A little over five years ago, I was interviewed by PopTech’s editorial staff about a masters program that I had already spent two years developing, and that had not yet launched. Looking back at the hopes I had and the assumptions I made is an opportunity to ruminate on the difference between what we imagine, the plans we make to get there, and how reality aligns (or doesn’t) with them.
Design for Social Innovation at SVA in New York is now in its third year. It’s the first MFA program for creative leaders who want careers with purpose inside businesses, non-profits and governments. DSI is a cross-disciplinary program that teaches students to work at a systems level, on dynamics of human behavior and interaction, integrating design, entrepreneurship, data analysis and visualization, ethics, communication design, game theory and design.
In a nutshell, before we launched I imagined what I and all the other faculty could teach our students, what they would need to know in order to become leaders of change out in the world, the best way to structure the program. I projected three years out, to where students would be working, and what they would be working on.
What I didn’t know, couldn’t know, as those of us who create new programs and projects never can; is the single, crucial element that has changed everything: the people our efforts are designed to serve; the ones who showed up. These graduate candidates have committed two years of their lives to the program because it fulfills a deep need in them that nothing else can – to go out and create change, break the rules, disrupt the status quo and use their own powers of creativity to bring something to life that has not existed before. They are remarkable people; unpredictable, visionary, and impossible to predict or know until we are deeply into working together.
Below are some of the things I said, and how reality compares so far:
I hoped for diversity, defining that as a desire for students to come from a few countries and not all from traditional design backgrounds.
Our students have come from 22 countries, with undergraduate degrees in economics, anthropology, international studies, environmental science, media arts, social responsibility, art history, architecture, advertising, urban studies, design management, bio tech and engineering, environmental studies, economics, geography, interior design, anthropology, film making. And of course, graphic, product, interaction and communication design.
As it happens, the diversity of the cohorts is one of the things students love most. That Israelis, Saudis, Turks, Spaniards, Colombians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese and Brooklynites can talk with each other about issues that they can’t talk about at home is important to them. That they learn, not only about American (and New York) culture when they come here but about cultures all over the world, prepares them to work all over the world, and to better understand issues in local context.
I predicted they would be interested in the things most social innovators are committed to - poverty, health, justice, climate change, resources, energy. They are, but they each have their own unique way in:
- Eliminating food waste by creating popup restaurants that serve dinner from ingredients headed for landfill;
- Giving young Korean women the confidence to stop having plastic surgery;
- Helping Saudi women who have come to school in the U.S adjust to the more restricted society they will return to;
- Getting the vote out among college students in India;
- Teaching young people in China about sex education;
- Making life less lonely for elders in Spain;
- Reimagining the healthcare system in India;
- Fixing Access-A-Ride so it better serves the elderly and disabled in the U.S.;
- Starting conversations between the Israelis and Palestinians;
- Curtailing consumerism;
- Making a sound library for families of people with Alzheimer’s.
I declared my hopes for what students would come away with from the program: a connection to themselves and their own purpose, the ability to enter any situation and see the system dynamics at work, humility, creativity, the skill to make things visible and accessible to diverse people or groups so that collaboration is possible, the character to lead by inspiration and example, and the confidence to use beauty, elegance and joy as motivators.
They are all that and more.
What I did not imagine is what it would take to organize a program for a class of 25 students who come to break rules rather than follow them, who will succeed because they don’t fit into a box or in a corporation’s backward facing org chart, and who will each define their place in the future in their own unique way. That life is more complex in reality than on paper is not a surprise. The ways in which it is complex are what make it exciting.
Applications for the Fall 2015 class at Design for Social Innovation MFA program are open. For more about the program, visit dsi.sva.edu or watch the video two students made, below.
In honor of World Cancer Day, we’re proud to highlight the PopTech talks of a brave survivor, innovative physicians, and a determined author. Visit worldcancerday.org for resources and how you can contribute to the cause.
Regina Dugan, VP of Engineering, Google
When Regina Dugan was 9 years old, she was diagnosed with catastrophic ovarian cancer. Doctors told her parents that she wouldn’t see Christmas. She shares her moving story at PopTech 2014 of how odds are irrelevant.
Jim Olson, pediatric oncologist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
After the death of a young patient, Jim Olson did not want any other families to suffer through the pain of losing a child to brain cancer. Pushing the pressure of publishing papers and winning grants aside, he focused on experiments. This led to the invention of “tumor paint” — a substance that comes from an unexpected place — and could be used to revolutionize brain surgery. See why every audience member at PopTech 2013 was brought to his and her feet. Read more about Jim Olson’s work: NPR, CNN, WIRED. Update: Tumor paint was approved for its first US trial in Sept 2014.
David Agus, oncologist, New York Times bestselling author
At PopTech 2012, David Agus asks, "what is health?” His New York Times bestselling book “The End of Illness” examines misperceptions about what “health” really means, how the body actually works, and new insight on living a long, healthy life. He envisions an era of preventative medicine based on hard data about what ails us.
Siddhartha Mukherjee, oncologist, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
When physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee discovered that nearly no literature existed on the origins of cancer, he was determined to fill this gap. He penned “Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. At PopTech 2010, he shared his journey on writing such a book.
The PopTech Roadtrip* is returning in 2015.To kick off our journey, we’re heading to…Los Angeles! Sign up to join us for a fun, eclectic, education-focused panel and discussion on Feb 11. (More Roadtrip dates/locations will be announced soon.)
Our long-time partner Steelcase is collaborating with us again in 2015 on the Roadtrip series — all of our events will be housed in their beautiful WorkLife spaces. (Think: innovative office design showrooms.) We’re excited to help them open their new Los Angeles space with an evening of conversation around a topic we’re both passionate about: experiential learning initiatives. Joining us will be several PopTech Fellows who are doing fascinating (and hybrid) work in and around education.
RSVP: Sign up here
Date: Wednesday, Feb 11, 2015
Time: 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Location: Steelcase WorkLife, AT&T Center, 32nd Floor, 1150 South Olive Street, Los Angeles, CA
Ben Dubin-Thaler, BioBus
Nick Martin, TechChange
Jeremy Thal, Found Sound Nation
Marisa Sergnese, Steelcase
*About the PopTech Roadtrip:
Last year, we kicked off a new event series. We heard from the PopTech community that they would love more opportunities for engagement and interaction outside of our annual conference in October. We agreed. So, we hit the road and hosted evenings of interesting speakers and conversation around the country. The PopTech Roadtrip was born!
In August 2014 PopTech convened a group of diverse thinkers at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to explore the notion of livelihoods in the 21st century. The task was enormous. The issues surrounding access to meaningful livelihoods impact countries rich and poor, and the underlying impediments to achieving meaningful, dignified work are numerous.
We are pleased to present the work of the Bellagio/PopTech Fellows and program catalysts in a paper entitled “Dignified Work in the Digital Age,” which outlines a meaningful structure to analyze both the key pillars of modern livelihoods and the most salient global factors affecting them in the future.
The Bellagio/PopTech Fellows Program was made possible through the generous support of the Rockefeller Foundation. To learn more about this program, or to make inquiries regarding our work on livelihoods, please email Bellagio@poptech.org.
Oh the weather outside is frightful but PopTech will be so delightful. If you’re still looking for that perfect present, consider the gift of PopTech! Today through Saturday, Dec 20, you'll receive a gift bag of fun and handy treats with your purchase of a PopTech: Hybrid $1,500 pass. With only 21 passes left at this price, now’s the time to give a loved one (or yourself, we won’t judge) a PopTech experience. Happy holidays and we'll see you in 2015!
In honor of World AIDS Day, we’re highlighting three PopTech projects and people that are making strides in HIV/AIDS prevention, awareness, testing and support.
A collaborative global health initiative that harnesses the power of the mobile phone as a high-impact, low-cost tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS and TB. Project M was first launched in 2008 in South Africa by PopTech, iTeach, the Praekelt Foundation, frog design, MTN South Africa, Nokia Siemens Network and the National Geographic Society. The popular South African record label Ghetto Ruff also committed to helping make Project M a success. Project M went on to become one of the largest uses of mobile technology for public health awareness in the world. Since launching, it has been recognized by the UN, National Institutes of Health, the Yale School of Management, and many others. This past PopTech, PopTech president Leetha Filderman sat down with former frog design president Doreen Lorenzo and Robert Fabricant to give a Project M update. Watch the team below introduce Project M at PopTech 2008.
Sinikithemba Choir is a group of HIV-positive Zulu men and women who performed at PopTech 2006. They provide support to persons with HIV/AIDS at McCord Hospital in Durban, South Africa. We were so moved by their performance at PopTech that it sparked our involvement in Project Masiluleke (above).
2010 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Kel Sheppey and his organization, Wild4Life, are focused on leveraging preexisting organizations, and especially wildlife conservation NGOs, to promote HIV testing and awareness-building campaigns in remote communities.
We're grateful for the passion and ingenuity that these members of the PopTech community bring to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Direct your Cyber Monday attention this way! Planning to join us at PopTech: Hybrid? There are less than 30 $1,500 passes left! Sign up today to save 25%.
Join us and our host John Maeda next Oct 22-24, 2015 to explore the power and possibility found in a hybrid. Hear from Eric Liu (Citizen University), Jennifer McCrea (Harvard), Eddie Opara (Pentagram), Sputniko! (MIT Media Lab), Melissa Hoffman (Rockwell Group), and others. See you then.
In the months leading up to PopTech: Rebellion, we asked some of our speakers a few burning questions. While PopTech: Rebellion has come and gone, we're still getting to know these amazing rebels who took the stage in Camden. You can join us by watching PopTech: Rebellion talks and panels on-demand. This week, you might just win some cool gifts for doing so! Tweet your favorite quote from a PopTech: Rebellion talk or panel using #KnowYourRebels by Thursday, Nov 20, 12:00pm EST. We'll choose a lucky winner at random to receive a PopTech: Rebellion bag filled with handy and tasty treats. The winner will be DMed for a mailing address.
PopTech: Rebellion participants took home new ideas, connections, and often an appreciation for our lovely state of Maine. We also packed in a few mementos for them to remember us by. By getting to know your rebels even more, you might just win one of these bags for yourself! Contents include: PopTech tote bag by eBay Inc; Hiya green tea; TCHO chocolate; Muji notebook & pen; One month of free Skillshare membership; Quirky Bandits & Carabandits; Green tea Kit-Kats & Morisawa custom Tattlys; “The Red Papers” by Tham Khai Meng.
P.S If you don’t win the PopTech bag above, you can still get something fun from our friends at Modern Industry. They’re offering 20% any purchase using code poptechrebel. Nice!
Video credit: Emily Qualey
They're here! PopTech: Rebellion may be over, but you can now re-watch your favorite moments again and again in HD. Today we’re releasing each stage talk and performance from PopTech: Rebellion, hosted by John Maeda.
Find out what had Twitter buzzing during talks from Paola Antonelli, Anil Dash and Helen Fisher. Listen to heartfelt wisdom delivered by Parker Palmer, Courtney Martin and Krista Tippett. Don’t miss the ultimate rebel tale from Andrew Cotton (think: riding six-story high waves). Hear Hiroshi Ishii talk about making atoms dance. There are so many PopTech moments to be (re)discovered. Happy watching.
(If you like what you see, join us next Oct 22-24 at PopTech 2015: Hybrid. A limited amount of $1,500 passes are still available – hurry!)
We're big fans of "Innovation Hub," a national radio program that features some of today's most creative thinkers. It's why we're excited to partner with them around PopTech: Rebellion. They joined us in Camden at the Rebellion and over the coming weeks, you'll see some of their amazing reporting cross-posted on the PopTech blog. Enjoy! (Be sure to check out their interview with Rebellion host John Maeda and piece on Rebellion speaker Joi ito.)
Read the original post on “Innovation Hub” here.
David Burstein has a simple dream. Fix American politics.
And, yes, he knows it's going to be tough. But rehabbing our sclerotic political system may be as simple as pressing rewind.
"In 1787," Burstein told PopTech 2014, "our founders came together, and they recruited the best and brightest minds they could possibly find to come together for a Constitutional Convention to figure out how to create a new system of governance, a new country that had never been seen before."
Burstein, the author of Fast Future, has written extensively about value shifts amongst his millennial cohort. And he believes young people need to shake up the political status quo.
How? Well, you start by making government a little more like Moneyball.
Burstein created Run for America, an organization devoted to recruiting new, talented candidates for office and using statistics to figure out which districts they can actually win in. That involves zeroing in on inexpensive media markets and districts with high numbers of young people. The new candidates will — according to Run for America — be on the ballot in 2016.
Ignoring political gridlock, Burstein says, is already having striking consequences. "In this election… there are actually three people who are convicted criminals who are running for election after coming out of jail. And all of them look like they're going to win. So in a system where our approval of the people in our institutions is so low, and we think they're corrupt and a bunch of crooks, it actually becomes a lot easier for someone who's actually a crook to get elected."
Listen to David Burstein talk about how millennials are different from the generations before them: