I remember the first time I spoke to Rodrigo Muñoz, four years ago, on a Skype call from Quito to Manhattan. He was rock-solid in his conviction for what he wanted to do with his life: improve education in his country. His optimism during that conversation was as bright as the sun-washed equator on which he lives.
As ready as he was to dive into DSI, though, his patience, was tested when his paperwork and visa caused him to delay enrollment for a year. Where many would have given up or wandered off in another direction, Rodrigo stayed the course, making friends remotely with the DSI team and many of the other students in the cohort. He never gave up his plan.
During his time at DSI, Rodrigo engaged (with an equal measure of optimism) in many programs and projects, trying on different ideas for careers after graduation. As luck, or irony, or simply his determination would have it, though, Rodrigo landed where he thought he would. He’s now home in Ecuador after graduating last June, teaching at the school from which he got his undergraduate degree.
Universidad San Francisco de Quito is an excellent school, the first liberal arts institution in the Andean Region. Its curriculum brings together business, science, Eastern studies and the arts, ideas and cultural influences from around the world on a youthful, energetic campus that feels like an intellectual version of an Olympic Village. It somehow makes sense that the school’s mascot is a red dragon.
I met Rodrigo in Quito for a design conference the school hosted called Verticé a few weeks ago. Over the course of a very long first day, I gave a lecture – a broad overview of social design – we then facilitated a workshop where seventy-two students engaged with local social enterprises to design solutions for local food system challenges, then finished the day with a recruiting event, inviting more Ecuadorian students to come to the program.
Over the course of the day, our hope was that students would learn about the practice and potential of social design as a career, have a taste of putting the tools to work on ideas that were important to them, and then getting a glimpse inside a program where they could become leaders of social design themselves.
The students were excited, engaged, curious and ultimately impressive in the way they adopted the ideas and practices of social design. And while we have no illusions about how much of this complex discipline can be absorbed in a day, what we do know is that eight hours is plenty of time to fall in love with a potential direction for your own future. We hope to see many of the students we met at DSI in the next few years.
Most rewarding perhaps, was to see Rodrigo in action, and to have the opportunity to partner with him at this event. He was a brilliant translator, not only of my dreadful Spanish, but of his own ideas and the experience he’s earned, and of the excitement for making other people’s lives better through education, of which he has never lost sight. Congratulations and thank you Rodrigo.
Thank you also to everyone I met in Ecuador, from the University of San Francisco de Quito, to my new friends at the Neblina Forest, to the guides and scientists at the school’s Biodiversity Center in Tiputini, deep in the Amazon jungle. Judging by my experience, everyone in Ecuador is warm, welcoming, intelligent and kind. Ecuador is a country of many natural and human riches.