Stories of Change Impact Lab
Last month the Fellows packed their bags and set off for Berkeley, California! For an entire week, we were immersed in brainstorming, ideating, learning and sharing with five amazing social entrepreneurs, videographers, strategists, designers and creatives of all backgrounds. The Stories of Change Impact Lab was put on collaboratively by the Skoll Foundation, Sundance Institute and Tomorrow Partners with the goal of bringing “creative firepower to open innovative new pathways” in five inspiring organizations.
Each of these groups – Barefoot College, Imazon, mothers2mothers, Partners in Health and YouthBuildUSA – had a dedicated team of creatives and strategists focused on solving a particularly challenging issue facing their organization. Each of the Fellows (and our dean, Deborah) participated on different teams and have shared their perspectives below. We were so thrilled to have been a part of this event and look forward to seeing the impact it has generated within these five organizations.
Participating in the Stories of Change Lab was quite the adventure!
There were nearly fifty of us participants in the lab and most of us had never met each other. In the midst of the hecticness of building world-changing ideas, we tried to make time to build lasting relationships. We ate together, laughed together, even played basketball together. We shared stories from our past and empathized over common barriers within our fields…and what stories they were!
I’m still amazed how such varying life situations and experiences have all led us to a similar path. I’ve found myself in this field of social design/social change/do-goodery by way of getting expelled from school, being a devout catholic then a devout atheist, and growing closer to inner reflection―a bit wonky, huh? Talking to a few of my cohorts at the Lab, it seemed like many of us have come to social design by way of crazy careers and life choices.
Regardless of how we got there, creating sustainable change is the unifying theme for bringing us together into this community―and a community it was. While being embedded in the mothers2mothers team, I saw our group go from a set of strangers to a medley of friends. We had lively discussions and debates about everything from building family ties to the best type of chocolate in the world. Conversations like these gave us a chance to disengage from our work mind and let our play mind take the wheel, which is when our brains have the chance to make broad connections and spot unfamiliar patterns.
The broad connection we found led to our mothers2mothers team developing a toolkit of solutions for a pervading organizational problem. We spent hours hammering out a cohesive concept then even MORE hours crafting the right story to present it. I myself spent most of my time crafting a short video and helping with the presentation, which was spectacular!
I am so proud of the work that our team achieved to put out in such a quick turnaround! I was floored at the level of insight, authenticity and vigor that the rest of my teammates brought to the table. Even in the hours of uncertainty and mild fear, the team stuck by strong and pushed on together. Though, it wasn’t until the final presentation that this amazing journey truly dawned on me.
We made friends, pitched ourselves, brainstormed, ideated, drew together, shared meals, exchanged ideas, built companies and websites, and even ate chocolate together. To think…this all happened in a week!
While my year at Firebelly U is coming to a close, I couldn’t think of a better way to see it out than at the Stories of Change Impact Lab. This year has been full of new experiences, friends, and life lessons. As a social entrepreneur, I learned how to write a business plan and run a business. As a designer, I learned new techniques for collaboration and presentation. The impact lab was the perfect storm of the world I’ve been living in for the past year. It was a place where social entrepreneurs and designers united, collaborated, and designed for social impact.
As a member of the Imazon team, it was especially exciting to cut my teeth on an area that I am so passionate about―informational clarity and relevance in the social sector. Imazon’s research has the potential to end deforestation in the Amazon, a critical source of oxygen for the entire world. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get started.
I have done small workshops in the past, but nothing compared to the five day extravaganza that Tomorrow prepared. Each day was tailored just right, so that by the end of day four we had a clear direction and a solution to propose. As a designer, I went from knowing very little about the organization on day one to feeling well exposed to their challenges by day four. The best part of the process was getting to hear from the different types of people in the room. We had Imazon from Brazil, filmmakers, facilitators, designers, and so on. With all these different perspectives at play, valuable insights were added and discussion had. Everyone approached each day with an open mind and open heart, making our process exhilarating and smooth.
I enjoyed the workshop experience as a whole. I met some amazing and passionate people, who I hope to keep in touch with as our lives continue down various adventurous paths. This workshop also gave me experiences and sparked ideas that I can now bring back to Chicago and apply to my work here. All in all, it was a successful week and one that I hope to have the privilege of experiencing again.
Being part of the Tomorrow Partners Stories of Change Impact Lab was nothing more than an amazing opportunity at the most opportune time. Getting to share time with the YouthBuildUSA organization and the amazing designers that made up our team was a combination of education and passion. The YouthBuildUSA team was a mix of tenacity, talent and dedication. While the designers were a mix of thoughtfulness, patience and big-thinking. This combination was perfect―as we were tasked with bringing the problems facing education and poverty to the national conversation. Luckily, YouthBuildUSA has already been doing this for 30 years, so the designers just had to listen, learn and create a solution that would help them spread their stories across the country and the globe.
For me personally, being connected with YouthBuildUSA was serendipitous. I couldn’t help but feel a connection to the organization and their graduates. YouthBuildUSA gives high school students, in the worst situations, the opportunity to get a GED and go on to secondary education or a sustainable career path. I felt connected because I too know what it’s like to be a self-starter. In fact, this exact motivation and attitude is what has led me to the entrepreneurial space I find myself in now.
My own journey to becoming an entrepreneur has been amazing but long. Having started my career in journalism
as an editorial designer then working through the politics of a not-for-profit as an in-house designer. Then going back to grad school and being given the opportunity to teach young designers was all preparation for what ultimately lies ahead―working with unique individuals that make changing lives possible through design.
And I have learned over time, that I wanted to create strategy that improves people’s lives and getting to use those skills to help organizations like YouthBuildUSA is exactly the place I’m supposed to be in my career.
I have participated in similar design charrettes, but this lab was different. The stakes were higher and thus the reward was greater. Our team let this thinking be our north star as we focused on creating a story building platform that would allow YouthBuildUSA graduates and the nation at-large to engage in a dialogue surrounding complex issues. Working on this problem was challenging because the reach would create impact, but the audiences were diverse and many. Most importantly, though, the underlying challenge was the chance to change hundreds, if not thousands, of young lives.
Working with such a diverse group of people was incredible: the conversations were dynamic and fruitful;
leaders emerged and roles were challenged; ideas became tangible, visualized and real potential took shape.
The synergy produced work that the organization could be proud of. It was crafted by their leaders with a resounding voice directed towards an audience they needed to be invested in the most―their graduates.
They are at a critical juncture where the power in their organization is shifting from the founders to the graduates.
As the graduates continue to become successful adults, they possess the skills to lead an organization focused on providing America’s youth a unique voice to change poverty and education.
Working with the Partners In Health (PIH) team was incredible – so many bright minds and passionate individuals all in the same room. Our process began where any adventure should – trying to truly understand where they were as an organization at that moment in time. Who were they trying to reach? What obstacles stood in their way? How could they better fulfill their mission? We asked question after question and listened for the entire first day – quite a data load!
Day two brought more insights and personal stories. Cori Shepherd Stern, a film producer and agent for social change, was a vocal member of our team and had some incredible stories to share. She has been documenting PIH’s work in Rwanda and though some of her stories were heartbreaking, all of them were inspirational and filled with hope. We spent a long time understanding how these personal connections and relationships fit into the PIH model, sketching out systems and working to make their process visual. For the second part of the day we broke into smaller teams and did ‘yes,and’ style brainstorms, which introduced lots of new ideas into the group. Needless to say, we ended the day with LOTS of ideas! Mercifully, one concept stood out from the rest, and by nightfall we had agreed on a direction to pursue.
After a good night’s sleep, we began to poke holes in our “solution” and really find the problem points. Addressing these concerns was painful and exhausting (everyone just wanted the answer to be perfect and move on) but we kept at it and came up with a stronger solution for it. We probably made the most tangible progress this day, which really helped to keep people’s spirits up. As amazing as our time spent brainstorming in the rooms was, I really appreciated the opportunity to check in with some of the other teams at meal times and learn about their days, too. By day three I already felt like I was surrounded by my best friends… I guess working day and night to solve common problems will do that!
We started out day four by completely modifying our solution, as is want to happen in these sorts of brainstorming sessions! Katie, Maggie and I cobbled together a presentation with direction from the PIH team, and managed not to be the last team out of the office, despite the last minute changes in approach. We really considered how our solution would live in the real world – would the rest of the PIH organization support it? Was it a sustainable solution with a chance at longevity? How much would it cost to implement and does PIH have the personnel to maintain it? All these creeping thoughts influenced us to continually modify and tweek our solution, and I think we really could have used another week (or two) to really think through all these issues. As much as we wanted to deliver an airtight solution in one-week, that was not in the cards.
The last day was presentations and I was so proud of all the teams. Design thinking can be a very uncomfortable experience, and all five organizations clearly participated in this process to the fullest and explored new ideas without hesitation or fear. The ideas generated were inspiring, and most important, implementable.
I am so excited to see each of these organizations continue to tweak and modify the ideas generated at this workshop, and hopefully implement these solutions in the near future. Working with the PIH team was incredible, and I know they will continue transforming the global health landscape for the better way into the future.