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June 13, 2011

by Mariana

On my plane ride back from D.C. to LA last week, I kept marveling about yet another first for us at Art Center: the opportunity to have a public showcase for our collaboration with the Innovation Center of Un Techo Para Mi Pais at the atrium lobby of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

from left to right: Matias Rojas, Mariana Amatullo, Penny Herscovitch, Dan Gottlieb, KC Cho, Julian Urgarte, Carolina Carrsco Barrera, Ana Maria Silva

This was the third venue for the exhibition.  Originally conceived for the Shanghai Cumulus Conference and World Expo “Better Cities, Better Life,” back in September 2010, this expanded version of the show came on the heels of a very successful display at the Royal College of Art for the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design Include 2011, their biannual conference about universal design, which this year was presided by Bill Moggridge and took a close look at design for social innovation.

Inclusivo exhibition display

Through the leadership of the Environmental Design Department, the Safe Agua Exhibition demonstrates the power of design and storytelling at their best.  Thanks to the vision of Department Chair David Mocarski and that of Penny Herscovitch and Dan Gottlieb (who are also the Environmental Design Lead Faculty of the Safe Agua project), the exhibition recreates the simple wooden framework of the media aguas, the transitional homes that the volunteers of Un Techo build throughout the 19 countries of Latin America where they are seeking to eradicate slums and make quality of life more dignified for the 200 million plus individuals throughout the continent who live at the base of the pyramid.

For the opening cocktail reception of the exhibition, I had a chance to say 2 minutes worth of remarks, which came at the tail end of those of IDB officials and were sandwiched in before a key moment in the history of the Innovation Center started by our close colleague Julian Ugarte: the signing of a multi-year treaty that should propel to scale some of Un Techo’s remarkable social innovation initiatives which range from sustainable micro-enterprises such as the Inclusivo lines of apparel and accessories to that of a low cost computer and communication portal to access internet services.

In the context of this important occasion, it was so special to tell the story of the outcomes of our collaboration with Un Techo, which has brought to scale already, and in in various ways, the designs of our students and alumni: ReLava, Ducha Halo, Mila….

ReLava by KC Cho (Product Design)

“If we are to imagine a more dignified and better future for those at the base of pyramid, we must include designers, they are after all essential to envisioning the material and immaterial forms of a more humane world.” I remember making that point and asking the audience for a round of applause to celebrate those designers from the Art Center team who were in our midst that evening: Penny, Dan and KC Cho, the designer of ReLava, which is one of the innovations from the project that will be featured in the upcoming Cooper-Hewitt exhibition “Design with the Other 90%: Cities” this fall in NY.

Back on the plane, an article I was reading on the current HBR was all about analyzing how you can outsource and amplify innovation within organizations.  The key take-away: this happens with folks who are fundamentally productive because they are driven by meaningful purpose for what they do, and hence amplify their impact.  I underlined some key words in the article:

1. Impact

2. Appreciation

3. Empathy

I had just been witness of a yet another manifestation of a project that was defined by these very same qualities and more.

Really looking forward to our Fall 2011 and the next chapter of this collaboration, Safe Agua Peru!