MDES 08 - Where are we? MidPoint.

Vaila cataloguing creativity workshop ideas.
Vaila cataloguing creativity workshop ideas. Photo by Sara Martí

Every week, we bring you Masters in Design for Social Impact (MDES) happenings. This is MDES 08 by Sara Marti.

MDES students this week finish mid-presentations, polish thesis concepts, workshop social impact ideas for PCA, and attend the TechFugees Summit.

We reached midpoint. That is, our fall semester lasts 15 weeks, and week 7-8 is the midpoint. So this week we completed the mid-term for our class Research and Methodology with presentations of our thesis ideas. We joined up with the cohorts of MA Photography and Image Making and MA/MFA Transdisciplinary New Media to get peer feedback as well as an official grade for our work thus far.

The MDES breakdown:
Amy is searching for how refugees and college students can use sports as a starting point for creating community, ensuring safe space and encouraging better integration.

Hanna is debating alternative realities where minimum basic income will inherently promote a collectivistic mindset and therefore positive climate change actions as well.

Vaila dreams about debasing the fast fashion culture with creative solutions that elevate our relationship and identity with clothes. (She might have a full-on funeral for a celebrated old pair of jeans – prep the eulogy!)

Rica is building block chain ideas (internal shared databases) for empowering Brazilian favelas to have and use resources like technology, education and financing in ways that are otherwise currently limited.

And I’m looking to break dependence on the ubiquity/convenience of​ take-away plastic. I’m examining current consumer behavior, ​interacting with alternative packaging, and experimenting with​ bio-plastic creations.

Tuesday we had a workshop with social entrepreneur Adriana Bito from Honesty. The workshops are intended to grow one’s conscious in a series of self-coaching lessons into becoming wiser versions of who we already are. We started with “How are you?” as an unfolded mini-therapy session. Now I’ve gotten pretty close to these peeps by this point. And while we had a program shakeup in week 5, it only reinforced me to be fiercely protective and overly sensitive to our group dynamics. So I got choked up in this session. No lie. It made me think that maybe it’s time I stop worrying about everything turning out OK and just get on with making progress happen.

By Tuesday afternoon we watched our professor Sabine lead a group of volunteers through the MakeSense creativity workshops (they have branded these workshops ‘Hold-Ups’ since you steal ideas from others – ha!) The end goal was to create program ideas about what students at PCA could/would want to experience regarding social impact info. We are pressing heavily on Human Centered Design philosophy to understand our audience and their needs first before going into creation phase. So, watch this space.

Presenting thesis ideas in front of faculty panel. Photo by Sara Martí

Wednesday we had our last Rhino class with Alessandro. Oh, the joys of Rhino! Alessandro changed our class format from lectures to mini-lessons where he sets up a challenge and then he walks around to helping us complete it. I love this format and end up bouncing around helping and learning from my colleagues. It’s so satisfying. The classroom becomes a dynamic co-learning experience. I. Cannot. Get. Enough. I probably annoy the snot out of everyone.

The rest of the week was spent at the Techfugees Summit in Station F. If you’ve never been there, imagine an empty train station stacked on the insides with containers transformed into offices and an open space in the middle with a descending stair case leading into an auditorium. Clean, spacious, quirky – perfect for conferences.

We listened to excellent speakers on the main stage, heard social entrepreneurs pitching their ideas on the stairs, and even got to see friends from MakeSense and network with movers/shakers in the refugee arena. I only saw Amy a little bit, but I imagined her high-fiving people left and right. These are her colleagues! Ooh and they also had excellent catering with little wooden cups with wooden silverware! Made my anti-plastic heart so happy.

It was inspiring to hear how new tools and entities are coming together to solve problems. It neatly collapses society structure into more efficient partnerships! Coming from a government perspective (hi-ho former foreign service officer) I know how slow bureaucracies can be and how useful it is to have industry step in, serve up, cut through tape that sometimes government’s can’t and shouldn’t be able to do because of process and procedures that ensure safety, reliability, prevent corruption, etc. We really need people who can step up and flexibly move in ways that rigid bureaucracies cannot.

Station F alight at night after Techfugees Summit. Photo by Rica Amaral

So I’ve been living in Paris for nearly 2 years now and have gotten used to the metro commutes. But then I met Amy who comes from bike-oasis Portland and then was a NYC cyclist. She wowed me with her extremely effective defensive biking skills and inspired me to start biking a couple times a week. But I do it WITH a helmet. Without breaking rules. Without fighting cars. I’m a wimp, I know. But I’d like to think I’ll eventually be a cool cyclist too.

But as the days get shorter and darker I go back into wimp mode. So after Techfugees I took my helmet and bummed it on the #6 metro from Place d’Italie to Charles de Gaule-Etoile. I sat on the metro thinking about to-do lists and arranging thesis ideas. Somehow I managed to look up just in time to catch a shot of the Eiffel Tower sparkle at the half hour as the metro whizzed past.

Did you know that there’s still a lot of internal tension about Eiffel Tower? Most Parisians hate her. I kind of see why. She’s monstrous, doesn’t match the rest of the architecture and attracts loud, long lines of tourists. But -ah – when she sparkles you can’t help but be delighted! I would say that Paris as a whole is also a lot less ooh-la-la than tourists dream her up to be. (Yes, I’m jaded, I know. Come live here, get Parisian neighbors and then let’s talk.) But I’ll admit she does have her moments… And for that metro moment in the hustle and bustle of midpoint I truly felt romanced.

Thanks Paris. Back to work, eh?