San Francisco Fellowship

April 23- 28, 2017


Meet Our San Francisco Fellows!

The Unschool's seventh fellowship program started on Sunday April 23rd! Meet the incredible #UNSCHOOLSF cohort of creative rebels and change agents, who us in SAN FRANCISCO, USA, from 8 different countries!


Read about our incredible cohort then read on to hear about what we got up to on our week together

Cohort #7

Cohort #7

Abigail Mapua-Cabanilla

Abi is a seeker with a profound mission to build new models that change the status quo, in a world filled with broken systems and inequality. Her founding and establishment of the Hub of Innovation For Inclusion (HIFI), a university-based social innovation space and incubator is a testament to this mission. Abi's practice in the fields of environmental science and social design exposed her to the key importance of listening and empathizing with the needs and values of people.  Her work in academia in the areas of social design and sustainability presented her with the opportunity to cross-pollinate across disciplines, involve students and faculty, and facilitate collaboration and co-creation with communities and their very real challenges. Abi is also Co-Founder and Sustainability Driver at KindMind, an experience design laboratory that helps organizations grow by creating brand moments for their users. Abi is a regular speaker and facilitator of human-centered innovation among universities and corporate partners.

Aleesha Rodriguez

As a passionate abstract and critical thinker, Aleesha questions everything and loves to problem-solve. Her big, burning, world-changing passion is understanding the intersection between ecology, digitality, and economics, with a focus on understanding the discourse and narratives that stakeholders produce to initiate the mitigation of the climate crisis.

Aleesha holds multiple degrees in Ancient History/History, Studies of Religion, and Sociology. Her thesis sought to identify how environmental crowdfunding projects (ECFPs) discursively construct environmental issues on the web 2.0 crowdfunding platform, IndieGoGo, analyzing whether these constructions influenced the success or failure of the environmental projects. Outside of academia Aleesha is a cyclist, a traveller, and an advocate of Effective Altruism, which is about being generous yet diligent with one's time and money to do the most social good.

Alejandra Gomez

Alejandra is an infinitely curious internationalist with a passion for developing strategies that promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth. As an industrial analyst and journalist, Alejandra has conversations with CEOs of leading mining and infrastructure companies, NGOs and strategic governmental authorities. The information is collected and compiled into annual reviews that are unique in the market.

Alejandra currently lives in Mexico City where she graduated with a double major in international relations and business administration. She was raised in Eugene, Oregon in the United States and has a background in leadership training, activism and human rights advocacy. Her passion for change and community organizing motivated her to join an Oregon Latino youth leadership academy named Juventud Faceta at the age of 16. During the program, she was invited to be a board member for the immigrant rights NGO, Amigos Multicultural Services, that organizes the training. She taught social justice workshops at regional and national student conferences, organized cultural and fundraising events, helped develop strategic annual plans and objectives for the NGO and promoted higher education among latinx youth in the community. With increasing interest in Mexico to create better and more sustainable projects, Alejandra seeks to strengthen the connection between social, governmental and private spheres to promote healthier economic growth. She aims to find a middle ground between her experience in the activist arena and in the private sector, to open a social enterprise that can help companies and organizations close the gaps in the country through creativity and innovation.

Amanda Grossman

Amanda lives in and works for the City of Santa Monica in California. For the past two years she has worked in the Office of Sustainability and the Environment with a team of ambitious individuals that strive to set trends and be leaders in the field of sustainability.

Along with sustainability and the environment, Amanda also has a passion for learning about human behavior and how it relates to sustainability, and is working towards a certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change. She believes in the capacity to significantly reduce negative human impact on the environment by changing behavior (such as diet) from the bottom-up, and because of the urgency of the situation, she wants to activate people and communities now. Her particular areas of interest are sustainable food, food waste, and waste in general. One of her personal goals is to live a zero waste lifestyle.

Douglas Sovonick

Doug’s ultimate goal is to utilize his talents to spread the gospel of sustainability and positively impact our environmental condition. He is a partner and Chief Creative Officer at Deskey, a branding firm in Cincinnati. Presently he and a small group of environmentally conscious people inside Deskey are establishing a branding practice using biomimicry as inspiration to create branding executions that are earth friendly. He lives in a five acre urban oasis in Dayton, Kentucky where he and his wife create art from up-cycled objects.

Drew Robinson

Drew is an educator, a web developer, and a problem-solver. Drew believes that when we approach life with a solution-oriented, growth mindset, we can change the world for the better and is especially passionate about the power of education and is committed to helping teachers improve their practice, advancing educational technology in classrooms, and teaching computer coding to kids and adults. Drew is a Google Certified Trainer and has been awarded the 2016 Oklahoma PBS Digital Innovator, and the 2017 Tulsa StartUp Series - Tech/App Division Winner.

Ellen Kim

Ellen is a peace worker and a human worker with a passion for cultivating wholeness, awareness and connectivity. She holds a Masters in Sustainable Peace Through Sport from the University for Peace and is working towards her Masters in Peace, Development, Security and International Conflict Transformation from the UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies at the University of Innsbruck. She has spent the last six years working, traveling and studying around the world, including living in Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, France, Austria and Thailand. Having worked on grassroots capacity-building projects, as well as with the United Nations, Ellen is curious to better understand the structural factors that lead us to collectively create and perpetuate fractured systems. She would like to explore the intersection between the transpersonal and the political, working to unfold the full human potential in order to re-imagine and transform today’s ecological, social and spiritual divides.

Emily Teng

Raised in Jakarta, Melbourne and Singapore, Emily was inspired from a young age to serve the needs of the community around her. Perpetually in motion, Emily is passionate about all her causes. Her infectious energy resonates far and wide, especially within the communities she has touched. ‘Awesome’ is not just her favorite word but her mantra. It is used to describe everything and everyone. What gets her out of bed every day is the drive to help youth realise their own inner ‘awesome-ness’ and potential to change the world.

Emily is known in Singapore as the “Chief of Awesome”. She currently delivers a program called Beyond Awesome to at-risk students, providing education and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities through work experience and training. Emily’s achievements have been recognised by Yahoo! Singapore 9 Awards, Cosmopolitan Singapore’s ‘Fun Fearless Female’, Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneur Program, the GOOD 100 Global Change-maker and 2017 Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leader run by the Australian Government in partnership with AsiaLink.

James Sarria

James' passions are centered around people and communities.  His professional experiences are focused on designing initiatives for global social change, education reform and building innovative programs to address the most urgent issues facing society. James has life experience all over the United States, Mexico, every country in Central America, several in South America, and Kenya.  His experiences are focused on sustainable agriculture, climate change, agroforestry, and conservation research initiatives.

For the last 8 years, James has been immersed in the work of the Level Playing Field Institute, developing, defining, experimenting and building out the Summer Math & Science Honors Academy in preparation to scale the program nationally.Through his current graduate program in Sustainable Food Systems, James is focused on building sustainable food systems in the United States through leveraging technology, education, and entrepreneurship to drive initiatives for social change. James has a rescue pet ball python, dances afro-Brazilian rhythms, and loves making pesto.

Jessica Bellamy

Jessica graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Louisville with degrees in Drawing (BFA), Graphic Design (BFA), Pan African Studies (BA), and a minor in Communication. As a former Neurodevelopmental Science research analyst at UofL, Jessica now runs her own business that combines grassroots organizing, research, and information graphics. She is the owner of GRIDS: The Grassroots Information Design Studio.  

GRIDS is a for-profit research and design agency that creates works that support social justice initiatives. Their clients are generally nonprofits, social change organizations, and community groups. GRIDS uses an inclusive business model that allows them to provide a wide range of services on a sliding scale. In addition to data collection, data organization, and visual storytelling services, GRIDS offers consultations and workshops on Community Engagement, Access to Information, and Design in Social Justice.  

Matthew Bakker

Matt is from Brisbane, Australia and has a background in Environmental Science. He has worked on projects such as the ‘Healthy Country’ program which aimed to reduce sediment from agricultural land from entering the creeks and streams and eventually ending up in our coastal bays. The implementation of this project used sustainable management practices and took a whole systems approach to improving agricultural land across South East Queensland.

Currently Matt is contracted to work with recognized Aboriginal Groups, who are connected to the land they identify with as the traditional custodians. His primary role involves capturing and implementing effective management processes recommended by the Aboriginal Groups representatives, to protect and preserve cultural heritage attributes that may be impacted by development.

Additionally, over the last year Matt started an urban farm project with a colleague selling their produce directly to the local community through a farm gate stall and local buyers groups. Using his farm as a platform, Matt’s interest with this venture is in improving the sustainability of the urban environment with a particular interest in local food, power production, increasing water quality, reducing air pollution, improving urban flora and fauna and local economies. His goal is to create not only sustainable hubs within the community, but also broader collaborations to proactively help tackle these issues.

Meredith Reynolds

Meredith is a project manager and social design strategist who currently resides in Detroit, Michigan. She is passionate about engaging in projects that promote positive systemic social change. Currently she works on capacity building, marketing & communications, and project management for the Detroit Revitalization Fellows, a program of Wayne State University.

A graduate of Michigan State University, she started her career by working to advance public policy initiatives for nonprofits statewide at the Michigan Nonprofit Association. After this, she oversaw fundraising at AIDS Walk Detroit, raising over $195,000 to fund HIV awareness, prevention and education efforts across metro Detroit. Meredith also served as an account manager for Digerati, a triple-bottom-line IT company located in downtown Detroit that utilizes technology to address talent retention in Michigan. In her spare time, Meredith enjoys riding her bike through Detroit, finding good restaurants to try and picking new cities to visit.

Myrthe Lanting

Myrthe is an idealist and a lover of all things food, India, mind-boggling conversations and unexpected perspectives. She has an educational background in Textile Design and Design Cultures and works for a social startup, Starters4Communities, that helps young graduates kickstart their value-driven careers, and amplifies the impact of community-driven projects. She is fascinated by the idea of design as a “push activity” towards better futures, and is on a mission to design and scale better processes instead of purely looking for solutions to the problems at hand. Her main interest currently lies in urban food systems.

Nicholas Cobb

Nicholas builds on his humble roots to lead and align people around a common purpose of positive impact, and shared values for growth and progress. He strives to amplify his individual power by empowering others to take on shared challenges. As a young leader, Nicholas feels fortunate to have been able to gain experiences across diverse sectors --- the public sector in the Massachusetts Senate, the private sector within a financial institution and a consulting firm, and the nonprofit sector through his AmeriCorps VISTA service in the greater Los Angeles area --- and he aspires to continue to incorporate such a balance throughout his life. Consciously making the decision to not enter business solely for financial gain, but as a way to find meaningful work and make a positive difference in the world, he believes business and its leaders play a powerful role in shaping society. In his travels to numerous countries, he has seen firsthand that businesses and corporations are often more powerful than governments. These experiences confirmed his own hypothesis that future leaders will be better equipped to tackle the problems of tomorrow by being successful in operating across geographies and sectors today.

Paros Huckstepp

Paros started on the pathway of design at the age of 14 when the woodworking shop at his school was turned into a computer-based design room. Having completed his Bachelor of Design in Architecture in 2012, Paros sidestepped into his career as a landscape architect. This role afforded the opportunity to work closely with architects, interior designers, and property developers – each with their own perspectives and priorities. With the belief that design has the power to change the way people interact with each other and their environment, Paros is investigating, integrating, and initiating positive social change through his work in landscape design.

Rosemary Broad

Rosie is passionate about effecting social change. Originally from Feilding, a small town in New Zealand, she currently works for the Ministry of Health in Wellington where she activates her I passions about improving health outcomes and health care access, particularly for Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand who continue to suffer from an unequal access to resources. She is committed to making positive change and finding different solutions to improve Maori health outcomes.

Rosie is also a keen conservationist who loves a good hike in the mountains and experiencing New Zealand's fantastic wilderness.

Susanne Peterson

Born in Silicon Valley before it was referred to by that name, Susanne came into the world with an abundance of energy, curiosity and heart. She is a natural creator, idea generator and has an immense love of people and possibilities. Susanne is a practical optimist, believing in the potential of our shared humanness to make the world a better place and knowing it’s going to take time. Through a circuitous career path, she found her way to 10+ exciting and successful years in high-tech and then turned her attention, skills, and passion to working with non-profit organizations focused on critical social justice issues (she’d love to tell you about the organizations sometime). She loves “making things happen” and is extremely excited to be part of Unschool San Francisco.

Theresa Edick

Theresa was born and raised in New Hampshire. She attends Colby-Sawyer College, a small liberal arts college where she studies environmental studies and sustainability. Her recent endeavors include exploring the cultures behind sustainability and social change towards environmental impacts. Theresa is a young change-maker with a vision to live a sustainable lifestyle and lead a cultural shift towards sustainability through education and knowledge.

Tibora Girczyc-Blum

Tibora was born with her eyes open. She is an asker-of-questions, a seeker and an adventurer. She likes to make things and take things apart. Tibora finds inspiration from the complexities in the world and is informed through her experiences as a visual artist, educator, entrepreneur, community organizer, creative reuse proponent and world explorer.

Vanina Howan

Vanina is a clothing design graduate from California College of the Arts. During her studies, she focused on sustainable design and was published in 7x7. She currently teaches at CCA and is working on starting her own creative sustainable practice.



San Fran Day 1 - April 24, 2017

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.

Getting our saftey gear on for a Techshop SF tour

Getting our saftey gear on for a Techshop SF tour

Techshop tour

Techshop tour

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”

Sharing our life in 3 minutes!

Sharing our life in 3 minutes!

Susan shares insights in herself (she can do cartwheles!) 

Susan shares insights in herself (she can do cartwheles!) 

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!

Tenderloin tour with Del Seymour

Tenderloin tour with Del Seymour

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...!


San Fran Day 2 - April 25, 2017


Day Two kicked off with a deep dive on Systems Thinking, as Leyla guided the fellows through the complex, chaotic and beautiful ways in which systems exist in the world. Complexity is one topic mentioned a lot at the UnSchool, as a tool for understanding and activating change. Our fellows got to experience this first hand as they identified and then mapped out an array of complex systems.

Leyla sharing her wealth of nowldge on systems thinking

Leyla sharing her wealth of nowldge on systems thinking

The stocks and flows of systems are like the tap and drain in a bathtub. Water stocks the bathtub (or system) from the tap. Water flows out of the system through the drain. When the tap is running, and water is entering the system as a stock, there’s different outcomes depending on the state of the drain. If it’s open and the water can flow out that’s constant - but if the drain is clogged, the water will build up and overflow. There’s a third option, where the drain is clogged and the tap is turned off, maintaining a steady state of a full bathtub. The rate of the tap also matters: is it rushing or dripping? The different possible water pressures is a metaphor for how behavior changes over time - we can’t assume that water will always flow at the same rate, or people or systems will behave statically. Of course, the world is more complicated than a bathtub.

Leyla waxed poetic about the miracle of sprouting lentils as an example of emergence – taking an item that looks dead in the cupboard and introducing water and light to sprout life. That’s the emergent, life-giving property of the conditions.

Systems Mapping exercise 

Systems Mapping exercise 

Next, fellows took on a Systems Mapping challenge – choosing topics like nationalism, race, identity, community, and religion.

Granulating these complex concepts down to the next level was the final activity before lunch. Interconnected circles mapping helps to explore and connect the different elements of a system by writing words on individual pieces of paper and then connecting them out across a large circle. This allowed fellows to drill deeper on individual nodes within the systems. UnSchool Day 2 was definitely a crash course in complex, dynamic and interconnected thinking!

Dynamic full table systems mapping!

Dynamic full table systems mapping!

The team had prepared an incredibly colourful and nutritional smorgasboard of locally sourced yummy vegetables. A few of our fellows said they had never seen so many vegetables in one sitting! #PlantBasedPeoplePower #SoMuchKale

Our first AMAZING UnSchool style vegtable-centric lunch 

Our first AMAZING UnSchool style vegtable-centric lunch 

To fill all the crevasses in our brains and stomachs, we shared stories and snacks after lunch. A fellowship tradition is to bring something from home to share. People always interpret this in beautiful ways - vegan chocolate from Melbourne through to Korean sweets and impossible-to-solve puzzles. We learned about the Coastal Salish loon, how delicious vegan chocolate can be, and that someone always brings maple syrup to a fellowship (this time it was surprisingly not a Canadian).

Fellows share what they brought from home

Fellows share what they brought from home

After delicious treats and conversation, it was time to explore another scintillating subject – Gamification and Game Theory. What makes people want to do things, or avoid them? How can we use cognitive behavior theory to help people achieve better outcomes (whatever that means)? What are the principles of game mechanics, modes, mechanisms, and motivators that we can apply in everyday life? [One anonymous fellow may already be planning exercise interventions for her significant other – watch out, partners!]

NYC Fellowship Alumni, Adam Little leads a session on rapid prototyping 

NYC Fellowship Alumni, Adam Little leads a session on rapid prototyping 

For a final fantastic session, UX designer, UnSchool alum and prototyping master Adam Little (UnSchool NYC alum and UnSchool Berlin Cohost) gave a sessions on the “Five Tips for Prototyping Your Next Great Idea,” followed by a fun and active prototyping design challenge. Six teams were given real local SF businesses with imaginary expansion ideas, and had to develop the prototype pitch using user feedback solicited from other people in the group. With prompts like creating a Nest thermostat service for climate deniers, Blue Apron for Tinder dates, and Lyft for Hummer owners, the prototype challenges were sassy and demanding.

Getting into the prototyping session!

Getting into the prototyping session!

Pitching our prototypes abck to the group

Pitching our prototypes abck to the group

After teams presented their fantastic ideas, it was time to reflect on the day with the cohort. Jessy and Regina used a Mad Libs-inspired format to facilitate the session. (For those of you who haven't had the joy of playing, Mad Libs is a fill-in-the-blanks word game that results in hilarious stories.) One of the winners was “If Cognitive Science had a spirit animal it would be a hedgehog because it’s prickly and amazing.”

Venina and Susan share a monent 

Venina and Susan share a monent 

Fellows were then split into five groups for the evening’s final activity – dinner together in the Mission district of San Francisco, with a twist! Each team received an envelope with a secret challenge, to be completed and shared with the group tomorrow morning. Can’t wait to find out what these fun folks are tasked to disrupt!.

San Fran Day 3- April 26, 2017

Day 3 was such a big jam packed day we had to break it up into sections!

Day 3, Part 1: Prototype-Aganza!

We got started by play-testing the gamified prototypes that teams created over dinner the night before. Play-testing is crucial because the way you would play a game isn’t necessarily the way other humans will. Leyla shared that she first designs with herself in mind, how would she play the game, and then tries to create a universal design.

Fellows share their experience game designs

Fellows share their experience game designs

One team’s game started from the assumption that most people don’t like going to work on Monday mornings –  those employees should probably check out UnSchool! Sadness for people’s 9-5 drudgery aside, the team’s intervention asked employees to create engagement ideas that would inspire them. Fellows got into the game, and everything was going swimmingly until it was time to vote for the ‘best’ idea – everyone just voted for their team’s ideas! Leyla called it an “immediate design fail,” pointing out when you design a game like this you have to have a rule like “you can’t vote for yourself, or you have to vote for someone else – because humans will always vote for themselves.”

Another team created a game to help people clean their houses - with a motivator being that your ex-partner is coming to your house for a party in one minute. Four fellows gamely rushed to clean up paper confetti strewn across the floor that represented a ‘mess’ - until the designers started removing participants from the game to add pressure! We learned that next time, we’ll create pressure by adding another rule using our words, instead of physically moving people through space - consent is key when designing behavior change experiments!

It got a little bit weird at one point! This is why playtesting is SO important!

It got a little bit weird at one point! This is why playtesting is SO important!


Day 3, Part 2: The Future is Already Here

Next, we had a fast-paced session from strategic futurist, gatherer, and mom , Nancy Giordino, who distilled decades of experiential design for the group (she may speak faster than Leyla!).

Nancy’s company #playbig helps visionaries “play bigger”, and was inspired by the quote “Your playing small does not serve the world.” Instead of containing ourselves, Nancy challenged us to reach for the stars with an attitude of “humble audacity” - the winning combination for true leaders of the future.

Mentor Nancy Giordino shares her incredable expiernce with us all 

Mentor Nancy Giordino shares her incredable expiernce with us all 

“We’re only 1% into the technological digital shift – it’s like seeing a mountain and not knowing how big it really is.” The next 20 years are going to challenge what it means to be human, and Nancy gave a run-down of some truly amazing people, organizations, and companies that are working on fundamentally shifting the playing field of the world in various ways.

Wondering who the movers and shakers are? Then you should definitely check out People You Need To Know (PYNK)! As Nancy pointed out, “This work is not solo. You have to have friends! Amazing people like Leyla!”

Nancy encouraged us to stay curious and connected as we live through a future of exponential, constant disruption that will challenge most of our assumptions about how the world works. She’s excited to see whether we change our success metrics from “terrible” ones like GDP to a more relationship-driven, circular economy-promoting measurements. “We can serve people or stalk people with these technologies - especially AI!”

She left us with a few questions for consideration. Will ethicists be involved in developing the artificial intelligences of the future? Will inclusion be incorporated? “The choices we make are not agnostic,” so without diverse decision-makers, you end up with catastrophic failures like Siri’s original response to sexual assault questions. More recently, Elon Musk’s OpenAI is going to use Reddit forums to teach AI language -- even though some Reddit feeds contain some terrifying attitudes towards women and minorities. Quoting William Gibson, “the future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”

Fellows broke into groups of 3 (triangles again!) and brainstormed “RIFF”s - a list of what Relieves Me, Inspires Me, Frustrates Me, Frightens Me?


Day 3, Part 3: Inclusion & Equity for Civic Change

After another plant-powered super-spread, fellows got laser-focused on equity and access with design luminary Antoinette Carroll, Founder & CEO of the Creative Reaction Lab. She started by having fellows complete a 60-second challenge, answering the prompt: “I will make ______ better by _______.” She asked fellows, “What are you doing to build the world that you want to create? How do we make it a better world for others and not just ourselves?”

The incredible Antoinette Carol gave an awe inspiring and activating mentor session

The incredible Antoinette Carol gave an awe inspiring and activating mentor session

Creative Reaction Lab works to “co-create solutions with Black and Latinx populations to design healthy and racially equitable communities,” and their flagship program is Design to Better [our City]. They also just released an Artwork for Equity campaign, offering free postcard designs that anyone can download and use to contact government officials and business leaders about racial justice.

Antoinette lives in St. Louis Missouri, where the racial segregation and income inequality in St. Louis is so extreme that the BBC did a mini-documentary on the “Delmar Divide,” a street where boarded-up houses face gated mansions. She shared about her experience and intervention in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown Jr in St. Louis’ Ferguson neighborhood in 2014, which was followed by historic Black Lives Matters protests. “This was the day that people in power had to remember they had forgotten about others below,” she told us. Two weeks after Brown was shot to death, Antoinette’s organization hosted a 24-hour design challenge for youth that resulted in ideas that are still implemented, like Cards Against Brutality, which is integrated into high-school curriculums as a teaching tool.

Antoinette touched on cultural truths like “The Talk” – explained here by Reading Rainbow’s Levar Burton – when African-American parents explain to their kids how to act to try and avoid being shot by police officers in everyday situations. She also encouraged everyone to see the new film 13th, a documentary about how the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery actually led to a mass incarceration epidemic.

Six Tips for Engaging the Community for Social Justice, from Antoinette

Tip 1: you have your craft, talent, and expertise. Determine your mission.

Tip 2: Don’t live in a fishbowl

Tip 3: Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate (don’t be afraid of skills unknown}

Tip 4: Think participatory. Create for engagement.

Tip 5: Always consider the impact of diversity: craft, identities, thought, etc. Dissent encouraged.

Tip 6: Use your expertise to build and disrupt power. Share it.

Leyla and Antoinette had a momentary mind-meld over the phrase “don’t dictate - curate” (a Leyla original that Antoinette will be using moving forward!). Designers shine brightest when co-designing and collaborating for change - we love C words too!

Then we broke into groups to do some “Hierarchical Word Mapping”, exploring a few light concepts like Poverty, Gun Violence, Sexism, and Racism.

Fellows got deep discussing the intersections of culture, privilege, and power. The only man in the sexism group discussed how anti-feminism makes him protective of his mother, aunt, sister – the women that raised him. The gun violence group had a fellow from Singapore in it, who said “I totally couldn’t relate to the conversation. We don’t even have gum in Singapore, never mind guns!”


Day 3, Part 4: Time for a Magic School Bus Field Trip!

Inside the magic School Bus adventure!

Inside the magic School Bus adventure!

For a special treat, Leyla took us on a Ms. Frizzle-esque adventure in @Gillibus’ Yellow School Bus - a dream come true for some fellows. We got time to meet in small groups with our mentors while we rocked out to tunes on the way to San Mateo. Our final stop was @KITCHENTOWN, a food startup incubator and commercial kitchen! Co-founder Dan gave us a tour of the myriad entrepreneurial ventures he hosts in his space, and our favorite waste-food chef Phil from ReGrained worked some superstar magic creating a delicious salad out of UnSchool’s vegetable trimmings while we sampled his beer waste protein bars. We all built our own delicious Thai rice wraps, paired with delicious sauces and juices Dan generously shared with the group. Finally, it was time to head back to San Francisco, buzzing with excitement, and ready to hit the East Bay tomorrow (after getting some rest)!


San Fran Day 4- April 27, 2017


Day four started out with a challenge for the fellows to find their way out of downtown San Fran, over the bridge to Oakland! We met up in the heart of the city, known for being densely populated with artists. Our first experience of the day was a visit with Qeyno, an inclusive innovation company focused on tech education. Qeyno’s Headmaster CEO Kalimah Priforce told us about their mentor-driven programs to help kids learn code, where students coming up with inspiring ideas such as an app to help stop bullying. Tech Equity week, Hackathon, and Moonshot are groundbreaking ventures at Qeyno to feed imagination, passion and “empathy spillover”, while creating opportunities for high potential youth in low opportunity situations.

Kalimah sharing his wisdom with us 

Kalimah sharing his wisdom with us 

In the middle of hearing the inspirational stories of their student body, Kalimah casually dropped the fact that Prince (!!) had been a client, and helped them change the conversation from planning for worst case scenarios by imagining the best case scenario. We had a collective moment to soak up the magic of Prince (!!) via Kalimah before transitioning to learning about the Early Learning Lab. Director of Design & Innovation Sheetal Singh found a few volunteer fellows to role play various perspectives of the community, shedding light on the complexity of dealing with early childhood education. The Lab especially focuses on children before they reach grade three, which has been shown to be a strong predictor for the life path that a child could take. Early Learning Lab experiments with modified design thinking practices for bringing parents and caregivers into the loop by rapidly prototyping ways to provide positive outcomes for these young kids.

Fellows doing Leyla's observational research expeirmetn 

Fellows doing Leyla's observational research expeirmetn 

After a vitamin packed fruit and tea break, we formed two groups and half went for amazing tacos at Xolo (because our brains already needed more fuel!), and participated in an observational research activity with Leyla in Lake Merritt park. With this activity, we had the opportunity to notice the ways we differ in how we view the world, each person sharing their individual way of observing and documenting spaces. It was a revealing look into the way each of our brains work, and how important it is to be able to recognize how we all view the world through lenses influenced by our own experience in it.

Mentor Jermey McKane fits a neuro feedback machine to a fellows head

Mentor Jermey McKane fits a neuro feedback machine to a fellows head

After tramping around the East Bay, Fellows arrived at the Humanist Hall for a mind-blowing (and mapping!) afternoon. Our mentor Jeremy McKane is an underwater cinematographer who believes “the shortest path between two humans is art” and makes “motion pictures for mindfulness.”  Jeremy brought his mind-controlled digital art installation, LUCiD, a biofeedback device that looks like a telephone operator headset and can Read. Your. Mind!

Fellows lay on blankets in groups and watched Jeremy’s art projected on the Hall’s ceiling, taking turns wearing the headset. The raw brainwave data is then fed to meditation and attention algorithms that play different film clips. When you’re distracted, you see trash floating in the ocean, and facts about plastic. As you reach a meditative state, you see beautiful underwater scenes of whales and dolphins. As your concentration continuously shifts between mindful and distracted, the videos change, and even more amazingly - your mind created new synaptic pathways! After a few minutes, it’s easier to bring the beautiful underwater footage back on the screen. But Fellows also felt the pressure of their own and other people’s expectations to succeed, making it harder to relax.

Watching the ocean from the ground

Watching the ocean from the ground

Jeremy’s passion for the ocean and its creatures was clear, saying he always tells kids “superheroes exist! There’s animals that can fly and see through walls!” Did you know that dolphins have x-ray vision, and can tell when women are pregnant using echolocation? Jeremy believes that, because of climate change and ocean degradation, “We have this finite moment in time to fix the oceans because I believe the next 10 years will dictate the next 10,000 years. I truly believe that.” Quoting Sylvia Earle, Jeremy said, “now’s the best time to be alive in history, because we have the best chance to make a difference.” (For more insights from Jeremy, and to learn about what's really going on with ocean plastic, check out this interview between him and our founder, Leyla.)

Fellows then broke into small groups to help each other workshop real-world problems in our lives. Each fellow got to speak about a problem area in their lives for 2 minutes, then got 10 minutes of feedback and additional questions from the group. Provocative questions prompted people to dig deeper, and we all received great ideas about how to disrupt and design better solutions to work and personal issues, while experiencing the benefit of peer mentorship.

Peer-mentoring sessions 

Peer-mentoring sessions 

After an inspirational day of beautiful stories about people and the planet, Fellows got to perform 90-second scenes that incorporated design concepts, film genres and emotional prompts. Co-host Jessy shared her love of improv with the group during the daily reflection, pointing out things that improv and design methods have in common – trusting the process, pulling on observations of the world around us, and realizing there are no mistakes, only gifts. Fellows were game, trusted the process, and came up with some fantastic scenes! The Team’s Period Piece about Making Change involved a time-machine trip to the French Revolution. A Film Noir/Systems Thinking skit involved a Fellow smoking cigarettes while trying to stop a bathtub from overflowing (a callback to Leyla’s stocks and flows metaphor), and three Fellows played the chemical change-agents oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine in a Coming of Age story about Cognitive Behavior.

Co-host Jessie lead a fun packed afternoon session!

Co-host Jessie lead a fun packed afternoon session!

When the skits were over, we called it a night, and fellows were left with tantalizing instructions to meet extra-early in front of Embarcadero (for ???) the next morning!

San Fran Day 5- April 28, 2017

James takes a selfie of all of us at the Embarcadero

James takes a selfie of all of us at the Embarcadero

For Day 5, Fellows met at the Ferry Building to go on a surprise field trip. After walking along Embarcadero and hearing the Bay’s environmental history, we arrived at Autodesk, a multinational software corporation with the type of fabrication labs that designers dream about. Our tour guide told us that the shop is open to all employees, and “our job, with access to this space, is to make awesome.” We saw 5-axis CNC routers and 3D printers of all sizes, as well as a wood and metal shop with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fellows were delighted a few moments later when a fully “functional” R2D2 showed up in the next room! The proud designer came down to show us her paces - designed to be R2D2’s girlfriend in a film, the robot could “bleep bloop blurp” and move around.

Meeting R2D2's GF at Autodesk Pier 9

Meeting R2D2's GF at Autodesk Pier 9

Autodesk works at the convergence of machine learning and robotics - with projects like MX3D, a machine-designed bridge, and a LegoBot that has taught itself to pick up and assemble legos (is this the beginning of the robot takeover?). Other highlights included KidMob’s “Superhero Cyborg” project, for kids with limb differences to design body mod’s to be their best selves and show their true colors. One girl developed a unicorn spike arm with a glitter cannon, that can break, hinge and be put down, with a spot for a phone so she can text. Autodesk also helped design a new prosthetic, which costs a tenth of conventional designs, for a woman that won medals at the Paralympics, and they have open-source projects like Instructables, where you can teach yourself how to do thousands of amazing things for free.

Massive cnc routers doing to work at Pier 9

Massive cnc routers doing to work at Pier 9

We tore ourselves away from the very touchable prototypes to experience an out-of-this-world experience – a discussion with a real live astronaut! Ron Garan has had experiences from the heights to the depths, having lived in space and underwater. Since leaving NASA, Ron’s dedicated his life to our ‘pale blue dot,' and you can read his thoughts on our beautiful fragile planet in The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71,000 miles.

Many astronauts become outspoken environmentalists after traveling to outer space and witnessing our magnificent and fragile planet, but Ron believes “you don’t have to be in space to have an orbital perspective.” The problem is “we don’t understand how interconnected we are,” and Ron is working on some collaborative solutions. He wants to“figuratively transport people to the higher perspective” through projects like Overview, a free 20-minute video about seeing space, and through his MOOC (massive open online course) Introduction to the Orbital Perspective. Ron’s also the chief pilot for World View, a balloon-based space tourism company. Ron wants everyone to see that we are “one people traveling on one planet towards one common future.” Ron’s newest project is Constellation, a collaborative project to figure out where we want to be as a society in 2068. Ron’s forming a coalition to speak with world leaders and heads of industry to develop an “operating system for civilization” to present to the UN general assembly.

Astronaut Ron Garren beamed in from Arizona where he was busy doing flight testing but made time to drop many words of inpiration on us all

Astronaut Ron Garren beamed in from Arizona where he was busy doing flight testing but made time to drop many words of inpiration on us all


One Fellow asked what Ron thought about Elon Musk trying to colonize Mars. Ron isn’t on board, especially if it’s because we trash Earth. It’s easier to stop destroying our planet than trying to colonize another one, especially since all the materials would have to come from earth!

Jennings leads a Story Dice session with us all

Jennings leads a Story Dice session with us all

For our final fantastic session of the day, fellows got to learn from Jennings Hanna, an interactions designer. He regaled us with stories of consulting for companies like Code for America and Etsy, and played the trailer for his current work on Star Wars Battlefront II with EA. Wanting to work with “information rich, instead of simply data rich” design, Jennings uses tools like story dice and ethnography to develop more divergent design solutions.

Jennings told Fellows, “at the end of the day what makes me tick is when I shift stuff.” As a consulting designer, companies frequently don’t take your advice though, or if they do it’s years later and they don’t tell you about it. So make sure you love what you’re working on, and don’t ever compromise your ethics!

Fellows show their attempts to make the origami, lets just say it could have been better 

Fellows show their attempts to make the origami, lets just say it could have been better 

After Jennings shared his four-step process of Discovering, Validating, Building, and Shipping, he had fellows break out and try a partner communication exercise called Listening Lab. One person took notes on the ways in which their partner worked through constructing an origami giraffe with only a visual instruction sheet provided. Together, teams attempted to complete their paper animals in the allotted time and learned a lot about how we all communicate and listen in different ways. Jennings believes we need to get better at storytelling, so fellows got to try out Story Telling Dice as our final activity. After collaboratively telling a story about gremlins living in a castle that has internet, each fellow got to roll the dice for a personal reflection. One fellow reported, “this fellowship has made me uncomfortable in a marvellous way.”

We ended the day watching the poem "Shoulders" by Shane Koyczan and The Short Story Long to reflect on the power of narrative (eyes were misty), then gathered to reflect on the last five days. Each Fellow shared their thoughts on one activity the group completed, and we were all amazed by how much we’ve accomplished in a few short days.

Finally, the fellows were assigned teams for the 24-hour design challenge, and sent away with a prompt to discuss their personal teamwork strengths and weaknesses before they dive into full challenge mode, all day tomorrow!


San Fran Day 6 & 7- May 1, 2017

For an extreme finish, Fellows were split into four teams and given a 24-hour Design Quest focused on ethics in tech: “How do we ensure that technology works positively for the planet and people? Your intervention has to be capable of having impact at scale and also be actionable by you and your peers.”



The design brief set parameters that the interventions would have to be:

  • Applicable to the current system

  • Actionable by you or your peers

  • Executable within 12 months

  • Applicable and accessible to the community and not rely on government interventions/regulation, the approval of a grant, or funds, etc.

  • Able to be replicated by others in a way that maintains its effectiveness

  • Impactful at scale

Teams mapped systems and connections, ideated throughout the day and late into the night, prototyping intervention ideas. When we closed the space at 10 PM, teams scurried off to continue brainstorming through the night and early morning.

Saturday morning dawned and Fellows arrived at The Laundry. Each team had 10 minutes  to pitch their interventions to a panel of three judges, with 10 minutes of feedback from Adam Little, Jennings Hanna and Judi Brown. Our mentors Jeremy McKane, Nancy Giordano and Antoinette Carroll also joined the final presentation via video chat!

The first team, B.B. Winston psyched us out with a creepy pitch for invasive tech apps (that scarily were based on real-life apps) and presented their three-step strategy for addressing tech ethics: 1) Awareness (by messing with people) 2) Understanding (this kind of tech is bad), and 3) Application (a pledge for tech ethics).

Pitch sessions! 

Pitch sessions! 

The second team’s pitch involved “Taking Back Our Data,” giving control to individuals to charge advertisers and corporations for using their data. They also recommended using crowd-sourced big data to run disaster response and distribute real-time information and opened it up to the audience to explore what other (positive) things we could do with this kind of collectively shared information.

The third pitch opened with a question to the group, “When was the last time you were wrong? Afraid? Annoyed? Embarrassed?” The team told a story of the history of capitalism, profit, and control and proposed an empathy intervention for software developers that centered on a hackathon for solving ethical problems.

Last, but not least, Team Four invited us all to “take a moment to think about how tech makes you feel.” Excited? Nervous? Life-saving? And “how should tech be”? Paper was passed out and feelings were scribbled. The group designed a viral campaign to engage the question with the hashtag #iwishtechnology, inspired in part by Antionette Carroll’s Dear Oppressor project and Before I Die.

After deliberating, the judges came back to award a winner: the #iwishtechnology team! Judges loved the fact that they had “shipped” their idea – sharing it with their social media communities and getting people to answer the prompt. One judge said “you shipped shit! Early and often is my motto with prototyping.”  The simplicity and possible scalability of the idea were two other key factors that secured them the win.

Time for celbration and proseco!

Time for celbration and proseco!

Once teams had received their prizes, Fellows gathered to raise their glasses of Prosecco and sparkling juice to cheers to another successful UnSchool fellowship. A final meal awaited us upstairs, and after eating, Jessy gathered us for our last reflection exercise.

First Fellows broke into pairs and used appreciative inquiry interviews to create “X-maps” of the Ideas, Obstacles, Tactics, and Outcomes each Fellow envisions for achieving their next disruptive social change intervention. (We look forward to seeing who can activate their outcomes first! See what we did there? A little competition can gamify any challenge!) Fellows then wrote a colorful shared narrative of the intense week we shared. Flip charts for each day had four quadrants - what happened each day, what was funny and/or amazing, what could have been better, and what did you learn? The answers ranged from whimsical to serious, literal to figurative, and had people laughing and even misting up at times.

A final thought from each of our fantastic San Francisco Fellows, and then they were out the door to enjoy more bonding (or napping) in the sunshine! It was a magical journey, including yellow school buses, walking tours of the Tenderloin, and memories to last a lifetime.

We miss you all already, are excited to have you in our growing #unschoolsalumni community, and can’t wait to see what these seeds grow into!


RECAP: Global Drink & Design Night (Politics Edition)


On Monday, UnSchool Labs kicked off with alumni running Drink & Design Night events in cities around the world! The theme was the same for all events – Politics – and so was the challenge: redesign democracy so it works better for everyone. It's fascinating to see the range of ideas that were pitched back by teams! Read on for a recap of seven of the events, and the winning ideas...


Seoul, South Korea

THE EVENT: "True to the increasing multiculturalism of our city, Drink & Design Night Seoul had participants from 7 different cultural backgrounds - this made for really interesting discussions on what democracy is and what it should be. The competitive energy was high from Round 1, especially as the seemingly quiet Diverse Justice Party bolted off with a head start and continued to lead through Round 2. During Round 3, Bibim-dang rose to the challenge confidently, tying with the lead...but only to be beaten by the always temperate yet creatively fervent New Generation Party. At the end, party candidates battled it out until they were speechless (or converted) - but all parties unanimously agreed that a key starting point would be to address Confucianism-based hierarchical social norms, while simultaneously implementing a much more diversified education that would support the transition into a democracy that enforces true equality." - UnSchool Labs Host, Deborah Kim (UnSchool Valle de Bravo alumna!)

THE WINNER: The winning team, The New Generation Party (NGP), placed education as the center of national policy, especially considering how everything is linked and overlaps with each other, highlighting the work of NGOs, gender equality, and freedom of religion. They also proposed that the path toward social equality would heavily depend on taxpayers carrying the direct deciding power on where their taxes went and on setting a budget cap for the state. Congrats to all the NGP team members; Dyzee Alba, Daisy Kim, Jessica Kim, David Han, and Danny Kim!



San Juan, Puerto Rico



THE EVENT: "It was the most fun I've seen people have while dealing with politics. Even though 45min is an incredibly short time to think about solutions to redesign democracy, the teams managed to come up with interesting ideas that can definitely evolve into concrete solutions." - UnSchool Labs host, Carla Ramirez (#UnSchoolBerlin alumna!)  

THE WINNER: As a way to improve government transparency and access, the winning team proposed an online platform and app that also includes an sms service for citizens without smartphones. Through the platform, citizens will have access to the contact information of their representatives, call scripts, templates for writing letters, access to laws proposed and their status. Congrats to the "UnTeam" behind the idea – Cecilia Bérriz, David Carrasquillo, Michael Pérez and Dillon McGuire!



Monterrey, Mexico

THE EVENT: "People in Monterrey arrived very excited for the first UnSchool Labs experience in the city. This #DrinkDesignNight pulled a special range of professionals, including Lorena, an elementary school teacher, Diana, a Recycling industry professional, Alfredo, a Brand strategist, and Darío, an Urban planner, among others." - UnSchool Labs host, Arturo Ortega

THE WINNER: Based on the criteria of positive disruption, viability and project structure, the winning idea was "Licence to vote", a mid-long term action plan intended to facilitate access to nonbiased information for an informed vote. Congrats to the team behind the idea, "The Random Party,"  made up by Gaby Betancourt, Gaby López, Eugenio Mora and Alfredo J. Márquez.



Melbourne, Australia

THE EVENT: "A fun and eclectic group of creative thinkers and change agents gathered at the Grace Darling Hotel in the hipster heart of Melbourne on an otherwise ordinary Monday night. Over drinks and sustainably produced meals, they formed teams (with some entertaining 'political party' names) and battled it out, impressing the co-hosts with their detailed knowledge of world politics and history, not to mention their genius ideas for transforming democracy and improving society for all of us." - UnSchool Labs cohost, Emma Blomkamp (#UnSchoolNYC alumna)

THE WINNER:  Congratulations to team Drink Tank – Jenny aka JZ, Rachel aka Rajonce, Sarah aka Kitten Z, and Naomi aka #It'sNotAGame. Their winning idea? "How to vote for parties based on policies - rather than 'beer vs coffee' (a two-party contest that results in rule by majority), people take a survey about their values and their vote is based on the survey outcome."



Mexico City, Mexico

THE EVENT: "We had over 18 multidisciplinary cool attendees from politics, psychology, innovation, design and sociology. They pitched three ideas to redesign democracy and were evaluated by five awesome judges." - UnSchool Labs cohost, Diana Moya (#UnSchoolMX alumna!)

THE WINNER: The winning idea was called Collective Citizenship. Its focus was on redesigning the voting scheme, switching from voting for government candidates to voting for best projects. Congrats to Team Nadonada and all its members; Isabel, Jose Miguel Bando, Marcela Briseño, Arturo López, Iván Macías, and Augusto Ortiz!



Dunedin, New Zealand

THE EVENT: "The Dunedin event was held in Otago Museum's Beautiful Science Gallery, where we overtook 13 projectors and plastered the room with Drink and Design goodness. Five teams, each with four members creatively battled it out over the evening, culminating in a series of engaging pitches. From the Tinder-like 'Opposites Attract' app, to the Menage Trois system with three interlinked principles, and just letting everyone have a vote - even the kids, the ideation on how to solve this complex issue was flowing in Dunedin!" - UnSchool Labs cohost, Craig Scott (#UnSchoolMelb alum and #UnSchoolNZ co-host!)

THE WINNER: The winning Dunedin team, Delorous, had a "list of 600 ideas" but it all boiled down to their concept of RE-mocracy, including a new NZ flag made with beetroot dip - we did say use what was on the table! Congrats to the Delorous team members, Trudy, Matt, Leyton, Martin!



Guadalajara, Mexico


THE EVENT: "A vibrant night of creative rebels and people from different walks of life. An energizing experience that let everyone know that creative ideas for political change are feasible and amazing." UnSchool Labs cohost, Cristina Yoshida Fernandes (UnSchool Valle de Bravo alumna!)

THE WINNER: A The winning idea came from the team Los Miyamotos and involved artificial inteligence for political decision making and policy making. Congratulations to the team members: Diana Legorreta, Ravelly Tello, Irene Velasco, Inés Jimenez Palomar, and Salvador Rosas.



Huge thanks to all who hosted, judged, and/or participated in one of the first #DrinkDesignNight events by #UnSchoolLabs! Follow us on social (@unschools) and subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop on future events :)



On February 27th, people in different cities around the world will be gathering for a high-energy, brain-flexing Drink & Design Night! Wondering what it is? Think Pub Trivia meets Design Game Show, and pour all that energy and creative juice into making positive change. The theme for this one will be Politics, so….! Want to be part of one of the first ever UnSchool Labs events, up your politics knowledge set, put your creative ideation skills to the test, and laugh out loud? Check for an event near you, sign up, and show up!


We know there are way better ways of designing kickass campaigns, interventions and communication strategies that make doing good a good idea! Come as a team of challenge ready designers/thinkers/doers or come alone and we will assign you an awesome posse of fellow creative thinkers to get busy with! Once everyone has teamed up, you’ll battle it out with other teams for supreme dominance of creative change-making ideas.


Learn more about the Drink & Design Night experience here.


Dunedin, New Zealand (Eventbrite, Facebook Event)

Invercargill, New Zealand (page coming soon)

Guadalajara, Mexico (Eventbrite)

Melbourne, Australia (Eventbrite, Facebook Event)

Mexico City, Mexico ( Facebook Event)

Monterrey, Mexico (Eventbrite)

San Juan, Puerto Rico (Facebook Event)

Seoul, South Korea (Facebook Event)


The UnSchool (that's us!) is an experimental knowledge lab for purpose-driven creative rebels and change agents – in addition to online classes, our HQ team runs weeklong fellowships, Disruptive Design workshops and community events that pop-up in different cities. UnSchool Labs is a collaboration between us, The UnSchool, and our incredible global alumni community. Through UnSchool Labs, alumni around the world activate their communities and run UnSchool programs (like Drink & Design Night, Verbal Fight Club, Secret Dinner Parties, Disruptive Design Workshops and more)! Labs events are independently produced by local alumni, using UnSchool event packs and formats.

Christchurch Fellowship

Watch the Christchurch Fellowship Doco

January 23-28 2017

Meet our Christchurch Fellows!



Charlene Leong

Charlene is fascinated with how the world is becoming progressively more integrated with technology. She is seeking ways to diversify and upgrade her breadth of technology related skills and knowledge in order help find effective efficient solutions to the big complex problems we have today. Her goal is to find ways for technology to improve education, nature and processes in everyday lives. Currently studying a Bachelor of Engineering in Electronic Computer Systems Engineering [Mechatronics], Charlene is vibrant, curious and loves learning about people and how to make their lives better!

Esther Whitehead

Esther Whitehead is a dedicated change-maker, through both policy and community engagement. Esther lives and works in Queenstown, and works passionately in the fields of special education reform and environmental sustainability at both a local and national level. Esther provides workplace consultancy in the area of diversity of learning, and with a fellow trustee designed 4D schools, promoting: Get it Right for Dyslexics – Get it Right for All. Esther is the co-founder of The Anti-Plastic Population, a local group which backs sustainable businesses and acts as a change-agent through encouraging and developing community cohesion. A keen writer, Esther produces content on special education for Ministry of Education and the Dyslexia Foundation, as well as publishing monthly articles on environmental sustainability in The Source Magazine, and regular articles for Te Awa Green Party magazine. Esther holds an undergraduate degree in Ecology from the UK, and a post graduate degree in Special Education from Massey University, NZ. Esther is currently employed as the Managing Trustee of The Dyslexia Foundation of NZ, an NGO advocating for educational reform in NZ schools and workplaces.

Gina Louisa Rembe

Born and raised in Berlin, Gina moved to Amsterdam to study fashion production. Disillusioned by the lack of ethics and sustainability, she moved into the branding course (arguably not much better). During five years in London, she honed her skills commercial consulting whilst volunteering for The Do Lectures (storytelling events in the woods) and Good For Nothing (social enterprise hackathons). On her return to New Zealand she joined the Enspiral network, a group of social entrepreneurs prototyping distributed ways of working, organising and decision-making. She's been part of the team leading the youth wellbeing Lifehack for the past three years.

Jasmine Wong

Jasmine wants to live in a world where everyone lives sustainably, isn't afraid of but embraces change and diversity, and where there's unlimited coffee and puppy cuddles. She's currently in the corporate world trying to convince her clients that doing business sustainably is a win-win-win for people, profit and our planet. Ultimately, she would love to run her own social enterprise.

Jessica Bradish

Jessy lives in Oakland California and is a self-proclaimed eco-comic and sustainability nerd with a love for renewables. Her background includes multimedia communication, project management, sales and training. She earned an Environmental Policy degree because she believes climate change is no joke and went on to complete an MBA to be a #nastywoman in the old boy's network. Right now she is developing her game Climate Oasis and working on her consulting & comedy.

Kareena Harris

Kareena is originally from Christchurch, NZ, and moved to Wellington when she was 12. She studied Graphic Design before stumbling into the world of entrepreneurship with her company The Misprint Co. She loves working to turn waste paper from businesses and schools into good-looking notebooks and saving carbon emissions and water! Kareena is really enthusiastic about social enterprise and doing business while doing good.

Karthiga Kanesha

KK sees herself as a futurist and a doer. She is passionate about building better futures, creating and up-lifting potentials to enhance wellbeing and curiosity in communities. She comes from a health sciences background with a master's in public health. KK believes that change comes from within and that by providing people with the tools and choices necessary, people and communities can be empowered to activate change for the good.

Laura Taylor

Laura is proud to call Christchurch her home and to be part of its renaissance. Big ideas and creativity have always been part of her life. She is a practical idealist - an improve-aholic, fascinated with complex systems and finding ways to make things better for people, cities and the environment. Growing up in the country under big skies with giant planes heading to “The Ice” has given Laura a deep sense of guardianship for the Great South, and led her to graduate in soil ecology and Antarctic studies. Her passion is in learning how people participate in the public realm --- the “shared living room” --- of the city and take responsibility for it. As a placemaking advisor, parent and global citizen, Laura thinks it’s really important to reflect on our legacy and how to create lasting change that keeps rippling good outcomes?

Louise Krstic

Louise is a landscape architect from Melbourne Australia, with a background in the design of large scale infrastructural projects and interdisciplinary collaboration. Louise's love for traveling and outdoor adventure has fueled her passion to create sustainable cities, challenge societal apathy and affect positive social change. She has a Masters degree from The University of Melbourne in Landscape Architecture where her thesis explored the sociopolitical context of Melbourne's waste crisis. She designed a strategy to decrease waste generation and harnessed NIMBY opposition to a new landfill to challenge apathy and create positive social and environmental change. Fascinated by the city and it is systems, Louise sees the urban environment, its people and their behaviours as crucial in tackling climate change. She believes that design has a responsibility to challenge conventional thinking and provide alternative visions to the world’s wicked problems. Louise is currently researching the connection between disruptive digital technology and the built environment. She aims to harness problem centric, agile and innovative approaches employed by startups to create human centred design solutions that can create positive environmental and social change in cities around the world.

Lucie Drummond

Lucie, from New Zealand, has a background in corporate sustainability and law. She has an LLB (Hons) and a BSc, specializing in environmental science, both from the University of Auckland.  In her current work on sustainability within business, Lucie is bringing together her experience from a broad range of energy and environmental legal matters with her recent experience in strategy and transformation. She is interested in the application of design thinking both in and to businesses, to effect change.

Lucy Roberts

Lucy completed a Bachelor of Fine Art at the Queensland College of Art and worked in the arts for 15 years in Australia, UK and Germany. After successfully implementing a cultural change at an artist collective in Melbourne, she moved into corporate change management and completed post graduate studies in Organizational Change to increase her understanding of how to analyze and manage change. She currently works in business transformation strategy in the utilities sector. Lucy’s career/ life goal is to be involved in influencing cultural and social policy to build a more sustainable society in Australia. She loves the challenges of planning for change and increasing people’s ability to change.

Nidhi Singh Rathore

Nidhi is a designer by day, and data visualization enthusiast by night. She likes to bridge information gaps, through digital and print media, and also likes to explore the boundaries of interdisciplinary design and learning from others. Nidhi was born and raised in Allahabad, and spent her childhood traveling all over northern India. She studied at the National Institute of Design for Undergraduate Studies, specializing in Graphic Design and exploring other branches of visual communications. Her passion lies in information design and data visualization, especially visuals that talk about everyday life. Currently Nidhi works at a startup that applies technology to logistics, an industry that stretches the country's inefficiencies in its present form. She is also working on her own venture, a web and print platform for users to talk about their surroundings, social issues, and experiences. When she finds some spare time, Nidhi enjoys reading, illustrating, taking online classes, and running.

Paul Dickson

Paul is the Founder and Chief Go Getter of a charity called OKE Charity, an organization that aims to “grow mighty kids” by achieving an initial goal to get every primary and intermediate school in Papatoetoe to grow their own fruit & veggies by 2018, learning essential life and social skills in the process. With a background in project management, and business efficiency and effectiveness, Paul began his career in the automotive and power generation industries and he has worked in a number of countries around the world for large multi-nationals. While working in the power industry in New Zealand, Paul became increasingly frustrated with the lack of positive relationship building and the “do as I say and don’t ask questions” attitude within his professional community. He decided to make a professional change to use his flair for the unconventional and organizing to make things happen and created OKE Charity and its main fundraiser, the Head2Head Walk. OKE Charity has six Papatoetoe primary school gardens yet to establish in order to reach its 2018 goal, and Paul is committed to deliver.

Philippa Pell Goodwin

Philippa is a 26 year old from Dunedin, NZ, but spent the first half of her life in Zimbabwe. She has studied both Nursing and Visual Arts, and has a wide variety of interests including sewing, writing, dance, cooking, illustration and design. Philly’s passions tend toward social change, justice, community health, and increased education and opportunities. What excites her is seeing ideas come into fruition, and seeing people's gifts emerge with growth and encouragement. She wants to work with people, creativity and change.

Rochelle Surendran

Rochelle is passionate about growing resilient communities in Aotearoa which showcase innovative solutions to the big problems facing our globe. Co-founder of Love Local (, a charitable business with a focus on making affordable, locally grown produce available to Invercargill families, Rochelle wants to see growth in social enterprise, where businesses are designed to benefit communities rather than to simply make a profit. In her work as a facilitator of family violence prevention programs, Rochelle uses her skills to motivate people to make positive change in their lives and relationships.

Ryan Niese

Ryan Niese is a 24 year old from a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area. He is an energetic and active soul who has always preferred sports over studies. However, entering high school in the wake of the Inconvenient Truth made it difficult for him to avoid a passion for change. He focused his energy toward engineering for a better future which led him to receive a B.S. in Ecological Engineering from Oregon State University. Along the way he has developed passions for Christ, rock climbing, and playing. Ryan focuses on fully appreciating the built and natural worlds. His life/career goal is to apply integrated solutions at the heart of communities where they'll create lasting change

Samantha Mackay

As an artist, adventurer, change facilitator, and life coach, Samantha believes that creativity is the key to unlocking our humanity and that as life become more automated, humans become more disconnected from themselves and the world around them. Samantha stepped away from a legal career to help people reconnect to their inner spark. She designs creative learning challenges - whether in the bush, the office, around the kitchen table or a super comfy chair - that enable people to reconnect with themselves and their world. Observing that business leaders also struggle with this disconnection, her consultancy, More Human, helps leaders step into the shoes of the people in their ecosystem, to design and build organizations driven by human-centric values.

Stephen Hay

Stephen has been self-employed since the late-80s, moving around the world with his work and seeking out opportunities to make a sustainable difference within large organizations. His world-changing passion is to rebuild organizations from the bottom-up blending classical (non-violent) social anarchism with the best research on hierarchical structures. He seeks to ensure organizational change is safe and does no harm: to the people involved, to the environment, to the organization itself. He met his French wife in Angola while they were both working for the Red Cross and they’ve been in NZ since 2004.

Stephen Nicholls

Born and raised in New Zealand, Stephen studied Visual Communication Design in Wellington before completing a six month internship at Amnesty International in Auckland. Currently he is expanding his skill set in the market research and customer engagement field. His aim is to be a cross-disciplinary professional with skills in design, research and sustainability and to bring those skills into the fight for human rights in NZ and around the world.

Sukanya Mishra

Meera is currently rethinking and redoing everything that she didn't get to decide as a child or do when she was younger, including deciding to contribute towards creating a sustainable planet. She is a sustainable development and living enthusiast who enjoys reading, writing, art and speaking.



Christchurch Fellowship Day 1  January 23, 2017

Ready, set, go! The Christchurch fellowship kicked off on Monday afternoon with a buzzing cohort of 20 fellows from 6 different countries.

Bec, our city host (and UnSchool Alumni from the inaugural NYC fellowship in 2014) gathered us in the central city at Te Pou Herenga a Waka, a stunning installation that symbolizes bringing people together – an appropriate starting point for the collective journey our fellows are about to embark on.

After a brief overview of the city and program, the walking tour began with Bec and our co-producer, Nita, at the reigns. The tour highlighted innovative interventions that have been established in the central city post after the major 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, including the ReStart Mall and Arts Centre. Our final stop was conveniently our first home base for the week, ArtBox.

Once we arrived at our ArtBox, we jumped straight into getting to know everyone’s name and an insightful fact about them, by playing the UnSchool's signature kick off game, the One Legged Stand, which uses a little bit of cognitive magic to make the new information stick. With 20 fellows and 7 team members all standing on one leg, the challenge of having to process cumulative information in a physically uncomfortable situation proved that the magic trick worked - the group nailed the names and facts. Even Leyla made it around all 26 with only some slight confusion (for the first time she was challenged by a fellow to remember everyone's names and facts!) .

Then we dove straight into our mini Pecha Kucha intro sessions, with each fellow and team member having 3 minutes and 9 slides to tell us their life stories, passions and everything that floats their boats.

Craig, our co-host (UnSchool Melbourne alumni, and NZ local), used one of the slides in his presentation to give the fellows a visual preview of how they might feel at the end of the week: minds blown with ideas popping out of their heads, vomiting out glitter/amazing ideas and concepts you can’t wait to share with others, and new versions of themselves starting to emerge (but less green than in the picture). Double high five to Craig, our co-host, for his amazing visual style :)

Next, we rolled straight into a deep sustainability discussion, led by Leyla, and a series of group conversations about how we can achieve sustainability globally. Some great views were shared collectively as we teased things out.


After we wrapped the session up, we set off on an adventure around the central city. We stopped by a gigantic interactive arcade game and wandered on to meet Peter from Anteater, who had a surprise mid-walk snack to satisfy any rumbling stomachs: native farmed locusts, seasoned with garlic and chili. Even the most skeptical of fellows were amazed at how delicious they were.


We powered on, taking a moment to check out the 185 Chairs installation, paying respect to those who lost their lives in the February 2011 earthquake. We also explored the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban – it was inspiring to see the way materials can be used in innovative ways, and how Christchurch is designing for adaptive use in unique ways.

The most exciting interactive moment we shared on our first jam packed day must have been at the  ‘Dance-O-Mat’, a large-scale pop-up dance floor in a repurposed space. When you pop a $2 coin into the old laundromat machine and plug your phone in, music flows through loudspeakers and you get to boogie it out in public on the dancefloor. It was the perfect opportunity for fellows to shake off the day and get their groove on (as you can see by the photos, we had a load of fun - get it?).

As our downtown city walking tour was drawing to a close, the fellows and team were happy to arrive at Thai Box for dinner as the group had worked up an appetite from all the greeting, talking, walking and thinking and dancing! This new restaurant reflects how businesses in Christchurch have been re-established through innovative architecture. With some delicious food, a glass of wine (from one of our awesome partners, Peter Yealands!) and bellies full, we called it a night after our busy first day of #unschoolNZ.

Bring on tomorrow!



Christchurch Fellowship Day 2  January 24, 2017


Day 2 kicked of with a healthy shared breakfast, and a caffeine boost thanks to Sherpa Coffee and Nature Matters Milk. As per UnSchool tradition, fellows and team members then took turns sharing something special that they had brought from their hometowns, ranging from songs to sweet treats, Californian beer and a jar of 140km/h wind! The team turned it out!

This was followed by a chat with Mark McEntyre, senior Design lecturer at Ara, who helped establish our home base, ArtBox. The modular space was developed to create change, evoke community response and explore new ideas after the Canterbury earthquakes.

Like clockwork, we flew straight into a systems thinking session. With the fellows already having some systems knowledge under their belt (thanks to the online classes they took before joining us for the fellowship), we were able to go straight to the nitty gritty of understanding complex human and regenerative systems.

Framing the session around education systems, the key message boiled down to having agency and autonomy over what you are exploring – so that you don’t deflect responsibility of the things you can’t control. Best quote, so far, comes from Leyla: “We’re all rebellious savages deep down inside.”

After absorbing the key points, fellows broke into groups to cluster map their view of an education system, discovering hyper-cluster points and sharing their insights with the group.

The Leyla quote qouta gained a point in the discussion with, “Check yourself before you wreckity-wreck yourself”. *mic drop*

That felt like an appropriate moment to pause and refuel – before we ‘wreckity-wrecked’ ourselves. We shared a picnic lunch of delicious salads in the sun, and were able to quench our thirst with some Karma Cola.


Hungry for more (information that is), we turned to our first guest mentor, Nick Gerritsen – and he definitely satisfied the fellows' appetites. Speaking about his background in radio among other ventures, one key message was “if you get your audience right, you can compel them to change”.

Nick shared so many gems with everyone, it is impossible to document them all. The fellows were absolutely buzzing from this session. Before Nick set them off on a group challenge, he left us with “you as individuals can all change the world.” That’s what we are here for, right?

Our final guests for the day were from the Live the Dream Fellowship, a 9-week social enterprise accelerator program in New Zealand. Fellows of that programme, Tia and Tane, ran the session. Their primary focus was to reconnect disengaged Maori youth with their culture.

After describing the four pillars of Whare Tapa Wha, a traditional Maori health and well-being model, conceptualised through the essential cornerstones of a whare (house) and based around hinengaro (mind), tinana (body), wairua (spirit) and whanau (family), Tia and Tane threw it out to the crowd to see what our values were.

In groups, fellows presented their key values, some of which were showcased with more songs (bring on UnSchools Got Talent?). Tia and Tane closed their session with a traditional haka that captivated the room.

To wind up a long day, fellows were given not one, not two, but three tasks. We ended with co-host Craig’s reflection session ‘Brain Food’. Fellows responded to question cards that asked things like “What I am hungry to learn more about?” and submitted their cards into our “brain box”. At the end of the activity, we tossed around and gobbled up a pretty fresh UnSchool salad.


Speaking of salad, it was time group fellows together and send them off too some great dinner locations around Christchurch. Before leaving, fellows were handed an envelope - surprise challenge time!

...Stay tuned to find out what our UnSchool fellows come up with!



Christchurch Fellowship Day 3 January 25, 2017


We switched up our venue for Day 3, starting off at YMCA’s Papa Hou - Treasure Box. The stadium space has been developed as a stop-gap due to the lack of arts facilities in the city, and it was a perfect location for the day.

Fellows gathered outside before we led them upstairs, where a scrumptious homemade blueberry pancake breakfast awaited them (Pancake breakfasts are an UnSchool tradition – Natasa was our pancake extraordinaire this time, and she did not disappoint!). While devouring the delicious spread, and powering up with some Sherpa Coffee, the fellows showed us the results of the previous evening's dinner challenge.

Fellows had been tasked with discussing a series of questions, which lead to the surprise that they had to pitch themselves as superhero teams, using their individual and collective change-making abilities to make the most dynamic range of super powers. Too much happened to explain it all – but it included rapping and telekinesis.

Our first mentor of the day, Raf Manji, shared his take on the iceberg model - while the bit on top highlights the immediacy of the present, there are still so many interconnected systems happening underneath the surface that go unnoticed. Raf suggested we find the achilles heel of the system, to try and get inside and change it.

Leyla then guided us through a whirlwind experience in gamification and game theory, relating it to the way in which we strategize to make change. The fellows asked a few too many excited questions as we packed up and headed off on a little walking adventure to our secret lunch location.

We were treated to an incredible, well deserved after our sunny day walk through the park to the soon-to-be-opp[ened Gatherings restaurant. We had the honor of being the first group to share an incredible vege-centric lunch in the intimate space. The owner and creative mind behind the Gatherings concept is Alex (who despite not being able to join us, left a beautiful note explaining the concepts of locally sourced vegetable-centric food). His brother Jo, was our host and chef for the day and after being served a warm coffee and reading Alex's note, we were invited to break the bread as a celebration as the first guests, fellows and team tore and heartily shared out the local sourdough before bowls of beautiful fresh summer gazpacho arrived for us to devour.

We all then enjoyed a lovely walk abck to the YMCA along teh park, discussing all manor of fasinating things inspired by our healthy planet-friednly lunch and by the inspiring day so far.

After lunch, we were joined by Jennifer Whitty, a sustainable fashion researcher from Wellington, who guided the fellows through climate impacts and changes in relation to consumption. Fellows brought along one garment they love and one they don’t wear often, and discussions ensued around ethics (there was some unavoidable style commentary too).


Next up was an interactive experience from Fi (a Melbourne fellow alumni), who explained her alter ego Senorita Awesumo and her experience with sustainable fashion using zero waste techniques. She wowed the fellows with her interpretation of zero waste.

Fi prepared a magic box of textiles, destined for the landfill, for fellows to reimagine. They were challenged to create a series of upcycled products which they presented back to the group after just 45 minutes. Everyone was impressed – despite the long day, creativity flowed and ideas focused on the opportunity, not the problem.

After the quickest clean up you have ever seen (because the YMCA was booked for a dance group) we progressed to a sunny park experience where Craig led a session on the jam-packed experience, with pairs of fellows sharing their joint top three highlights of the day. Closing out with the tune of bagpipes randomly joining us, we talked about the adventures we had all had.

As the sun set, we made our way over to The Gym, not for fitness, but for a surprise dinner party. The rep from Yealands wine, who is generously covering our wine for the week,  shared amazing things about their business, including stories of regeneration and sustainability, and also told us about babydoll sheep (look ’em up!). As the fellows were learning all about Yealands, the team was working behind the scenes and pulled off a home cooked meal for 30 people, which seemed to just magically appear in front of us.

As we played the secret dinner party game, evilly or brilliantly designed by Leyla, we uncovered the tactics and tools that we covertly use to influence the people around us. The game and the discussion that followed were both hilarious and insightful. As we started to wind up the event, we reflected on the long and deep thinking day.

And yes... it is only day three!



Christchurch Fellowship Day 4 January 26, 2017

Day 4 started off with a beautiful breakfast at XCHC's cafe, which prides itself on locally sourced seasonal food. The Operations Manager, Preston, spoke to us about XCHC, a startup space for the creative industries, and how it incorporates both sustainable and regenerative practices into its business.

Next up, we chatted with Brie from The Ohu Project and Juliet from ReKindle. The fellows were eager to learn more about the unique approaches these organisations are taking to rebuild Christchurch in a sustainable and ethical way.


After our bellies and minds were full, we headed to The Commons – a welcoming, ever-evolving community space that connects people to the inner-city and to each other.

We took to a makeshift grandstand, where we were joined by Ryan Reynolds, the co-founder of Gap Filler  (the crew that created the Dance-o-mat and arcade game we played with on the Day 1 walking tour). He led us on a fascinating exploration of community engagement.

Riveted by our morning of unique guests, fellows chatted about the resilience of Christchurch, under the trees on the Avon riverbank. After eating a hearty lunch and quenching our thirst with some Karma Cola,  Leyla led a session on the power of research – aka curiosity in action –  and how we can use it in more effective ways. Splitting into 2 groups, fellows were given an observational research challenge.

Short for time, we jumped in Green Cabs and headed to the suburb of Spreydon to the start our afternoon session. Groups were challenged to apply the research strategies they had just learned in a real world setting as they went off to speak with local community members from The Court Theatre and ECAN.

Back at ArtBox, our homebase for the week, Leyla was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the fellow groups with their new strands of community knowledge. She laid out a huge piece of paper for the groups to start mapping systems and landscaping the connections.

After a final talk with Ben from Banquer, it was time to call it a day... Almost. Of course, we couldn’t skip Craig’s reflection session! Fellows chose the word that resonated with them the most from this list: intervention, repurpose, perspective and observation.

Collectively discussing their choice and writing statements about why, fellows then chose the word that least resonated, and responded to it. We wrapped it up by describing the day in just one word.

And that was a wrap for Day 4 –  fellows were given a free evening to process everything that has bombarded their brains so far.



Christchurch Fellowship Day 5 January 27, 2017


Day 5 of #UnSchoolNZ started off at our homebase, ArtBox, with a brilliant breakfast and a (much needed) caffeine hit from Sherpa Coffee. UnSchool fellowship programs are intense, so our team always makes sure that everyone is fed, caffeinated and ready for the next session!

Our pieces of brain food from Tuesday's reflection session magically reappeared on the walls of ArtBox (thanks to Craig). Fellows digested the brain food (and real food) over breakfast, reflecting on their journeys so far – funny conversations inevitably ensued.

After breakfast, we had an incredible morning session with our guest mentor, Rebecca Mills, a sustainability innovation specialist. She kicked off her session with a focus on “new ways of being and seeing, and practical innovation methodologies to create a more beautiful, equitable world”.

Rebecca shared a wealth of knowledge and experience with the fellows – describing her work with The B Team, discussing planetary boundaries and talking about ‘sticky donuts’. (Yes, really.) A statement that really resonated with the fellows was that ultimately we should be “living on the earth as if we intend to stay.”

Rebecca told us about the five things she believes someone needs in order to be a successful changemaker and her “jump up and jive to transformation methodology.” As the morning unfolded, she set a selection of group tasks, such as putting measurements in place to create your ideal world. With her help, fellows worked on applying the concepts she presented in a  tangible practice approach.

Rebecca's session beautifully tied things together, as it illuminated how all the concepts we have been exploring this week can be applied to real-world scenarios.

Making the most of another sunny summer day in Christchurch, we enjoyed a picnic lunch (this might be the most picnics we have had in a single fellowship so far), fueling up on an amazing variety of healthy goodness, including a freshly picked green salad from co-producer Nita’s own garden. Everything really hit the spot and the fellows were charged for Leyla’s final session for the week.

Leyla took fellows through a crash course on the disruptive design method and then unpacked other concepts and arenas that would help equip fellows for the last important part of the UnSchool fellowship (spoiler alert... the 24-hour challenge!). Reading the room, she shared her wisdom on systems mapping, life cycle assessment, disruption, problem-solving via problem loving, and procrastination as a tool for motivation (this led to an ‘ah ha’ moment for many!).

Putting systems mapping into practice, the fellows dived into a connected circle mapping exercise focused on guns and law (their choice, not ours!). Clusters of chaos were created.

The session continued into the late afternoon with Leyla’s ten golden rules of ideation and, by the end of it, our UnSchool notebooks (cover designed by our fellowship intern, Megan, and printed by The Misprint Company) were bulging with incredibly useful information and ideas for making change.

Fellows were then challenged to pour their creative juices (which were really flowing at this point) into an ideation session focused on guns. With the systems mapping they had done earlier laying a foundation for all the nuanced connections around guns and law, fellows dove in, thinking up ideas for creative interventions. After everyone pitched their ideas, we rounded it off by playing an empathy game, which Leyla used to demonstrate the application of the Disruptive Design Method in action.

After the game, fellows hopped into a reflection session with our fellowship co-host, Craig. This time it was focused around four symbols (brain, eyes, hands, heart). Each fellow had to choose one symbol that they wanted to reflect on and share their thoughts with the group. Craig even themed his outfit, wearing his symbols cardigan!

Just as they thought the day was done and dusted, we had a little surprise for the fellows… the announcement of the 24-hour challenge! Fellows were put into teams and given the first clue about the challenge: their client would be the Christchurch City Council. UnSchool Team members, who had already participated in a challenge like this, shared some insights on how to effectively collaborate within the team challenge dynamic, and, with that, fellows were sent off to eat dinner and prepare for the two days ahead. The actual challenge will remain a mystery until 9AM on Day Six…. Check back to see how it all unfolds!

Christchurch Fellowship Days 6 & 7 January 30, 2017


Day 6 snuck up on us so quickly! And if you're familiar with our fellowships you know that Day 6 means one thing... the Design Challenge begins! For our 24-Hour Challenge, fellows team up and work together, apply all that they have learned and uncovered during the week, to address a client's design brief.

We kicked it off at our challenge home base, BizDojo, an excellent brand new co-working space in downtown Christchurch. We arrived to the beautifully bright and clear space early, allocated work rooms for teams and then gave fellows the challenge brief, which they digested over a nutritious homemade breakfast.

Fellows were excited by the challenge brief, developed in collaboration with Christchurch City Council (CCC). The brief outlined a problem statement, location context, considerations, parameters and supporting information that the fellows could work with while applying the Disruptive Design Method to explore how to develop creative change interventions.

The CCC challenge outlines a quest to create a circular economy vision for Spreydon in Christchurch, a community suburb. Their goal is to achieve a circular economy by 2050, which would, in turn, allow for a rapid transition to a “one planet” city. Currently, Christchurch is a minus five planet city, and thanks to the great work of the CCC, there is a strong desire to find unique ways of becoming a planet positive place!

Each team was given an opportunity to ask questions to guest speakers – Phil Clearwater, CCC Councillor,  and David Boothway, CCC Strategic Asset Planning Manager – to mine out as much additional information as they could before they tackled the complex problem areas at hand.

David summarized the issue with this great quote: “We don’t have a pollution problem, we have a design problem.” David and Phil demonstrated their passion for the city and it’s future, and it was incredibly valuable for our fellows to share time with them. After the question session closed, and fellows set off to get to work on the challenge!

Teams jumped straight to it, and the walls of each of their rooms were hit with an explosion of systems maps. Lines and connections were drawn in all directions as they began to tease out leverage points.


Teams put the first two phases of the DD Method into practice as they mined out the problem elements and systems mapped the identified elements in order to landscape the potential intervention points.

Leyla and Bec went around helping agitate the thinking of the groups, pulling together strands of ideas and helping the teams think through dynamic and complex systems interventions. They reminded people to think about the big vision and the tangible micro interventions that will help build it over time.

Leyla then jumped into the kitchen to help prepare a delicious dinner using the giant silverbeet brought in by our local team member, Megan. The mood was surprisingly relaxed but, as the evening progressed and Leyla's review sessions approached, groups started to push themselves through the rapid ideation sessions and got ideas flowing.

Late at night, the UnSchool team went around checking in with each group before packing it up for the night.

First thing in the morning, teams had to deliver a practice pitch of their proposals. While things had started to take shape, there was still a lot of work to do. Leyla helped teams illuminate gaps in their propositions and provided fantastic feedback on how to create strong narrative presentations that paint the vision of possibility in the judges' minds.

The 24 hours were up in a flash and it was time for fellows to pitch their concepts to a friendly judging panel, made up of mentor Rebecca Mills, the Chief Financial Officer to Christchurch City Council, Carol Bellet, and Councillor Phil Clearwater.

Presentations on how to intervene and lead Christchurch to become a one planet city included using insects laundromats and beer. Yes, teams took on the disruptive design concepts and turned them into amazing propositions of how to change communities, design eco systems services and facilitate mindset change for healthy communities.

Before marking the end of presentations with the popping of champagne, the UnSchool team had one final surprise. Throughout the week, the fellows had been very vocal in making sure our team does everything they do, so we revealed that we had completed the challenge too! Our fellowship team delivered a presentation for a “One Planet card” systems intervention with gamified elements of civic engagement and ecological footprint reduction. .


We then cheers'ed with some tasty bubbly from Yealands and enjoyed a multicultural New Zealand themed lunch spread, covering a diverse range of cultures – from the very kiwi cheese roll, to dumplings, sushi, local cheese and salsa, all topped off with mini pavlovas.

An impromptu dance party began and, after fellows got down to ‘Happy,’ we moved onto the final installment of ‘The Craig Show.’ For our final reflection session, fellows, in groups of three, contributed what they had learned, what challenged them, the most memorable moment, and a one-word description for each day over the intensive seven that we shared together.

After the collective brain dump was over, Craig asked fellows to summarize the day and report summaries back to the group, reflecting on all the adventures and discoveries that were made this week. We then gathered in a circle and shared our closing thoughts with the group before we parted ways. There were tears, laughs and a gigantic group hug before fellows jumped on flights and bikes or headed to the pub for a final celebratory drink.

...And that’s a wrap for UnSchools Christchurch! Thanks to the incredible team, all our amazing partners, collaborators and sponsors and a BIG THANK YOU to our 20 fellows for joining the adventure and sharing their passion for making change. We're looking forward to having them in our global alumni community of creative rebels working to make positive change in the world.

And that's a waap on another fantastic cohort, a bunch of incredible adventures and change in the making.


Watch the doco on the brain-bending week we had in Christchurch 

Disruptive Design Method Handbook NOW OUT!

After a decade of focusing her career on figuring out how to use design as a catalyst for positive social and environmental change, five years refining the Disruptive Design Method and over two years of teaching it to creative rebels and change agents around the world, Leyla has finally put the process down on paper (or in this case, on screen? It's a downloadable PDF.) We're excited to share the release of the Disruptive Design Method Handbook(!), a must-read for anyone interested in challenging the status quo and shifting systems to make the world work better for all of us.    


For more about the method, the handbook, and the motivation behind it, check out Leyla's medium post about it.

Designer or not, the Disruptive Design Method is all about an activated, intentional approach to understanding and evolving the critical problem sets around us — no matter how big or small your sphere of influence is. The method involves an iterative three-part process of mining, landscaping, and building systems interventions that effect change, and Leyla walks you through it, step by step, in this new handbook.

Berlin Fellowship

watch the video of the Berlin fellowship

Meet Our Berlin Fellows

Our Berlin fellowship program started on Saturday 8th October where we meet our cohort of 20 incredible new fellows, all joining us for our 7-day immersive program in the wonderful city of Berlin! They came from 12 countries, for our jam packed adventure week in all things systems, sustainability and design for activating positive social change!



Aglika Georgieva

Aglika is the partner and project manager at Geomarine, a small environmental protection and natural resources consultancy company in Bulgaria. She has a background in the development of environmental and social impact assessment for large scale infrastructural projects. She has a Master's degree from Cologne University (Germany) in Media Science, Psychology and Cultural Studies, and is currently working on the thesis surrounding Environmental Protection and Sustainability at the University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy in Bulgaria. She would like to build a platform for promoting innovative and disruptive ideas of how we can make a change toward more sustainable future with our day to day involvement and behavior.

Ahmad Kalaji

Ahmad is a journalist with a degree from the University of Damascus, in the Syrian capital. He was part of several groups in Syria to spread awareness about freedom of speech and participated in protests against the Syrian regime. He had to flee the country in 2013, to Dubai, where he started working with a Syrian opposition TV station– his job led him to travel to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, where he visited refugees camps and shot news stories. Now living in Berlin, he is currently volunteering with Moabit Hilft, a local NGO that helps refugees here in Germany.

Alexis Rhyner

Lex grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, United States, and fell in love with Latin America upon her first visit to Mexico at the age of 12. She studied Spanish and Portuguese Language and Culture, traveled and volunteered throughout the continent. She was hampered by major issues such as poverty, sexism, racism, organized crime and political unrest. Inspired to take action, she is about to begin her MSc in Development and International Relations, specializing in Latin American Studies at Aalborg University in Denmark. Her hope now is to utilize the new knowledge and skills to work with locals to inspire grassroots movements throughout the continent.

Ameenah Sawwan

Ameenah is a Syrian activist and journalist from Moaddamiyeh, Syria, who has highlighted human rights violations in besieged Syrian areas. As she worked on her testimony of the chemical massacre in Damascus suburbs, she was a part of a widely published advocacy campaign in the United States. She is now producing pieces involving unique stories from inside Syria to show the face of a country no one can see now. Ameenah is a freelancer with and an editor-in-chief with the German initiative WirMachenDas.Jetzt.

Ana Carolina Falcão

Ana grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is an Industrial Designer. She was involved in a variety of social impact related projects through her school work and started using different design research methodologies and a design thinking approach to creating empathy with users and communities to improve the outcomes of her projects. She developed her thesis, “Lemba Lemba”, in partnership with UNICEF, whose purpose was to improve educational conditions of children through furniture. She continued her academic studies with a Masters in Business Design, at Domus Academy in Milan, and has been volunteering at PACO, a collaborative design studio focusing on design education and social innovation. She worked directly with the Design School for Children and also in an international challenge called “what design can do,” in which they work to integrate the refugees into their new European communities.

Anja Sisarica

Anja, from Serbia, completed her PhD in 2015 on the topic of Creativity Support in Games for Motivated Learning at City University London, Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice. She holds a BSc and MSc in Computer Science from University of Novi Sad, Serbia. During her studies, she was a visiting scholar at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy (BASILEUS EM-ECW), Bremen University, Germany (DAAD) and Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria (CEEPUS-II). Now she is working as User Researcher at Signal Media Ltd. in London, exploring how financial communications professionals interact with information when monitoring news and brands' reputations.

Brittany Myers

Born and raised in Canada, Brittany recently moved to San Francisco after spending the last decade in New York City. She is a creative strategist with a background in human-centric research, experience design and communications. Her projects have spanned a variety of categories, including product design, brand positioning, and community revitalization. In 2010 Brittany earned her MSc in Marketing in Dublin, Ireland. As a runner and climber, she's fascinated with the learning potential that challenges in extreme environments can offer. While trekking in the Everest Region in 2015, she experienced the Nepali earthquakes firsthand and it changed her life. She has since been involved in various relief and awareness efforts for Nepal, including a benefit she created to help small business owners get back on their feet. Brittany is excited to learn about how design and systems thinking can more effectively create change, and actively seeks to make this a bigger part of her work and everyday life. She is also studying psychology part-time, and currently works for a design consultancy in California.

Carla Ramírez Sosa

Carla, from Puerto Rico, graduated from Pratt Institute with a BA in Industrial Design and a minor in Sustainability Studies. She's passionate about design for social impact, and sustainable design, but also very curious about design for behavior change and transition design. As a human-centered designer and researcher, she wants to work on projects that attempt to further social, cultural and environmental goals. When she's not designing for complex problems, she feeds her love for craftsmanship by making objects, exploring different materials and learning new techniques.

Cristina Anaia

Cristina is from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and also has a Lebanese background. She recently graduated from the Industrial and Interaction Design program at Syracuse University. Over the past two years, she has been using her skills as a designer within the communities she's part of. She has been working with Beirut Design Week (BDW) in Beirut, Lebanon, promoting Lebanese design, and also been involved in a dual language program for Latin-American children and an intensive English program targeted towards resettling refugees in Syracuse, New York. In one of her projects, she explored how people learn and exchange languages, and how strangers interact at airports. She looks forward to working and exploring more about interdisciplinary design research, UX research, the relationship between language and culture, refugee resettlement, language education services, and the implementation of design thinking into school systems.

Ellen Comhaire

Ellen, from Belgium, has two master degrees– one in Graphic Design from the School of Arts Ghent and another in Moral Sciences from the University of Ghent. She's currently studying Product Design, and working with drawing movies and illustrations for organizations with 'good aims'. She worked as a counselor in three prisons, supporting prisoners through individual chats from a humanistic point of view and setting up group projects. She was also a project leader on administrative simplification (cutting red tape) in my city government– making up strategies, leading projects, giving workshops (LEAN and GTD-based), organizing events and contests for sharing and recognizing good practices. As a volunteer, she has a five years experience as an instructor in youth movements, organizing events and giving mostly playful workshops to young people; four years as board member of the Human Rights League, a supporter of several animal rights and welfare organisations, and she started a Facebook Page to support and stimulate awareness, conscious living, and solidarity.

Erin Kremser

Erin is an American multidisciplinary researcher, international program manager, and aspiring social designer. In her most recent role, Erin worked on the Foreign Fulbright Student Program, a U.S. Department of State-funded scholarship program that brings international students to the U.S. for graduate study. She is currently in the midst of a career transition and is working to better understand the use of design to shape how organizations, services, and systems are built in order to ensure more impactful social change.

Janine Sara Morton

Janine, from Australia, is the Coordinator for Community Development in Children’s Ground, Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Children’s Ground is a First Nations led organization that has a radical approach to addressing extreme inequity and disadvantage for Australia’s Indigenous community. Janine is also the founding Director of a Melbourne based not for profit, JEM - which addresses social justice issues, such as homelessness, discrimination, and everyday ethics through innovative and holistic projects, led by young people for their local community. Janine has her Master in International Health, through Monash University, her Bachelor of Ministry, and is currently over halfway through her Nursing Degree. Janine hopes to use her new-found clinical skills to compliment her public health background, with the aim to further facilitate systemic change amongst communities where there are poor health outcomes combined with inequitable access to mainstream service provision. Janine has a particular passion for women’s rights and wellbeing. Janine enjoys peppermint tea, the ocean and going camping with her husband and two beautiful children.

Jasper Ryan

Jasper is a student from Sydney, Australia, studying Civil Engineering combined with Creative Intelligence & Innovation at the University of Technology Sydney. Excited to learn, eager to play, Jasper is tired of wondering what ideas could or couldn't have worked; he wants to start challenging sticky problems and creating novel and sustainable solutions.

Lien De Ruyck

Lien is from Belgium and works as a freelance creative strategist, social storyteller, and travel journalist. She is fond of cross-industry thinking and more eager than ever to help organizations and companies to rewrite their stories. She is specialized in 360° communication strategies, innovative concepts and ‘human content,’ which she believes is the missing link between pure content marketing and human-centric design. Currently, she is designing impact-driven campaigns and concepts for clients as Welzijnszorg (tackling national poverty) and VRT Start-Up, the national public-service broadcaster for the Flemish Region and Community of Belgium. Turning slogans into reality, always striving for innovation and social impact, her big dream-in-the-making is the launch of her own creative change agency: a network-centric, purpose-driven agency that guides brands to become true human brands, striving for social impact, bringing social stories and activating citizens. She is building her own method toolkit with 4 new human marketing P's, to make that dream tangible and shareable.

Lucy (Haojia) Chen

Lucy, from Australia, studies Communication (Media Arts and Production), Creative Intelligence and Innovation, and German at the University of Technology Sydney. She is extremely passionate about education, environmental issues and loves the outdoors. In 2016, she received the Queen's Scout Award and has since continued to pursue her dreams of creating a positive change in the world through volunteering with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Greenpeace, and The Learning Project.

Lucy Chen

Lucy, from China, tells us that she grew up as a 'good kid' and now she's exploring the road not taken. A founding student at an innovative college, Minerva School at KGI, she is traveling to 7 countries to study over the course of 3 years. Currently living in Berlin, she's working on creative objects to understand concepts like nomadism and interactive empathy. She's curious and fascinated with Emotion - Cognition interactions and Learning about Learning. She believes in Design x Technology for social good. She often falls in love with questions and design starting from discomfort, disconnect, and discrepancy. She's also a nomadic photographer. Intentionally seeking serendipity and beauty, she is looking for opportunities in Education Innovation space.

Maja Juzwiak

Maja has lived in Brazil, Switzerland and the US, and traveled to Australia, New Zealand, and various countries in Asia, Europe and America. She studied international management and has a business background, but is now moving towards the marketing and start-up scene. She is passionate about photography, psychology, healthy food, extreme and 'normal' sports, adventures, traveling, and reading. Sustainability themes and cultural diversity are parts of her daily life.

Majed Almansoori

Majed, from the United Arab Emirates, is the Managing Director of Bond’s Abu Dhabi studio. He studied Electrical Engineering at Purdue University and Marketing at INSEAD. He has a strong entrepreneurial mind and is dedicated to changing the perception of design in the UAE. By bringing Bond to Abu Dhabi, he strives not only to bring Finnish creativity to the UAE but also to combine the design cultures for greater synergies. He is also the Application Marketing Specialist at Borouge, responsible for Marketing strategy development and implementation. In the past he served as Founding Partner of JSQ International Distribution. Majed was selected by the Ministry of youth to be the UAE youth representative in the 2014 World Youth Forum and 2011 UNESCO youth forum. In addition, he gave an inspirational speech at the Chechnya Youth Forum in 2015.

Priyam Vadaliya

Priyam is a design researcher and design thinker from Gujarat, India. She graduated in Industrial Design from National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad in January 2016. While studying design in a premier institute in India, and practicing design after that, she has worked on varied design projects in the Indian context, from Low Energy Lifestyles for Sustainable Living to Social Innovation in Infant Nutrition and Breastfeeding. She was recently selected for Design Now Summer School at School of Design Politecnico di Milano, which was focused around FabCity: building products and services for Urban Resilience through Manufacturing. She also worked on a project around building new economy and cryptocurrency for the city. On of her recent projects is “Innovate Inside: Towards Creative Prison Industries,” working with NID and Design Against Crime Research Centre (DACRC), UAL, London, aimed to build inmate resilience through creativity and reduce the crime rates in a city. Currently, she's freelancing and working on projects around her interest areas, which are Design for Social Change, System Design, co-creation and the idea of design from objects to a way of thinking and how it connects to different domains.

Stefan Burlacu

Stefan is a product designer from Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova. While studying Industrial Design at the Technical University of Moldova, he met a great lecturer and tutor that has helped him become the designer he is today. After his graduation, his desire to make stuff that matters was strong and he started to do what his intuition was telling him: he activated his career on a freelance basis doing product design and also graphic design. He tends to like to design objects that communicate, help people, and also have an impact on their minds in a positive way.



Berlin Fellowship Day 1 October 9, 2016


And… we’re off! The fellowship officially began Saturday afternoon when our amazing cohort of 20 fellows, who are joining us from 12 countries, met us at the Berlin Wall Memorial Strip.

Our local host, Kathleen, welcomed the group and provided some cultural and sentimental context for where we were standing — above a tunnel that connected East Berlin to the West, in front of a memorial where the wall used to stand.

Our local host, Kathleen, explains her experience with the East / West divide growing up in Berlin.

Our local host, Kathleen, explains her experience with the East / West divide growing up in Berlin.

After a short introduction to the program and the city, we walked as a (BIG) group over to our home base for the week, AHOY! In AHOY we played the longest round of one-legged stand game that we’ve played so far (with 20 fellows and 7 UnSchool team members, this was truly an endurance test). By the end, our legs were a little sore but we totally remembered the names and weird facts of everyone in the room– thanks to the cognitive trick of making something stick by learning it under more challenging circumstances (in this case having to stay coordinated and balanced on one leg while thinking, talking, remembering!).

Some coffee helped us gear up for a rapid-fire series of Pecha Kucha talks. With each person getting 3 minutes to tell us who they are, what they’re all about, what they do for love and for money, what their burning passions and current challenges are, we ran through the group getting to know everyone a bit more than their One Legged facts had revealed.

Our cohort is filled with some seriously impressive humans from a wide array of backgrounds participating in change in diverse ways in their own domains. From mountaineering, to working with non-profits supporting Syrian Refugees here in Berlin, to ceramics, to actively encouraging creative industry in the Middle East, to contributing to the slow food movement, to raising millions of dollars for nonprofits through hand drawn greeting cards, to creating conceptual stools inspired by PacMan and… the list goes on. We can’t wait to see what type of collaboration comes out of the week.

For our second adventure in large-group-travel-to-a-secret-destination, our team led fellows on a walking-metro-bus-walking journey to a surprise location: Bauhaus-Archiv, a museum and library that houses artefacts from Germany’s world famous Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus was a college of art, architecture, and design that existed from 1919 to 1933 and is regarded as the 20th century’s most import design school, founded by Walter Gropius who also designed the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin. We were lucky to get a private tour, led by the Archiv’s Scientific Specialist, Ms. Güldner. Her passion was contagious as she explained how Bauhaus tore down silos and brought together artists, designers, architects, engineers, and more to create a new vision of society– how they instigated a movement around art, design, and engineering being more than it had been previously.

One of the chairs on exhibit, designed by Marcel Breuer, really struck us. Despite being nearly a hundred years old it seemed to be just as contemporary and modern as any chair you might buy today — and if you wanted something like this you might expect it to cost thousands of dollars. But, Breuer’s chair, when designed in 1925 was intentionally functional and affordable– the vision was to create beautiful household items that every German family could afford.

Our visit to Bauhaus-Arhiv and guided tour reinforced themes that we will continue to explore throughout the week including a critical approach to the products we bring into the world and the role that these products play in the lives of everyday people. We love the concept of creativity being a catalyst for something more than the institutions want it to be, and Bauhaus was one of the inspirations for the UnSchool, so we were thrilled to get to explore the archive, history and spirit of it.

BauHaus Re Use

BauHaus Re Use

The tour wrapped up at BauHaus Re Use, a building constructed with materials from the original Bauhaus in Dessau, where our team had set up for a surprise evening of drinks and tapas.

Surprise tapas at BauHaus Re Use

Surprise tapas at BauHaus Re Use

After a night of spirited conversations and a few spontaneous dance moves, we called it a day and left Bauhaus to rest up for Day 2.

Berlin Fellowship Day 2 October 10, 2016


After a fueling up with breakfast (Kathleen made waffles!) and coffee, we kicked off Day 2 with what felt like a collective birthday party – everyone shared treats and gifts from their homes and shared a bit about where they’re coming from.

After a fueling up with breakfast (Kathleen made waffles!) and coffee, we kicked off Day 2 with what felt like a collective birthday party – everyone shared treats and gifts from their homes and shared a bit about where they’re coming from.


We then dove straight into a session on what sustainability *actually* is. Leyla broke down green framing, why the doomsday perspective of sustainability and fear framing are problematic, life cycle assessments, end of life bias, and more. Here are a few key notes:

·         Sustainability is not about hugging trees. (Here’s a case for reframing it.)

·         People tend to have an emotional reaction to sustainability instead of a rational one but we are in a “dynamic interconnected reliant relationship with nature” so it’s really something we ought to think rationally about. Eating breathing and drinking water are not optional choices, they are life support systems for us – not protecting them is irrational.

·         Sustainability is about understanding how to make the best decisions with the resources we have to sustain life support systems on this planet. This, is a matter of intragenerational and intergenerational equity as, to quote the Brundtland Commission, sustainable development is really “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

·         We live in a finite planet with finite resources. Your ecological footprint reflects how many planets we’d need to not use more resources than we have, if everyone on earth were to live your lifestyle. Thinking about yours helps you connect your lifestyle to the impact of all the individual decisions you make in terms of consumption. (You can calculate yours here: )

·         We humans tend to have an end of life bias, because that’s the part we see. Waste is framed as bad and stupid – we are taught not to litter and are encouraged to recycle. While we shouldn’t litter and should recycle (or aim to be zero waste!), often waste and end of life is not where the biggest impact is.

“Simple and painless” actions often don’t lead to the positive spillover (of people doing more and more, better and bigger actions) that organizations and government’s hope for. On the contrary, these simple and painless behaviour changes may allow for people to check their “did my part” box and excuse them from taking other more meaningful actions – they could even lead to a rebound effect (think about someone recycling to “do their part” but then consuming more plastic bottles because they think it’s okay because they recycle).

When our sustainability session came to a close we dove into a session on Systems Thinking, exploring how it overcomes the human reductionism that comes out of linear thinking (the Newtonian view of the world). To quote Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  

Leyla stressed the importance of developing a 3-dimensional perspective– of being able to look down through the microscope at the micro level, up through the telescope and out through a periscope to get the lay of the land. Systems thinking stresses seeing the parts and the whole (whereas reductionism sees the world in parts) and embraces the fact that everything (EVERYTHING) is interconnected. If we fail to see the connections and come up with narrow solutions we risk a whole lot of unintended consequences. As Peter Senge has said, “Today’s problems are often yesterday’s solutions.”

With all of that in mind, we did an activity where everyone had to list all the systems they could think of. While it was fairly easy to think of social and industrial systems, people struggled to identify ecosystems after the first few. This remade the point that Leyla rose in the morning – that we tend to be disconnected from how reliant we are on natural systems.

Fellows chose different social systems and worked to map them intuitively. After mapping elements of their chosen system that they could think of and then began drawing connections between them. Considering the connections, they were able to draw some key insights about the system they were mapping. Reflecting on the exercise, we discussed how almost every node could be connected, how many connections have cause and effect relationships, and how reinforcing feedback loops have snowball effects within their systems.

With our heads recalibrated to see the invisible systems all around us, we headed out for another surprise field trip. After a pause en route to briefly discuss Checkpoint Charlie (as we passed it), we ended up at MIITO’s design studio. Partners Nils Chudy and Jasmina Grase welcomed us with tea and then dove into a talk on their journey from design students to designers. Their journey (and coincidentally, seeing Leyla's TED Talk!) led them to their current project: MIITO Precise, an award-winning energy-efficient (and really beautiful) electric kettle that heat liquids directly in the vessel through induction.

Did you know that 165 million cups of tea are consumed every day and 65% of tea drinkers admit to overfilling their kettles? The cumulative outcome of extra energy required in 1 day could light all of England’s street lights for 6 months! This was something that we had discussed in our systems thinking session, so it was exciting to meet two designers who are actively working on addressing this.

Jasmina said that the “Biggest challenge as a designer is to change human habits.” They knew that with MIITO their approach would have to be more than just sustainable. They sought out to create a new type of kettle that would be a conversation starter, not only energy efficient but also cool, beautiful, fun to use, and rewarding on a personal level. (Which we’d say they totally pulled off – the MIITO kettle is super sleek.)


As they shared their process, they also gave our fellows some advice:

·         Learning = motivation. See the whole experience as an adventure. Make life your school and give yourself assignments to DO things and learn from them as you go.

·         “Fake it till you make it – test your revolution.”

·         “Time is luxury – innovation takes time that we don’t have.”

·         “Astronaut thinking – take it one problem at a time.” When you’re dealing with what seems like an impossible situation or an overwhelming amount of obstacles – tackle them one at a time and it will become doable.

With MIITO's redesign of the tea kettle as inspiration, fellows were asked to rethink other machines. Groups were formed and each one chose their challenge blindly (from some very mysterious bags).

Groups were asked to consider what flaws their product have, who the primary users are, if it was a necessary item, how it could be less wasteful and if it could be replaced. After some work-time, teams dynamically pitched their redesigns of a speaker system, a blow dryer, a fan, and an iron.

From MIITO, we split into two groups and embarked on walking tour adventures throughout the city, which invited our fellows to see the city through different perspectives.

One of the walking tours was led by Klaus and Louis, from Querstadtein, a German organization which aims to break down the stereotypes about homelessness by telling the individual stories of those living on the street while creating a dialogue between the homeless and the housed people that share communities. Klaus, who lived on the streets of Berlin from 2001 to 2009, shared his personal story, the circumstances that forced him to live on the streets, his day to day experience of getting by, and how he was able to get off the streets and rebuild his life . After struggling with alcohol addiction and losing his job, Klaus found himself sleeping in a park in central Berlin. This became his life for 8 years and, now that he’s on the other side of it, he gives tours like these to help lift the invisibility veil and bust through people’s assumptions.

Klaus walked us through his old neighborhood and helped us understand his daily routine, how he got by collecting glass bottles and the social services that he interacted with. He also shared touching stories about people in the neighborhood who got to know him and gave him the support and encouragement that helped him move into a shelter and then become sober again. Our tour with Klaus helped us understand the people and systems that too often get overlooked, while experiencing Berlin from a unique perspective.



Berlin Fellowship Day 3 October 11, 2016


We started off the morning with a continuation of systems mapping, led by Leyla. She went over some systems mapping tools and stressed the importance of understanding causality ("That's just the way it is" is bullshit! There is always something leading to something else!). We explored feedback loops, tragedy of the commons, burden shifting and rule breaking, and then we dove into the 9 Rules of Systems Thinking. The session reinforced the idea that small changes can lead to big change if you understand the systems and take advantage of the leverage points (think trim tab!).


Then we were joined by mentor Rym Momtaz, who shared her experience as a producer for ABC and led a fascinating conversation around the connections between things like Brexit, World War II and the current Syrian war. Rym talked about the role that journalists and storytelling play historically and in the contemporary landscape. She talked about how in the past her press jacket would serve as protection in war-torn places, but now it makes for a target.


In sharing her experiences of exploring ways to flip the narrative, Rym asked each of the fellows to take 5 minutes to write a narrative introduction to themselves, as if it were written by a journalist. Fellows then paired up, swapped their stories and interviewed each other. Rym facilitated a wonderful group conversation where people shared their insights about each other and teased out the ways in which we can use narrative to build empathy and shift the status quo.

While doing Rym's narrative experience we started to smell something savory and delicious: a vegan laksa that the UnSchool team cooked up! We loaded our bowls up and enjoyed a very yellow and tasty lunch, fueling up for our next session with our mentor Janet Gunter, an American/British activist, Anthropologist and co-founder of The Restart Project.

Janet shared her personal narrative, everything from playing unsupervised as a child to her time living in East Timor to her current work now. She challenged us to explore our relationships with the natural world and think about our "way in" to sustainability – as she says if we are to really embrace it it's necessary to have a “personal” connection with it.

Janet's connection, and her outrage with planned obsolescence, led her to start the Restart Project– "a people-powered platform for change, helping demand emerge for more sustainable, better electronics".  After hearing about what goes on behind the scenes of planned obsolescence, fellows were given various electronic products, tools (screwdrivers, pliers, etc.) and were asked to take apart their products, documenting each step of the way and looking at how each material is made (we had some visual guides to explain various technical components and resources that go into different materials!).

A lot of fellows were surprised by how hard it is to break a product down – screws are hidden, obscure tools were required etc. The activity also demonstrated how incredibly difficult Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can be because it requires a deep understanding of very complex manufacturing processes (though existing online data can make it easier to make estimates and assumptions on it).

After wrapping up the product tear down debrief, Leyla jumped right into a rapid-fire introduction to gamification (really rapid as we had just 10 minutes before we needed to depart on our next adventure!). She shared strategies for creating gamified experiences that engage participants, involving a mix of mechanics, mechanisms, modes and motivators.  Fellows were then grouped into teams and each team was given a unique, random, design-a-game challenge:

"Design a ______ for  _____ that incorporates _____. The purpose of your game is to teach someone else one of the new learnings you had this week."

Each team drew cards from 3 different buckets to fill in the blanks for their challenge and had less than an hour to design a game and prepare their demo for the group. Because we had to move on to the next destination, teams had the added challenge of designing their games while riding the metro.

After a couple metro delays and twists (fellows didn't seem to notice or mind because they were so engaged with their game design!) we made it to our next destination: BSR Headquarters. Their Head of Innovation talked us through how the company manages Berlin's waste (ALL of it!)– which is really quite fascinating. From designing waste disposal products and processes to be accessible to people who are physically challenged, to working to overcome issues with people separating waste, there is really much more creativity that goes into waste management than one might think. We got to go on a mini-tour of the innovations they're currently working on and learned about challenges, the future of waste management, as well as end-of-life stage in general (it's not every day you see where garbage goes after you bag it and hand it off!)

Back at Ahoy, each team had 2 minutes to demo their games– there were a lot of laughs and claps involved. Teams used creative ways to role play their game experiences, which ranged from TV game shows about storytelling to a systems thinking card game, to an app children could play to understand the materials that go into their products. Interestingly, no two groups chose the same learning to focus on!

The games were the official end point of Day 3, though most fellows went out on group dinners together.



Berlin Fellowship Day 4 October 12, 2016

Day 4 was one that exercised our bodies as much as our minds…. We walked 12.5 km together before the day was done! We spent the first few hours of the day on an incredible “Urban Commons Tour” which started out at Prinzessinnengärten, a vibrant urban vegetable garden and community space. After exploring the garden and learning about its origins (it used to be a wasteland) and aspirations, we explored Tempelhofer Feld which used to be an airport and is now an amazing public park.

Our last stop on the tour was Am-Urban, an old hospital that was transformed into a “Bau-Gruppe” (co-living space) thanks to 140 parties pulling their resources together, buying the vacant hospital and then working together to codesign it (quite a feat to co-design with input from over 100 people!).

The walking tour – which has since been referred to as “the most epic walking tour ever” – led us to Malzfabrik, a former brewery turned into creative event space. We ate a farm-fresh lunch family style on a table long enough to accommodate all 25 of us. After warming up and filling up, we walked next door to visit EFC Farm, an aquaponics farm that produces resource-friendly and high-quality food for the local community. We sampled some of their delicious tomatoes and learned about their use of aquaponics, an environmentally friendly food production method that combines aquaculture and hydroponics. We saw how their dual circulatory systems allowed the farm to grow fresh vegetables and raise fish in a mutually beneficial way.

Back at AHOY we had a mentor session with Julia Kloiber, an activist who leads open data projects in collaboration with the government, private sector, and civic tech community. She discussed the need to overcome the “geek bubble” in tech and coding and to be more inclusive. This led to an interesting conversation on designing with people instead of for people. Julia ended the session by having the fellows practice a stakeholder mapping activity and apply the technique to projects they are currently working on.

Fellows thought they were going to a restaurant but we led them through the garden at AGORA (a center for contemporary practices) and up a few flights of stairs that opened onto our secret dinner party. Lights were low, candles were lit, music was playing, wine was opened, and all seemed fit for a relaxing romantic evening… until the team announced an experimental dinner game that was designed as a fun way to explore tough global environmental issues: "So You Think You Can Design?"  

Our alumna cohost, Mariana, had been invited to participate in Low Carbon City Forum (which is happening now in Medellín, where she lives) and, with the forum as inspiration, she was challenged to designed a game that would connect our Berlin fellowship to it. She adapted Designercise and created a ridiculous and fun TV game show of sorts wherein teams were challenged, throughout rounds, to design a solution in response to a sustainability-related problem.  The initial challenge didn’t seem too tough, but 5 minutes into it, the team announced that there was a roadblock– a new scenario was added to their problems. The game continued over a delicious veggie-packed Turkish dinner that our team has cooked up, and our team continued to add layers of complexity to the game. In addition to a LOT of laughs, the game encouraged fellows to stretch their brains, practice rapid prototyping and evolve new techniques in storytelling (after a half hour they were informed that they would have to perform their ideas without breaking their assigned character roles!).

Lots of fun was had, the team adopted alter-egos and became the judging panel, and the dinner room was turned into an electrified stand-up space of sorts. Teams gave 5-star performances as they acted out their problems and proposed solutions, incorporating and overcoming the roadblocks they were given. Ideas ranged from cross-species collaboration to bee farms to weather-related family planning. At the UnSchool we are really into pushing boundaries through experimenting with challenges and mixing up the status quo, so this dinner really allowed for the fellows to see idea diversity in action.

Berlin Fellowship Day 5 October 13, 2016

Fellows started off Day 5 exploring in two groups. Kathleen's group walked along the Spree River, with Jan, the co-founder of the Flussbad project, which is working to make the river swimmable again. Up until the 1920s the Spree River was a community space used for bathing but it was shut down as the river became too polluted via industrial waste and personal litter. The project is about much more than swimming and fun (though it welcomes that as well with its annual test swims!) as it has a strong political dimension: It is about reclaiming the city center for Berliners, and making public water accessible to the public again.

Whereas a lot of the city's funds and efforts are being directed towards projects that remember the past, and Flussbad's project – filtering the water and building a shore so it can be reached – is one that looks towards a sustainable future.

Leyla's group went on an Observational research excursion through Alexanderplatz, looking out for and taking notes of all the systems and design decisions around them. (Trampolines built into the street were a definite highlight – a great example of how play can be embedded into the city landscape!) One fellow said that this observational research activity "blew her mind and rearranged the way she thought about the world."

Back at Ahoy, after everyone had a chance to fuel up (coffee! snacks!), Leyla dove into a hybrid session that combined 3 key modules of the Disruptive Design Methodology: Making Change, Cognitive Science, and Language & Influence . We explored what motivates people, walked through various theories on behavior change, effective PR(opaganda) campaigns, some cognitive science and more. Did you know that oxytocin (the "love hormone") and cortisol (the "stress hormone") regulate each other? (So if you’re incredibly stressed out and your cortisol levels are high, you can lower your stress by seeking out oxytocin; an 8-second hug will do the trick!)

One key take-away from the session was that it is a waste of energy to focus on changing somebody’s behavior; if you want to change people’s behaviors you have to understand the systems they operate in and change the norms that they subscribe to.

Before wrapping, fellows did a quick partner activity based on word-associations, revealing the power of language and building empathy.

After lunch, we had a very interesting session with our mentor Nynke Tromp, a social designer who is passionate about the power of design in counteracting social problems. She invited us to question what "normal" behaviors are, and how design mediates our relationship with the world. (What's the difference between normal behaviors in an abnormal world and abnormal behaviors in a normal world??) She shared some thought-provoking insights on our self-oriented attitudes and made a  case for how a more social-oriented mindset is beneficial not only for people around us, but also for ourselves.

We reflected on how every-day products end up changing our routines and, on a bigger scope, our lives.  Then it was workshop time! Fellows worked in teams and explored different ways in which design could be used as a key tool for creating change around issues like obesity, aging populations, organ donation and vaccination.  She spent time with each of the groups giving on-point feedback to help them adjust and reframe ideas.

We wrapped the day with a reflection session and tried to keep a mellow vibe as the fellows were pretty exhausted at this point. Sitting in a large circle, our alumni co-hosts, Adam (NYC Fellowship) and Mariana (Mexico City Fellowship), facilitated a group conversation about activities and learnings from the week. Next, each fellow did an individual reflection and wrote down some of their most valuable learnings. They shared with partners and identified shared lessons. The sheer variation and quantity of sessions throughout the week gave each participant a lot to think about, and the synthesis that began to happen during the reflection revealed many interesting ideas and connections.

Before everyone left for the day, we dropped one more surprise on them… the 24 Hour Design Challenge! Leyla introduced the challenge (24 hours to use the disruptive design methodology in a real-world setting), gave them a brief overview of the client, SINGA Deutschland (a local organization that supports refugees in Berlin) and put the group into teams. The challenge officially kicks off in the morning with pitches happening 24 hours later, so the fellows left Ahoy with a free evening to explore Berlin together (or go home and sleep).  

Berlin Fellowship Day 6 & 7 October 15, 2016


The 24-hour design challenge had been introduced the night before, and finally in the morning teams got what they had all been waiting for… the brief! The UnSchool team had worked with the challenge partner, SINGA Deutschland, to craft a brief that included a problem statement, constraints, requirements and background information that the fellows would have to work with while applying the disruptive design methodology to come up with an intervention for positive change.

SINGA supports refugees coming to Germany and connects them with locals to work on projects together, with a particular focus on helping refugees build businesses. One of the major challenges that SINGA faces, which the fellows had to address, is how bureaucracy and systems inhibit access to key services that people need to settle in and really live and grow (professionally and personally) here in Europe. For example, newcomers can not rent apartments, can not get credit, etc. Vinzenz from SINGA came to Ahoy in the morning of Day 6 to introduce the organization and answer questions that the fellows had about the brief. Then teams were given their own temporary offices here at Ahoy and the 24 hour countdown timer began!

As minutes and hours ticked away, teams applied various approaches to exploring the systems and agents tied to the problem. Walls and table were covered with systems maps, stakeholder maps, storyboards, and more (Edding had generously provided us with these amazing “magic-charts,” large static writing sheets that cling to surfaces and can be erased and reused!).  Emotions were high as teams worked under the clock, to tease out leverage points, resolve team dynamic challenges, ideate ways that SINGA could intervene to increase access for refugees, and prototype their best ideas.

Leyla and team members made rounds throughout the afternoon and night, agitating teams to embrace the messiness, reframe, “cut through the frothy stuff” and prototype with something physical. At midnight we called it a night at AHOY – teams were given free range of what to do next (work through the night or get some sleep to have an early start). At 8:15 we were back at AHOY and back in action. Fellows did “working breakfasts” and prepared for practice pitch and feedback sessions with Leyla.

When the 24 Hours were up, fellows had to pitch their ideas for interventions to a panel of judges, which included Vincenz, from SINGA.

Fellows gave engaging presentations on a range of interventions and received critical feedback from the judges. After they were, done a judge’s choice was announced and then ellows moved about the room to select a popular choice winner. We then popped some champagne to celebrate and gave out prizes!

After celebrating, we had a delicious vegetarian lunch, cooked by a Syrian catering company here in Berlin (thanks to SINGA for the recommendation!). After satisfying our post-challenge hunger, we dove into a reflection session, led by our alumni co-hosts, and looked back on all 7 days of our adventure together.

Now that you read about the week, watch the doco we made on the people who come to the UnSchool