Berlin Fellowship

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Meet Our Berlin Fellows

Our Berlin fellowship program started on Saturday 8th October where we meet our cohort of 20 incredible new fellows, all joining us for our 7-day immersive program in the wonderful city of Berlin! They came from 12 countries, for our jam packed adventure week in all things systems, sustainability and design for activating positive social change!



Aglika Georgieva

Aglika is the partner and project manager at Geomarine, a small environmental protection and natural resources consultancy company in Bulgaria. She has a background in the development of environmental and social impact assessment for large scale infrastructural projects. She has a Master's degree from Cologne University (Germany) in Media Science, Psychology and Cultural Studies, and is currently working on the thesis surrounding Environmental Protection and Sustainability at the University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy in Bulgaria. She would like to build a platform for promoting innovative and disruptive ideas of how we can make a change toward more sustainable future with our day to day involvement and behavior.

Ahmad Kalaji

Ahmad is a journalist with a degree from the University of Damascus, in the Syrian capital. He was part of several groups in Syria to spread awareness about freedom of speech and participated in protests against the Syrian regime. He had to flee the country in 2013, to Dubai, where he started working with a Syrian opposition TV station– his job led him to travel to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, where he visited refugees camps and shot news stories. Now living in Berlin, he is currently volunteering with Moabit Hilft, a local NGO that helps refugees here in Germany.

Alexis Rhyner

Lex grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, United States, and fell in love with Latin America upon her first visit to Mexico at the age of 12. She studied Spanish and Portuguese Language and Culture, traveled and volunteered throughout the continent. She was hampered by major issues such as poverty, sexism, racism, organized crime and political unrest. Inspired to take action, she is about to begin her MSc in Development and International Relations, specializing in Latin American Studies at Aalborg University in Denmark. Her hope now is to utilize the new knowledge and skills to work with locals to inspire grassroots movements throughout the continent.

Ameenah Sawwan

Ameenah is a Syrian activist and journalist from Moaddamiyeh, Syria, who has highlighted human rights violations in besieged Syrian areas. As she worked on her testimony of the chemical massacre in Damascus suburbs, she was a part of a widely published advocacy campaign in the United States. She is now producing pieces involving unique stories from inside Syria to show the face of a country no one can see now. Ameenah is a freelancer with and an editor-in-chief with the German initiative WirMachenDas.Jetzt.

Ana Carolina Falcão

Ana grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is an Industrial Designer. She was involved in a variety of social impact related projects through her school work and started using different design research methodologies and a design thinking approach to creating empathy with users and communities to improve the outcomes of her projects. She developed her thesis, “Lemba Lemba”, in partnership with UNICEF, whose purpose was to improve educational conditions of children through furniture. She continued her academic studies with a Masters in Business Design, at Domus Academy in Milan, and has been volunteering at PACO, a collaborative design studio focusing on design education and social innovation. She worked directly with the Design School for Children and also in an international challenge called “what design can do,” in which they work to integrate the refugees into their new European communities.

Anja Sisarica

Anja, from Serbia, completed her PhD in 2015 on the topic of Creativity Support in Games for Motivated Learning at City University London, Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice. She holds a BSc and MSc in Computer Science from University of Novi Sad, Serbia. During her studies, she was a visiting scholar at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy (BASILEUS EM-ECW), Bremen University, Germany (DAAD) and Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria (CEEPUS-II). Now she is working as User Researcher at Signal Media Ltd. in London, exploring how financial communications professionals interact with information when monitoring news and brands' reputations.

Brittany Myers

Born and raised in Canada, Brittany recently moved to San Francisco after spending the last decade in New York City. She is a creative strategist with a background in human-centric research, experience design and communications. Her projects have spanned a variety of categories, including product design, brand positioning, and community revitalization. In 2010 Brittany earned her MSc in Marketing in Dublin, Ireland. As a runner and climber, she's fascinated with the learning potential that challenges in extreme environments can offer. While trekking in the Everest Region in 2015, she experienced the Nepali earthquakes firsthand and it changed her life. She has since been involved in various relief and awareness efforts for Nepal, including a benefit she created to help small business owners get back on their feet. Brittany is excited to learn about how design and systems thinking can more effectively create change, and actively seeks to make this a bigger part of her work and everyday life. She is also studying psychology part-time, and currently works for a design consultancy in California.

Carla Ramírez Sosa

Carla, from Puerto Rico, graduated from Pratt Institute with a BA in Industrial Design and a minor in Sustainability Studies. She's passionate about design for social impact, and sustainable design, but also very curious about design for behavior change and transition design. As a human-centered designer and researcher, she wants to work on projects that attempt to further social, cultural and environmental goals. When she's not designing for complex problems, she feeds her love for craftsmanship by making objects, exploring different materials and learning new techniques.

Cristina Anaia

Cristina is from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and also has a Lebanese background. She recently graduated from the Industrial and Interaction Design program at Syracuse University. Over the past two years, she has been using her skills as a designer within the communities she's part of. She has been working with Beirut Design Week (BDW) in Beirut, Lebanon, promoting Lebanese design, and also been involved in a dual language program for Latin-American children and an intensive English program targeted towards resettling refugees in Syracuse, New York. In one of her projects, she explored how people learn and exchange languages, and how strangers interact at airports. She looks forward to working and exploring more about interdisciplinary design research, UX research, the relationship between language and culture, refugee resettlement, language education services, and the implementation of design thinking into school systems.

Ellen Comhaire

Ellen, from Belgium, has two master degrees– one in Graphic Design from the School of Arts Ghent and another in Moral Sciences from the University of Ghent. She's currently studying Product Design, and working with drawing movies and illustrations for organizations with 'good aims'. She worked as a counselor in three prisons, supporting prisoners through individual chats from a humanistic point of view and setting up group projects. She was also a project leader on administrative simplification (cutting red tape) in my city government– making up strategies, leading projects, giving workshops (LEAN and GTD-based), organizing events and contests for sharing and recognizing good practices. As a volunteer, she has a five years experience as an instructor in youth movements, organizing events and giving mostly playful workshops to young people; four years as board member of the Human Rights League, a supporter of several animal rights and welfare organisations, and she started a Facebook Page to support and stimulate awareness, conscious living, and solidarity.

Erin Kremser

Erin is an American multidisciplinary researcher, international program manager, and aspiring social designer. In her most recent role, Erin worked on the Foreign Fulbright Student Program, a U.S. Department of State-funded scholarship program that brings international students to the U.S. for graduate study. She is currently in the midst of a career transition and is working to better understand the use of design to shape how organizations, services, and systems are built in order to ensure more impactful social change.

Janine Sara Morton

Janine, from Australia, is the Coordinator for Community Development in Children’s Ground, Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Children’s Ground is a First Nations led organization that has a radical approach to addressing extreme inequity and disadvantage for Australia’s Indigenous community. Janine is also the founding Director of a Melbourne based not for profit, JEM - which addresses social justice issues, such as homelessness, discrimination, and everyday ethics through innovative and holistic projects, led by young people for their local community. Janine has her Master in International Health, through Monash University, her Bachelor of Ministry, and is currently over halfway through her Nursing Degree. Janine hopes to use her new-found clinical skills to compliment her public health background, with the aim to further facilitate systemic change amongst communities where there are poor health outcomes combined with inequitable access to mainstream service provision. Janine has a particular passion for women’s rights and wellbeing. Janine enjoys peppermint tea, the ocean and going camping with her husband and two beautiful children.

Jasper Ryan

Jasper is a student from Sydney, Australia, studying Civil Engineering combined with Creative Intelligence & Innovation at the University of Technology Sydney. Excited to learn, eager to play, Jasper is tired of wondering what ideas could or couldn't have worked; he wants to start challenging sticky problems and creating novel and sustainable solutions.

Lien De Ruyck

Lien is from Belgium and works as a freelance creative strategist, social storyteller, and travel journalist. She is fond of cross-industry thinking and more eager than ever to help organizations and companies to rewrite their stories. She is specialized in 360° communication strategies, innovative concepts and ‘human content,’ which she believes is the missing link between pure content marketing and human-centric design. Currently, she is designing impact-driven campaigns and concepts for clients as Welzijnszorg (tackling national poverty) and VRT Start-Up, the national public-service broadcaster for the Flemish Region and Community of Belgium. Turning slogans into reality, always striving for innovation and social impact, her big dream-in-the-making is the launch of her own creative change agency: a network-centric, purpose-driven agency that guides brands to become true human brands, striving for social impact, bringing social stories and activating citizens. She is building her own method toolkit with 4 new human marketing P's, to make that dream tangible and shareable.

Lucy (Haojia) Chen

Lucy, from Australia, studies Communication (Media Arts and Production), Creative Intelligence and Innovation, and German at the University of Technology Sydney. She is extremely passionate about education, environmental issues and loves the outdoors. In 2016, she received the Queen's Scout Award and has since continued to pursue her dreams of creating a positive change in the world through volunteering with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Greenpeace, and The Learning Project.

Lucy Chen

Lucy, from China, tells us that she grew up as a 'good kid' and now she's exploring the road not taken. A founding student at an innovative college, Minerva School at KGI, she is traveling to 7 countries to study over the course of 3 years. Currently living in Berlin, she's working on creative objects to understand concepts like nomadism and interactive empathy. She's curious and fascinated with Emotion - Cognition interactions and Learning about Learning. She believes in Design x Technology for social good. She often falls in love with questions and design starting from discomfort, disconnect, and discrepancy. She's also a nomadic photographer. Intentionally seeking serendipity and beauty, she is looking for opportunities in Education Innovation space.

Maja Juzwiak

Maja has lived in Brazil, Switzerland and the US, and traveled to Australia, New Zealand, and various countries in Asia, Europe and America. She studied international management and has a business background, but is now moving towards the marketing and start-up scene. She is passionate about photography, psychology, healthy food, extreme and 'normal' sports, adventures, traveling, and reading. Sustainability themes and cultural diversity are parts of her daily life.

Majed Almansoori

Majed, from the United Arab Emirates, is the Managing Director of Bond’s Abu Dhabi studio. He studied Electrical Engineering at Purdue University and Marketing at INSEAD. He has a strong entrepreneurial mind and is dedicated to changing the perception of design in the UAE. By bringing Bond to Abu Dhabi, he strives not only to bring Finnish creativity to the UAE but also to combine the design cultures for greater synergies. He is also the Application Marketing Specialist at Borouge, responsible for Marketing strategy development and implementation. In the past he served as Founding Partner of JSQ International Distribution. Majed was selected by the Ministry of youth to be the UAE youth representative in the 2014 World Youth Forum and 2011 UNESCO youth forum. In addition, he gave an inspirational speech at the Chechnya Youth Forum in 2015.

Priyam Vadaliya

Priyam is a design researcher and design thinker from Gujarat, India. She graduated in Industrial Design from National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad in January 2016. While studying design in a premier institute in India, and practicing design after that, she has worked on varied design projects in the Indian context, from Low Energy Lifestyles for Sustainable Living to Social Innovation in Infant Nutrition and Breastfeeding. She was recently selected for Design Now Summer School at School of Design Politecnico di Milano, which was focused around FabCity: building products and services for Urban Resilience through Manufacturing. She also worked on a project around building new economy and cryptocurrency for the city. On of her recent projects is “Innovate Inside: Towards Creative Prison Industries,” working with NID and Design Against Crime Research Centre (DACRC), UAL, London, aimed to build inmate resilience through creativity and reduce the crime rates in a city. Currently, she's freelancing and working on projects around her interest areas, which are Design for Social Change, System Design, co-creation and the idea of design from objects to a way of thinking and how it connects to different domains.

Stefan Burlacu

Stefan is a product designer from Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova. While studying Industrial Design at the Technical University of Moldova, he met a great lecturer and tutor that has helped him become the designer he is today. After his graduation, his desire to make stuff that matters was strong and he started to do what his intuition was telling him: he activated his career on a freelance basis doing product design and also graphic design. He tends to like to design objects that communicate, help people, and also have an impact on their minds in a positive way.



Berlin Fellowship Day 1

October 9, 2016


And… we’re off! The fellowship officially began Saturday afternoon when our amazing cohort of 20 fellows, who are joining us from 12 countries, met us at the Berlin Wall Memorial Strip.

Our local host, Kathleen, welcomed the group and provided some cultural and sentimental context for where we were standing — above a tunnel that connected East Berlin to the West, in front of a memorial where the wall used to stand.

Our local host, Kathleen, explains her experience with the East / West divide growing up in Berlin.

Our local host, Kathleen, explains her experience with the East / West divide growing up in Berlin.

After a short introduction to the program and the city, we walked as a (BIG) group over to our home base for the week, AHOY! In AHOY we played the longest round of one-legged stand game that we’ve played so far (with 20 fellows and 7 UnSchool team members, this was truly an endurance test). By the end, our legs were a little sore but we totally remembered the names and weird facts of everyone in the room– thanks to the cognitive trick of making something stick by learning it under more challenging circumstances (in this case having to stay coordinated and balanced on one leg while thinking, talking, remembering!).

Some coffee helped us gear up for a rapid-fire series of Pecha Kucha talks. With each person getting 3 minutes to tell us who they are, what they’re all about, what they do for love and for money, what their burning passions and current challenges are, we ran through the group getting to know everyone a bit more than their One Legged facts had revealed.

Our cohort is filled with some seriously impressive humans from a wide array of backgrounds participating in change in diverse ways in their own domains. From mountaineering, to working with non-profits supporting Syrian Refugees here in Berlin, to ceramics, to actively encouraging creative industry in the Middle East, to contributing to the slow food movement, to raising millions of dollars for nonprofits through hand drawn greeting cards, to creating conceptual stools inspired by PacMan and… the list goes on. We can’t wait to see what type of collaboration comes out of the week.

For our second adventure in large-group-travel-to-a-secret-destination, our team led fellows on a walking-metro-bus-walking journey to a surprise location: Bauhaus-Archiv, a museum and library that houses artefacts from Germany’s world famous Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus was a college of art, architecture, and design that existed from 1919 to 1933 and is regarded as the 20th century’s most import design school, founded by Walter Gropius who also designed the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin. We were lucky to get a private tour, led by the Archiv’s Scientific Specialist, Ms. Güldner. Her passion was contagious as she explained how Bauhaus tore down silos and brought together artists, designers, architects, engineers, and more to create a new vision of society– how they instigated a movement around art, design, and engineering being more than it had been previously.

One of the chairs on exhibit, designed by Marcel Breuer, really struck us. Despite being nearly a hundred years old it seemed to be just as contemporary and modern as any chair you might buy today — and if you wanted something like this you might expect it to cost thousands of dollars. But, Breuer’s chair, when designed in 1925 was intentionally functional and affordable– the vision was to create beautiful household items that every German family could afford.

Our visit to Bauhaus-Arhiv and guided tour reinforced themes that we will continue to explore throughout the week including a critical approach to the products we bring into the world and the role that these products play in the lives of everyday people. We love the concept of creativity being a catalyst for something more than the institutions want it to be, and Bauhaus was one of the inspirations for the UnSchool, so we were thrilled to get to explore the archive, history and spirit of it.

BauHaus Re Use

BauHaus Re Use

The tour wrapped up at BauHaus Re Use, a building constructed with materials from the original Bauhaus in Dessau, where our team had set up for a surprise evening of drinks and tapas.

Surprise tapas at BauHaus Re Use

Surprise tapas at BauHaus Re Use

After a night of spirited conversations and a few spontaneous dance moves, we called it a day and left Bauhaus to rest up for Day 2.

Berlin Fellowship Day 2

October 10, 2016


After a fueling up with breakfast (Kathleen made waffles!) and coffee, we kicked off Day 2 with what felt like a collective birthday party – everyone shared treats and gifts from their homes and shared a bit about where they’re coming from.

After a fueling up with breakfast (Kathleen made waffles!) and coffee, we kicked off Day 2 with what felt like a collective birthday party – everyone shared treats and gifts from their homes and shared a bit about where they’re coming from.


We then dove straight into a session on what sustainability *actually* is. Leyla broke down green framing, why the doomsday perspective of sustainability and fear framing are problematic, life cycle assessments, end of life bias, and more. Here are a few key notes:

·         Sustainability is not about hugging trees. (Here’s a case for reframing it.)

·         People tend to have an emotional reaction to sustainability instead of a rational one but we are in a “dynamic interconnected reliant relationship with nature” so it’s really something we ought to think rationally about. Eating breathing and drinking water are not optional choices, they are life support systems for us – not protecting them is irrational.

·         Sustainability is about understanding how to make the best decisions with the resources we have to sustain life support systems on this planet. This, is a matter of intragenerational and intergenerational equity as, to quote the Brundtland Commission, sustainable development is really “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

·         We live in a finite planet with finite resources. Your ecological footprint reflects how many planets we’d need to not use more resources than we have, if everyone on earth were to live your lifestyle. Thinking about yours helps you connect your lifestyle to the impact of all the individual decisions you make in terms of consumption. (You can calculate yours here: )

·         We humans tend to have an end of life bias, because that’s the part we see. Waste is framed as bad and stupid – we are taught not to litter and are encouraged to recycle. While we shouldn’t litter and should recycle (or aim to be zero waste!), often waste and end of life is not where the biggest impact is.

“Simple and painless” actions often don’t lead to the positive spillover (of people doing more and more, better and bigger actions) that organizations and government’s hope for. On the contrary, these simple and painless behaviour changes may allow for people to check their “did my part” box and excuse them from taking other more meaningful actions – they could even lead to a rebound effect (think about someone recycling to “do their part” but then consuming more plastic bottles because they think it’s okay because they recycle).

When our sustainability session came to a close we dove into a session on Systems Thinking, exploring how it overcomes the human reductionism that comes out of linear thinking (the Newtonian view of the world). To quote Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  

Leyla stressed the importance of developing a 3-dimensional perspective– of being able to look down through the microscope at the micro level, up through the telescope and out through a periscope to get the lay of the land. Systems thinking stresses seeing the parts and the whole (whereas reductionism sees the world in parts) and embraces the fact that everything (EVERYTHING) is interconnected. If we fail to see the connections and come up with narrow solutions we risk a whole lot of unintended consequences. As Peter Senge has said, “Today’s problems are often yesterday’s solutions.”

With all of that in mind, we did an activity where everyone had to list all the systems they could think of. While it was fairly easy to think of social and industrial systems, people struggled to identify ecosystems after the first few. This remade the point that Leyla rose in the morning – that we tend to be disconnected from how reliant we are on natural systems.

Fellows chose different social systems and worked to map them intuitively. After mapping elements of their chosen system that they could think of and then began drawing connections between them. Considering the connections, they were able to draw some key insights about the system they were mapping. Reflecting on the exercise, we discussed how almost every node could be connected, how many connections have cause and effect relationships, and how reinforcing feedback loops have snowball effects within their systems.

With our heads recalibrated to see the invisible systems all around us, we headed out for another surprise field trip. After a pause en route to briefly discuss Checkpoint Charlie (as we passed it), we ended up at MIITO’s design studio. Partners Nils Chudy and Jasmina Grase welcomed us with tea and then dove into a talk on their journey from design students to designers. Their journey (and coincidentally, seeing Leyla's TED Talk!) led them to their current project: MIITO Precise, an award-winning energy-efficient (and really beautiful) electric kettle that heat liquids directly in the vessel through induction.

Did you know that 165 million cups of tea are consumed every day and 65% of tea drinkers admit to overfilling their kettles? The cumulative outcome of extra energy required in 1 day could light all of England’s street lights for 6 months! This was something that we had discussed in our systems thinking session, so it was exciting to meet two designers who are actively working on addressing this.

Jasmina said that the “Biggest challenge as a designer is to change human habits.” They knew that with MIITO their approach would have to be more than just sustainable. They sought out to create a new type of kettle that would be a conversation starter, not only energy efficient but also cool, beautiful, fun to use, and rewarding on a personal level. (Which we’d say they totally pulled off – the MIITO kettle is super sleek.)


As they shared their process, they also gave our fellows some advice:

·         Learning = motivation. See the whole experience as an adventure. Make life your school and give yourself assignments to DO things and learn from them as you go.

·         “Fake it till you make it – test your revolution.”

·         “Time is luxury – innovation takes time that we don’t have.”

·         “Astronaut thinking – take it one problem at a time.” When you’re dealing with what seems like an impossible situation or an overwhelming amount of obstacles – tackle them one at a time and it will become doable.

With MIITO's redesign of the tea kettle as inspiration, fellows were asked to rethink other machines. Groups were formed and each one chose their challenge blindly (from some very mysterious bags).

Groups were asked to consider what flaws their product have, who the primary users are, if it was a necessary item, how it could be less wasteful and if it could be replaced. After some work-time, teams dynamically pitched their redesigns of a speaker system, a blow dryer, a fan, and an iron.

From MIITO, we split into two groups and embarked on walking tour adventures throughout the city, which invited our fellows to see the city through different perspectives.

One of the walking tours was led by Klaus and Louis, from Querstadtein, a German organization which aims to break down the stereotypes about homelessness by telling the individual stories of those living on the street while creating a dialogue between the homeless and the housed people that share communities. Klaus, who lived on the streets of Berlin from 2001 to 2009, shared his personal story, the circumstances that forced him to live on the streets, his day to day experience of getting by, and how he was able to get off the streets and rebuild his life . After struggling with alcohol addiction and losing his job, Klaus found himself sleeping in a park in central Berlin. This became his life for 8 years and, now that he’s on the other side of it, he gives tours like these to help lift the invisibility veil and bust through people’s assumptions.

Klaus walked us through his old neighborhood and helped us understand his daily routine, how he got by collecting glass bottles and the social services that he interacted with. He also shared touching stories about people in the neighborhood who got to know him and gave him the support and encouragement that helped him move into a shelter and then become sober again. Our tour with Klaus helped us understand the people and systems that too often get overlooked, while experiencing Berlin from a unique perspective.



Berlin Fellowship Day 3

October 11, 2016


We started off the morning with a continuation of systems mapping, led by Leyla. She went over some systems mapping tools and stressed the importance of understanding causality ("That's just the way it is" is bullshit! There is always something leading to something else!). We explored feedback loops, tragedy of the commons, burden shifting and rule breaking, and then we dove into the 9 Rules of Systems Thinking. The session reinforced the idea that small changes can lead to big change if you understand the systems and take advantage of the leverage points (think trim tab!).


Then we were joined by mentor Rym Momtaz, who shared her experience as a producer for ABC and led a fascinating conversation around the connections between things like Brexit, World War II and the current Syrian war. Rym talked about the role that journalists and storytelling play historically and in the contemporary landscape. She talked about how in the past her press jacket would serve as protection in war-torn places, but now it makes for a target.


In sharing her experiences of exploring ways to flip the narrative, Rym asked each of the fellows to take 5 minutes to write a narrative introduction to themselves, as if it were written by a journalist. Fellows then paired up, swapped their stories and interviewed each other. Rym facilitated a wonderful group conversation where people shared their insights about each other and teased out the ways in which we can use narrative to build empathy and shift the status quo.

While doing Rym's narrative experience we started to smell something savory and delicious: a vegan laksa that the UnSchool team cooked up! We loaded our bowls up and enjoyed a very yellow and tasty lunch, fueling up for our next session with our mentor Janet Gunter, an American/British activist, Anthropologist and co-founder of The Restart Project.

Janet shared her personal narrative, everything from playing unsupervised as a child to her time living in East Timor to her current work now. She challenged us to explore our relationships with the natural world and think about our "way in" to sustainability – as she says if we are to really embrace it it's necessary to have a “personal” connection with it.

Janet's connection, and her outrage with planned obsolescence, led her to start the Restart Project– "a people-powered platform for change, helping demand emerge for more sustainable, better electronics".  After hearing about what goes on behind the scenes of planned obsolescence, fellows were given various electronic products, tools (screwdrivers, pliers, etc.) and were asked to take apart their products, documenting each step of the way and looking at how each material is made (we had some visual guides to explain various technical components and resources that go into different materials!).

A lot of fellows were surprised by how hard it is to break a product down – screws are hidden, obscure tools were required etc. The activity also demonstrated how incredibly difficult Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can be because it requires a deep understanding of very complex manufacturing processes (though existing online data can make it easier to make estimates and assumptions on it).

After wrapping up the product tear down debrief, Leyla jumped right into a rapid-fire introduction to gamification (really rapid as we had just 10 minutes before we needed to depart on our next adventure!). She shared strategies for creating gamified experiences that engage participants, involving a mix of mechanics, mechanisms, modes and motivators.  Fellows were then grouped into teams and each team was given a unique, random, design-a-game challenge:

"Design a ______ for  _____ that incorporates _____. The purpose of your game is to teach someone else one of the new learnings you had this week."

Each team drew cards from 3 different buckets to fill in the blanks for their challenge and had less than an hour to design a game and prepare their demo for the group. Because we had to move on to the next destination, teams had the added challenge of designing their games while riding the metro.

After a couple metro delays and twists (fellows didn't seem to notice or mind because they were so engaged with their game design!) we made it to our next destination: BSR Headquarters. Their Head of Innovation talked us through how the company manages Berlin's waste (ALL of it!)– which is really quite fascinating. From designing waste disposal products and processes to be accessible to people who are physically challenged, to working to overcome issues with people separating waste, there is really much more creativity that goes into waste management than one might think. We got to go on a mini-tour of the innovations they're currently working on and learned about challenges, the future of waste management, as well as end-of-life stage in general (it's not every day you see where garbage goes after you bag it and hand it off!)

Back at Ahoy, each team had 2 minutes to demo their games– there were a lot of laughs and claps involved. Teams used creative ways to role play their game experiences, which ranged from TV game shows about storytelling to a systems thinking card game, to an app children could play to understand the materials that go into their products. Interestingly, no two groups chose the same learning to focus on!

The games were the official end point of Day 3, though most fellows went out on group dinners together.



Berlin Fellowship Day 4

October 12, 2016

Day 4 was one that exercised our bodies as much as our minds…. We walked 12.5 km together before the day was done! We spent the first few hours of the day on an incredible “Urban Commons Tour” which started out at Prinzessinnengärten, a vibrant urban vegetable garden and community space. After exploring the garden and learning about its origins (it used to be a wasteland) and aspirations, we explored Tempelhofer Feld which used to be an airport and is now an amazing public park.

Our last stop on the tour was Am-Urban, an old hospital that was transformed into a “Bau-Gruppe” (co-living space) thanks to 140 parties pulling their resources together, buying the vacant hospital and then working together to codesign it (quite a feat to co-design with input from over 100 people!).

The walking tour – which has since been referred to as “the most epic walking tour ever” – led us to Malzfabrik, a former brewery turned into creative event space. We ate a farm-fresh lunch family style on a table long enough to accommodate all 25 of us. After warming up and filling up, we walked next door to visit EFC Farm, an aquaponics farm that produces resource-friendly and high-quality food for the local community. We sampled some of their delicious tomatoes and learned about their use of aquaponics, an environmentally friendly food production method that combines aquaculture and hydroponics. We saw how their dual circulatory systems allowed the farm to grow fresh vegetables and raise fish in a mutually beneficial way.

Back at AHOY we had a mentor session with Julia Kloiber, an activist who leads open data projects in collaboration with the government, private sector, and civic tech community. She discussed the need to overcome the “geek bubble” in tech and coding and to be more inclusive. This led to an interesting conversation on designing with people instead of for people. Julia ended the session by having the fellows practice a stakeholder mapping activity and apply the technique to projects they are currently working on.

Fellows thought they were going to a restaurant but we led them through the garden at AGORA (a center for contemporary practices) and up a few flights of stairs that opened onto our secret dinner party. Lights were low, candles were lit, music was playing, wine was opened, and all seemed fit for a relaxing romantic evening… until the team announced an experimental dinner game that was designed as a fun way to explore tough global environmental issues: "So You Think You Can Design?"  

Our alumna cohost, Mariana, had been invited to participate in Low Carbon City Forum (which is happening now in Medellín, where she lives) and, with the forum as inspiration, she was challenged to designed a game that would connect our Berlin fellowship to it. She adapted Designercise and created a ridiculous and fun TV game show of sorts wherein teams were challenged, throughout rounds, to design a solution in response to a sustainability-related problem.  The initial challenge didn’t seem too tough, but 5 minutes into it, the team announced that there was a roadblock– a new scenario was added to their problems. The game continued over a delicious veggie-packed Turkish dinner that our team has cooked up, and our team continued to add layers of complexity to the game. In addition to a LOT of laughs, the game encouraged fellows to stretch their brains, practice rapid prototyping and evolve new techniques in storytelling (after a half hour they were informed that they would have to perform their ideas without breaking their assigned character roles!).

Lots of fun was had, the team adopted alter-egos and became the judging panel, and the dinner room was turned into an electrified stand-up space of sorts. Teams gave 5-star performances as they acted out their problems and proposed solutions, incorporating and overcoming the roadblocks they were given. Ideas ranged from cross-species collaboration to bee farms to weather-related family planning. At the UnSchool we are really into pushing boundaries through experimenting with challenges and mixing up the status quo, so this dinner really allowed for the fellows to see idea diversity in action.

Berlin Fellowship Day 5

October 13, 2016

Fellows started off Day 5 exploring in two groups. Kathleen's group walked along the Spree River, with Jan, the co-founder of the Flussbad project, which is working to make the river swimmable again. Up until the 1920s the Spree River was a community space used for bathing but it was shut down as the river became too polluted via industrial waste and personal litter. The project is about much more than swimming and fun (though it welcomes that as well with its annual test swims!) as it has a strong political dimension: It is about reclaiming the city center for Berliners, and making public water accessible to the public again.

Whereas a lot of the city's funds and efforts are being directed towards projects that remember the past, and Flussbad's project – filtering the water and building a shore so it can be reached – is one that looks towards a sustainable future.

Leyla's group went on an Observational research excursion through Alexanderplatz, looking out for and taking notes of all the systems and design decisions around them. (Trampolines built into the street were a definite highlight – a great example of how play can be embedded into the city landscape!) One fellow said that this observational research activity "blew her mind and rearranged the way she thought about the world."

Back at Ahoy, after everyone had a chance to fuel up (coffee! snacks!), Leyla dove into a hybrid session that combined 3 key modules of the Disruptive Design Methodology: Making Change, Cognitive Science, and Language & Influence . We explored what motivates people, walked through various theories on behavior change, effective PR(opaganda) campaigns, some cognitive science and more. Did you know that oxytocin (the "love hormone") and cortisol (the "stress hormone") regulate each other? (So if you’re incredibly stressed out and your cortisol levels are high, you can lower your stress by seeking out oxytocin; an 8-second hug will do the trick!)

One key take-away from the session was that it is a waste of energy to focus on changing somebody’s behavior; if you want to change people’s behaviors you have to understand the systems they operate in and change the norms that they subscribe to.

Before wrapping, fellows did a quick partner activity based on word-associations, revealing the power of language and building empathy.

After lunch, we had a very interesting session with our mentor Nynke Tromp, a social designer who is passionate about the power of design in counteracting social problems. She invited us to question what "normal" behaviors are, and how design mediates our relationship with the world. (What's the difference between normal behaviors in an abnormal world and abnormal behaviors in a normal world??) She shared some thought-provoking insights on our self-oriented attitudes and made a  case for how a more social-oriented mindset is beneficial not only for people around us, but also for ourselves.

We reflected on how every-day products end up changing our routines and, on a bigger scope, our lives.  Then it was workshop time! Fellows worked in teams and explored different ways in which design could be used as a key tool for creating change around issues like obesity, aging populations, organ donation and vaccination.  She spent time with each of the groups giving on-point feedback to help them adjust and reframe ideas.

We wrapped the day with a reflection session and tried to keep a mellow vibe as the fellows were pretty exhausted at this point. Sitting in a large circle, our alumni co-hosts, Adam (NYC Fellowship) and Mariana (Mexico City Fellowship), facilitated a group conversation about activities and learnings from the week. Next, each fellow did an individual reflection and wrote down some of their most valuable learnings. They shared with partners and identified shared lessons. The sheer variation and quantity of sessions throughout the week gave each participant a lot to think about, and the synthesis that began to happen during the reflection revealed many interesting ideas and connections.

Before everyone left for the day, we dropped one more surprise on them… the 24 Hour Design Challenge! Leyla introduced the challenge (24 hours to use the disruptive design methodology in a real-world setting), gave them a brief overview of the client, SINGA Deutschland (a local organization that supports refugees in Berlin) and put the group into teams. The challenge officially kicks off in the morning with pitches happening 24 hours later, so the fellows left Ahoy with a free evening to explore Berlin together (or go home and sleep).  

Berlin Fellowship Day 6 & 7

October 15, 2016


The 24-hour design challenge had been introduced the night before, and finally in the morning teams got what they had all been waiting for… the brief! The UnSchool team had worked with the challenge partner, SINGA Deutschland, to craft a brief that included a problem statement, constraints, requirements and background information that the fellows would have to work with while applying the disruptive design methodology to come up with an intervention for positive change.

SINGA supports refugees coming to Germany and connects them with locals to work on projects together, with a particular focus on helping refugees build businesses. One of the major challenges that SINGA faces, which the fellows had to address, is how bureaucracy and systems inhibit access to key services that people need to settle in and really live and grow (professionally and personally) here in Europe. For example, newcomers can not rent apartments, can not get credit, etc. Vinzenz from SINGA came to Ahoy in the morning of Day 6 to introduce the organization and answer questions that the fellows had about the brief. Then teams were given their own temporary offices here at Ahoy and the 24 hour countdown timer began!

As minutes and hours ticked away, teams applied various approaches to exploring the systems and agents tied to the problem. Walls and table were covered with systems maps, stakeholder maps, storyboards, and more (Edding had generously provided us with these amazing “magic-charts,” large static writing sheets that cling to surfaces and can be erased and reused!).  Emotions were high as teams worked under the clock, to tease out leverage points, resolve team dynamic challenges, ideate ways that SINGA could intervene to increase access for refugees, and prototype their best ideas.

Leyla and team members made rounds throughout the afternoon and night, agitating teams to embrace the messiness, reframe, “cut through the frothy stuff” and prototype with something physical. At midnight we called it a night at AHOY – teams were given free range of what to do next (work through the night or get some sleep to have an early start). At 8:15 we were back at AHOY and back in action. Fellows did “working breakfasts” and prepared for practice pitch and feedback sessions with Leyla.

When the 24 Hours were up, fellows had to pitch their ideas for interventions to a panel of judges, which included Vincenz, from SINGA.

Fellows gave engaging presentations on a range of interventions and received critical feedback from the judges. After they were, done a judge’s choice was announced and then ellows moved about the room to select a popular choice winner. We then popped some champagne to celebrate and gave out prizes!

After celebrating, we had a delicious vegetarian lunch, cooked by a Syrian catering company here in Berlin (thanks to SINGA for the recommendation!). After satisfying our post-challenge hunger, we dove into a reflection session, led by our alumni co-hosts, and looked back on all 7 days of our adventure together.

Now that you read about the week, watch the doco we made on the people who come to the UnSchool