Instruments of change

Instruments of change

Land fillharmonic is an absolutely beautiful film. Watching it last week at the Take One Action Film Festival, I expected a heartwarming tale of human ingenuity, turning garbage into musical instruments. The documentary was so much more than that. 
It takes us from the ochestras inauspicious beginings, a worker in the landfill using his craft skills to make instruments for the free music classses to the heights success, performing around the world for world leaders and with icons such as megadeath and then back down again, with the realities of living in a flood site with the effects of global warming. All through this we see the community not just the kids, their families, neighbours, friends, taking control of their destiny, dreaming and building their community.

I loved that there was never the sense of the orchestra leader/ teacher Chavez as a hero coming to save the kids. He was working with the community like a true conductor. As an instrument, reacting to and channeling the world around him, creating synchronicity to bring something new and great into the world.

Chavez spoke about the change he was seeking when he first started working in the community. He’d thought that changing the environment could change peoples lives. However the reality made him realise that this change would need to be at the source, the people creating the waste that they were living in. It’s the unintended consequences, our choices can affect people on the other side of the world, the mountains of waste, and global warming are just some of these effects.

He remembered the effect music had on him as a child and wanted to give the kids in the community an opportunity to experience this. Culture is a “human need” as he said. The orchestra allows the teenagers to grow not just as musicians but also as individuals. Learning about emotional and physical maturity. It unites the community, working together to make things better for all.

Another thing that struck me was the need to create opportunities. You would never know that these young people could be talented musicians if they weren’t given the chance to try. I was incredibly moved when one of the girls said thanks for giving us the opportunity to dream. It’s especially poignant after watching Viola Davis’ amazing Emmy speech. “The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else black is opportunity.”Opportunity in many cases is the great divide.

Fantastic movie all around. Definately watch it if you get the opportunity.

The Civic Shop_ shopping for good

The Civic Shop_ shopping for good

Based in the new wing of Somerset House the Civic Shop is a retail space that “showcases the work of a new generation of civic activists and social designers – inventors of new public spaces, new economies and champions of public good in everyday life.” It is run by a group of people looking at ways to reframe our everyday experiences, socially and physically. The group includes, Cassie Robinson, Snook,Women’s Engineering Society and Future Gov.


They explore and question the relationship between the commercial and civic sphere. By civic they refer to public space and how that is becoming more and more privatised and commercialised today. Community centres and public libraries are shutting down, even town squares are being closed off. Civic functions are starting to take notes from corporate spheres in order to increase “efficiency” and “productivity”.

The store is designed to encourage people to explore questions such as “Has the world of commerce encroached too much on our civic spaces, and how much do we care?” There are items for sale as well as things that are free and the money generated goes back to the causes that inspired the products. It is interesting that they use a familiar typology, retail, as a way to engage and inform the public about social and civic initiatives as well as to question what is happened around us. Cassie also makes a weekly podcast, which explores the wider discourse.


Here are some of the participants

A-Z Genova Project

A-Z Genova Project– 26 Urban interactions in 2 days. The project explored Genova as a city in decline, where the built environment is increasingly seen as a challenge. The interest was in how interpretation shapes our reality, and ways to adapt perception to mediate change. Taking inspiration from an Italian phrase used to call for change, “Cambiare dalla a alla zeta / Change from a to z”, the city was framed using the alphabet. Each letter identifying theme of the city, with an interaction created to make a new perspective. For example the response for G for Gardens was to create mini gardens.

A-Z genova project

Dearest Scotland

Dearest Scotland is an apolitical campaign crowdsourcing future visions of Scotland for a common good. They ask people to write a letter “dearest Scotland” to the future citizens of the country. Be it literal, fictional, poetic or metaphoric. Run by Snook in Glasgow, letters are collected, published and shared with the world. The aim is to give citizens a platform to share their thoughts and voice that is often not shown in the media. They recently successfully ran a crowdfunding campaign to raise £10,000 of funding to publish a book of Dearest Scotland letters.



Started by the Noun Project, KindSigns is a movement using signage as a force for good. The Noun Project is on a mission to create, share and celebrate the worlds visual language. They started KindSigns a series of open sourced design workshops where participants get the chance to create their own personalised KindSign and place it at a location they choose and inspire others around them.


Mariana Amatullo_ Interview at Impact Design Hub

Mariana Amatullo_ Interview at Impact Design Hub

with a sense of new mastery comes the realization that a boundless set of possibilities open up…and you do wish to do your best to honor that promise.


I recently saw this brilliantly insightful interview of Mariana Amatullo on Impact Design Hub. Mariana Amatullo speaks of designing for social change and impact and imparting on young designers the skills needed to do this.

Marian Amatullo is a writer, educator, speaker and student of design and social impact. She is Vice President and co-founder of the Design Matters department at At Center College of Art and Design. Her practice focuses on the intersection of design and social innovation.

Some excerpts from the interview

Mariana on the effect of social impact design projects failing

In the design for international development arena for example, we can point to a number of “shiny objects” and programs designed with all the best intentions that have failed; they do leave an open wound for all of us. For me they stand out as a reminder of why it is a good idea to not be timid or apologetic, but informed and thoughtful in this space.

On the Safe Agua Initiative a project where students travel to low-income communities in Latin america and co-create to design innovative technical solutions that aim to over come some of the social issues that come from water poverty.

The initiative has resulted in award-winning products and incubated student-led social enterprises, which has been remarkable. But it has also pushed us to experiment with different frameworks for collaboration, field research and participatory design methods that have been quite influential across the board in our undergraduate curriculum.  

Her thoughts on 5 things we know about working in the world of social innovation

1. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the name of the game.

2. The ability to learn from mistakes matters.

3. This is not work for the faint of heart.

4. Social innovation work can surprise you—for how addictive it is.

5. (And my all-time favorite): The sky’s the limit!

Mariana’s 5 things we have yet to know about the working world in social innovation

1. Design for scale.

2. Deal with the importance of measurement and evaluation.

3. Keep designers involved in the implementation of the social innovation.

4. Open up more entry points and design pipelines for the next generation of designers to contribute.

5. Overcome resource constraints and pay designers (handsomely) for this work.

Check out the rest of the interview on Impact Design Hub’s blog

Quote // What change are you trying to make?

Quote // What change are you trying to make?

It has never been easier to figure out who your audience is, who you’re gonna change and what work you’re gonna do that’s gonna matter

“what change are you trying to make in your customers and in their work? change in a way that creates more beauty, change that create more difference, its more important that we do work that’s important than work thats pretty”

Seth Godin, Creative Mornings talk

9 Women Who Are Rocking Public Interest Design

9 Women Who Are Rocking Public Interest Design

alt= 9PIDwomen

Image via… Impact Design Hub

9 Women Who Are Rocking Public Interest Design.

Inspiring article on Architizer about the women who are changing the world through public interest design. From teaching young girls to weld, to designing prisons and working in impoverished settlements. I will definitely be exploring their work and finding out more about why and how they do it. Keep an eye on this space!
Emily Pilloton: Founder and Executive Director of Project H Design
Julia King: Sanitation specialist working in India’s informal settlements and the Architecture Journal’s 2014 Emerging Woman Architect of the Year
Erin McGurn: Co-Founder & Executive Director of SCALEAfrica
Liz Ogbu: Social design innovator and consultant who tackles “wicked social problems”
Marika Shioiri-Clark: Co-founder of MASS Design Group and Principal at SOSHL Studio
Emilie Taylor: Senior Program Coordinator and Design/Build Manager at Tulane City Center
Chelina Odbert: Co-founder and Executive Director of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Deanna VanBuren: Principal and Design Director of FOURM Design Studio and 2013 Loeb Fellow at Harvard GSD } The largest collection of womens stories } The largest collection of womens stories

I have spent the last couple of days on watching inspiring stories of women that have and are changing the world. It contains documentaries on the feminist movement, on women in different fields like comedy, hollywood and business and short individual stories like Nancy Lublin, CEO of youth change organisation Do Something.

alt= Nancy Lublin

“Never be too proud or too busy to pick up a penny in the rain. There’s opportunity everywhere, there’s value in everybody. Its all good even that penny in a puddle” Nancy Lublin, CEO Do Something

How to make giving more enjoyable

How to make giving more enjoyable


I was recently speaking to a friend about why giving to charity can feel so difficult. We chatted about the Christmas guilt where you realise that you are buying so much and getting so much, yet many people have very little. In response she’d given some money to a charity but it had felt flat. It all reminded me of the recent Seth Godin blog post article Cutting through Singers Paradox. In which he describes Singers Paradox, that saving a child drowning of you is a moral imperative yet saving a child dying on the other side of the world seems less so. The key difference being the immediacy. The impact of seeing a child dying in front of you and the gratitude that you would receive.

So how could a charity/ non profit bring this feeling of immediacy to far away situations? how can people feel that they are making a change by giving. The scale of the problems that charity’s or other non profits are tackling often seem so great that whatever we can give, be it time or money feels too little. Since joining a non profit design organisation, the question of how we could make the act of giving more enjoyable has come up over and over again. Because as Joey from Friends says “there’s no selfless good deed.” We all give because it makes us feel good.

A key part is creating a connection between the act of giving and the end result or the positive change. A type of 1:1 effect. Where the amount donated is linked to a specific result. An organisation that does this brilliantly is Charity: Water. For every donation you make, no matter how big or small, you receive a full breakdown and report of where the money has gone and how it has helped. This creates a connection between with the person you’ve helped, bringing it back to that human connection that we all desire. They have found a way to use information to connect and to create transparency.

Another way of imparting the pleasure of giving I’ve observed is through awareness raising activities. One of the reasons for the popularity of volunteerism and challenges such as the iron man is that they bring that immediacy of helping which seeing a drowning child in front you does. They force us out of our comfort zone and engage us in an action that has a positive reaction. You can see the issue and contribute to solving the problem. Which in turn makes us feel more engaged than just giving money.

Finally recognition is another important part. For example part of the success of the ice bucket challenge was that by nominating 3 friends you gained not only the pleasure of being recognised for the good thing that you were doing but also involved your friends and family in the act of giving. Again this is something that Charity: Water have understood. They encourage you to donate your birthday or wedding or life event, thereby creating a community of givers.

We are intrinsically social beings, with a desire to fit in. So by encouraging a culture of giving by involving those close to us and highlighting the resulting stories of change and impact. I believe that the act of giving can be made more immediate and therefore more engaging and enjoyable.