DSI Getting Back to Nature with Danielle Skinn’s (‘20) Compostable Pillow Studio

This program began with an invitation from Richard Wilde (Chair of SVA’s undergraduate design and advertising programs) to teach something that mattered. What mattered to me was that there was no path for designers who want to work – at a strategic level – on the most important social and environmental issues of our time. Designers are for the most part taught self expression and tools, but not how to use them to have an intentional and positive impact.

DSI is the product of our efforts to fill that need, but it’s not such a simple need to fill. The leaders in design for social innovation will be cross-disciplinary problem solvers who know themselves, understand the contexts in which the systems they want to fix exist and what’s been done before to try to fix them. It requires knowing how people think, and knowing how to lead change in any environment without causing more problems than we found. It demands the ability to create, to innovate, and a combination of humility, optimism, persistence and the power of agency.

The first in the world holders of an MFA in Design for Social Innovation have worked hard to get here. They have had the guidance of every one of our extraordinary faculty members, lecturers, advisors and the amazing community at SVA that has been such an important part of the support structure. They are just at the beginning, but they are full of promise and will do work that truly matters in the world, whether it’s in business, government, social organizations or their own enterprises.

Here’s a film of all their presentations. Twenty students from eleven countries have developed ideas on food – changing our minds about what’s good to eat and using it as a way to integrate refugees into society; gender – women’s sexual health and anti-violence activism; place – in the vibrancy of neighborhoods and the local sourcing of a new slow clothing movement, to engaging diaspora to help the country they left behind, and to non-urban environments as a map for how to live; human relationships – connecting people to their own and their families’ memories, to strangers, and to the commons that are our planetary support system, and connecting refugees to new cultures; art – as activism, and as a way to save the lives and livelihoods of indigenous people; the strength of societies – by helping voters in India become less apathetic and helping grade school children understand their own potential for greatness; and communication as power – from the unheard voices of despairing students in China to non-profits in Mexico that are mis-understood, and to the beleaguered pollinators on our planet on whom so much of life depends.

Thank you first cohort, there will never be another; for your courage, commitment and perseverance. Thanks to every one of our extraordinary faculty, to Richard Wilde again and always.

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