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 join us in SAN FRANCISCO, USA, from 8 different countries!
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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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' 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 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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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”
After an hour of getting stoked by our fantastic new friends’ passion for making the world work better for all of us, we rolled right into Leyla’s first session – an overview of ‘sustainability’ at breakneck speed. Reminding us that everything comes from nature at some point, Leyla used awesome stories of humanity’s hubris, like Biosphere 2 (a somewhat disastrous attempt to create a complex ecosystem in a dome) to highlight our dependence on this fragile rock. Introducing us to concepts like fractals and self-similarity (Leyla LOVES triangles), the session ended with the idea of the movement towards the circular economy – a regenerative nature-mimicking global economic system instead of the linear make-use-waste world we’re living in (and destroying). Time to flip the script and change the narrative about conspicuous consumption! Whatever this week holds in store, these fellows are ready!
For the final act of the day, “the Mayor of the Tenderloin”, Del Seymour, led a walking tour for us covering the history of the famed district, along with his personal relationship with drugs and homelessness and giving back to his community. Fellows saw beautiful and historic locations like UN Plaza, where the United Nations charter was created, and the LEED-certified Federal Building, as well as the Christian Women hotels where single women lived in the 1920s and 1930s in San Francisco if they didn't’ want to “get called a whore.” Since its heyday, the neighborhood has become notorious for drug use and homelessness – a trap Del fell into, and has devoted his life to helping others avoid.
Del founded Code Tenderloin, which helps people with criminal records and drug histories get jobs in tech, as well as The Gubbio Project, which serves as a place for “Sacred Sleep and Sanctuary” for 300 unhoused individuals every day. Clean for nine years and counting, Del’s on multiple boards and works on homelessness for the city of San Francisco. Based on his experience, Del warns local kids “you can’t TRY drugs. They’re stronger than uranium.”
After Del’s thought-provoking and inspiring story, fellows were getting hungry and ready to debrief on the first day’s delights at length, over biryani and saag paneer at Little Delhi.
The week will be full of UnSchool adventures, challenging change-making concepts and community building around how we can each activate our sphere of influence and participating in helping make the future work better for all of us. Stay tuned...!
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.
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.
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!
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
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).
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!]
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
“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?”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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).
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.
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!