productions to both support and grow craft traditions while working towards a circular production system.
After a short snack and coffee break, Sonia Manchanda from Spread took the fellows on a dream catching journey. Sonia has developed a methodology, Dream:In, that maps dreams, moving away from immediate needs towards expanding possibilities. She feels strongly that by looking beyond immediate needs, we look to create something that actually fulfills deeper needs and takes the future into account. Working towards your own dreams and connecting to other people's dreams is part of her approach to creating systems that provide equitable opportunities. She aims to sensitize society, to catalyze solutions and to demonstrate results by mobilizing talent and resources.
The fellows went on to uncover each other’s dreams, putting the Dream:In tool into practice. The tool probed us to dig further towards our underlying social impact dreams. Captured on video, the dreams were shared over a wholesome lunch of pasta, vegetables, salads and dips cooked by the UnSchool Team.
Inspired and activated we kicked off our last session with our mentor, Dagny, who asked the fellows to reflect on the experiences of the previous day in 10 words. Tangential word clusters came out of this exercise and included community, connection, chaos, inspiration and learning. The various word clusters brought to light how the same experiences impact each individual differently. This exploration of the plurality of experience triggered the fellows to delve into deeper thoughts on perspectives and possibilities.
Dagny advanced this self-reflective session to a structured reflection on the impact of the individual projects that the fellows are working on in their lives. They were mentored to dig deep about the impact of their projects on the environment through the UN Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA). This 20 minute exercise enabled each participant to create connections in their work, through the lens of sustainability. To round out the session, the fellows heard about Dagny’s project Vessel - stainless steel mugs based on a library system where subscribers pick up and drop off their mugs at convenient participating coffee shops - a disruptive solution to the environmental issue of paper cups.
To bring together the themes of the day, our co-host Myrthe asked the fellows to write a letter to their future selves (which she will mail them one year from today!). She invited them to write in the context of having achieved their social impact dreams, and how this fellowship had contributed to that process --- a memento of their Unschool-ing experience. Reading their own letters one year from now will offer them deeper insights on their growth post Unschool, the struggles they had to overcome to achieve their positive impact dreams, and the sweet spots along the way. Reminding ourselves of the roots of where we started is an inspirational light to motivate further progress.
Setting the stage for the final fellowship challenge, Leyla led the fellows through an interactive session on the Disruptive Design Method (DDM), recounting the experiences throughout the week and exploring the DDM approaches of Mining, Landscaping & Building.
Then with activated brains, the fellows participated in a fun mini-quest designed by our local producer, Priyam. The quest: a hunt for glass, wood, fabric and metal treasures. Contained within the hidden treasures was key information about the challenge teams. Embracing the gamified tactic, the teams found each other and began to identify their problem arena for the final challenge that will culminate the fellowship week. That’s it for Day 5. #UnSchoolMB needs to rest up and recharge those brain cells for the upcoming 24 Hour Design Challenge.
An action-packed day in the field meant an early 7am start for #UnSchoolMB. As the last fellow sneaked in the back of our awesome BEST bus in an attempt to avoid the (often rather embarrassing) consequences of breaking the don’t-be-late-rule, we headed out for a series of experiences.
En route, Leyla and co-host, Sri, led a feedback session reflecting on the mini-gamification challenge from the night before. We were entertained as we talked through all the motivations and game mechanics that were drawn upon to create the gamified experiences, while balancing ourselves on the moving bus. Designing games that make change is not as easy as you think it might be, and the fellows helped to dissect the ways in which games can have a positive learning experience.
At the peak of the morning city bustle, we arrived at Mumbai Dhobi Ghat: The World’s Largest Open-Air Washerman Colony and were met by our insightful guides, Suraj, Hitesh and Jatin from Reality Tours & Travels. Before leaving the bus, Leyla took the fellows through ways of respectfully engaging with people in their own community, while seeking to gain insights and understanding. With open minds, we followed the local experts from Reality Tours (an ethical tour company that hires local guides and donates 80% of their profits to educational initiatives in Mumbai's slums) into the Dhobi Ghat.
Home to over 7,000 washermen (or Dhobis), the dhobis clean, scrub, bleach and iron (with an iron heated by coals!) an estimated one million items a day. Their clients include hotels, clubs, caterers, garment retailers and neighborhood laundries. Traditionally, the washing has always been done in concrete washing basins, however in recent years, some wealthier Dhobis have invested in large washing and drying machines, halving the colony’s population. Further automatization is expected, and concern for the subsequent reduction in jobs is a big concern throughout the community.
Manoeuvring between the washing cubicles, fast-spinning tumble dryers, and endless lines of drying garments (in a unique clothespin-free way), we observed a tight-knit community that works and lives in tight spaces. In this incredibly complex city within a city, temples, kitchens, sleeping areas, shops and services blend together in a highly tolerant and interconnected space.
Next we were hosted by Dharavi Diary, founded by Nawneet Ranjan and guided by a mission to empower Mumbai youth, especially girls and women, living on the fringes of urban & rural lower income communities. Through STEAM learning, storytelling and skill-building, they quickly develop skills to become innovative leaders.
We were welcomed by their warm and hospitable students, who guided us through Dharavi (Asia’s second largest slum) showing us several of the hundreds of waste recycling micro-businesses that receive thousands of tons of used plastic, paper, metals and other materials every month to break down and resell. We witnessed ‘jugaad’ in action (the Hindi word describing hacks and workarounds to find flexible solutions), along with the incredible amount of material that we consume, and then have to deal with on a daily basis.
After a locally prepared lunch with the students, served on plates made of leaves, we created mixed groups of UnSchool fellows and Dharavi Diary students to explore the contrasts, challenges and opportunities that we engaged with during the day.
The groups delved into some of the complex realities faced by the people who live in Dharavi, using a systems thinking approach. Together, we explored environmental issues, education, gender inequality, women in leadership, social work and adventure. New insights and beautifully articulated, creative, possible solutions were presented by the groups as they collaborated to gain a deeper understanding of the social and environmental complexities surrounding us. The afternoon session filled us with awe, humility and hope, as we hugged goodbye (for now), and traded contact information with our new Dharavi Diary friends.
Day 4 of #UnSchoolMB was full of new perspectives, fresh insights, and a whirlwind of emotions. We were tired and reflective as we made our way through the ever-present Mumbai traffic… until an impromptu dance party got us jumping around the aisles of the BEST bus as we wove our way through the evening light.
Day 3 kicked off with a question-filled breakfast where fellows found a small card on their plates and were asked to chat with others around the key question. Zubin Sharma, our mentor for the morning, had planted these prompts as food for thought and a great introduction to his morning session.
Zubin started off by sharing his personal journey from growing up in upstate New York to living and running Project Potential in Bihar (in eastern India). His personal story of discovering his purpose and passion provided the foundation for his session on exploring and understanding our own individual purpose on why we do what we do. He asked the group to pair off and ask each other 5 key questions: Who am I? What do I do? Who do I do it for/with? What do they need? How do they change as a result?
Then the fellows quickly developed a purpose statement in 10 words or less, and shared them back further distilling their vision for their personal change-making career. Zubin shared some magic tips to power them up:
Use the silence
Speak every word
Make sure everyone is with you
Kindness, passion, transition, action and sustainability were all recurring themes in the purpose statements shared by the fellows. Constructive feedback loops within the group increased the strength and conviction behind these statements, making them extremely powerful and convincing.
We then continued to bring our personal stories into a public narrative, to find new ways of framing the stories that engage and activate others. Zubin’s session ended with a reflection on how to tell human stories with dignity and respect, and how personal experiences form the base of powerful stories.
The conversations continued through lunch, a tasty and colourful spread of vegan Indian food made locally by a magician of a chef (she uses no oil, and we could not figure out how she added so much flavour!). Fully charged, we ran through a spontaneous mini workshop with Leyla, who built on the morning session and provided tools to create our own theories of change.
The afternoon sessions kicked off with a visit from Madhuvanti, Design Director of Taxi Fabric, who shared her story as a textile and product designer creating collaboration opportunities for artists. Her organization matches taxi drivers and local artists together to design the interior of taxis with fabrics that tell stories about the city. We learned about their business model, methods, and had thoughtful conversations about culturally influenced branding.
Then it was time for afternoon chai and a ridiculously funny game of biscuit toss that filled the space with laughter and energy as we tried to toss cookie pieces into each other’s mouths. The afternoon progressed into a deep-dive workshop with mentor Dagny Tucker, CEO and founder of Vessel, where we dissected cultural norms, structural violence, the impacts of industrialization, and were given tools to identify leverage points for intervention.
Dagny led the group into the root cause of un-sustainability, connecting it to the industrial revolution and the deep-seated need for conspicuous consumption. We discussed opportunities through social life cycle assessment, and she offered thought-provoking examples of the social and environmental impacts of everyday things like shoes and hand sanitizer.
The next session, led by co-host Sri, started off with the fellows asking uncomfortable questions to other. This was an experience designed to demonstrate the sensitivities of social research, and to ponder how as researchers we can be less intrusive, more empathic and ethical in how we get to the needed insights. Human beings don’t always do what they say they do, and researchers need to find ways of identifying the actual rather than conceived data. Sri shared some interesting case studies from her work as a Behavior Architect and then introduced the topic of gamification in anticipation for a fun challenge that would be offered later in the evening.
At this point, the group was extremely cognitively stimulated (and maybe a little overloaded!), so we stepped outside where our other co-host, Myrthe, facilitated a reflection session. She focused on constructing the various components discussed during the day and the emotion felt around it. The nature of the session, augmented with the outside space, brought back all the warmth, energy and joy - just enough for Leyla to challenge them to a challenge! ;) Yes! The day was not over yet as the fellows accepted Leyla’s challenge to create a gamified experience in an allocated local neighborhood, in two hours.
The group was split up into smaller groups and each provided with a specific area on the map, a few fun limitations (like only one person in the group can talk, no transport can be used, etc), and various budgets. This was to enable the fellows to apply their learnings on research, systems thinking and gamification to design an experience.
The two hours flew by and each group eagerly shared the bones of their ‘game plan’, to be discussed in more detail on... Day 4 of #UnSchoolMB.