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Five Fundamental Things Every Change-Maker Should Know

Faculty Marc Rettig and Hannah du Plessis teach our first-year course Fundamentals of Design for Social Innovation, which explores the skills needed to be an actor in social innovation, including change models, facilitation, relationships, team building and leaning into uncertainty. Marc and Hannah have structured their course as part lab and part discussion, and there is a strong emphasis on dialogue, discussion, and learning to see through new perspectives.

Hannah du Plessis says of the course: “We take this question seriously: “What are the fundamentals that you need to succeed as a change-maker?” Through our own work, through learning from others, and through teaching grad students and teams in organizations, we’ve come to believe that there are five fundamental things every change-maker should know. These include:

Learn how to cultivate change inside yourself
How you show up shapes the world. if you can shed what is unhelpful and learn to nurture what is life-giving and powerful in yourself, you become part of the change we need.
Learn how to cultivate strong relationships.
Change is created together. If you can foster respectful relationships and honest communication, you can weather the journey together.
Learn how to face what is hard
Much of what we want to change has deep roots of oppression and trauma. If you can learn how to acknowledge inequity and harm, or sit with pain, guilt and shame, you can do transformative work.
Learn how to host transformative conversations
The small group is the unit of change. If we can learn how to gather people across differences and help them have conversations that matter, we can help people see and reconnect to each other, heal, align to their common purpose and create their better future together.
Learn how to participate in system shifts
System shifts take years or generations. If we learn to engage communities in co-creation and stand in the slow arc of change, we can take our place in the emergence of an equitable and sustainable world.

Each fundamental is a deep wide pool, a road to mastery that you can follow all your life. In this class we open the door to each of these fundamental competencies. It is not easy work, and it’s often uncomfortable—the class asks a lot from each student. But for many of us, and certainly for our students, it is an incredibly hopeful and rewarding road.”

Students say that Hannah and Marc’s class helps them develop and grow on a number of levels, including:

Seeing how they contribute to relational dynamics
“This course trained me to be more conscious of my role in the process of forming team dynamics. When I had some ideas that are not accepted by teammates, what I usually do is to iterate it over and over whenever I can. Now I realize that if people say no to my ideas, the more effective way is to find out why. So I tried to ask them the reason behind their objection, and really listen to their concerns from their point of view.”
Changing through fire: facing the hard stuff and coming out the other side
“We rush into so many ‘innovations’ without thinking of the consequences and we leave so many people behind. Something I keep with me is the sentiment, ‘Repair the past before creating the future.’”
The power of inclusive participatory co-creation
“It is so true that band-aid solutions don’t work for any big issue. To find people in the community who already have a way of solving the problem is amazing. The designer works as a facilitator, as a listener.”

Marc and Hannah began teaching the first year of the program and are foundational faculty members. Their fundamentals course is essential to jump-starting first year students’ growth and ability to innovate and prototype through a number of different lenses, and is a favorite among students.

136 W 21st St,
5th Fl.
New York, NY 10011
(212) 592–2205

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