Social innovation is what the world needs now - and, as I have learned over the years, design is at the center of social innovation.
Whatever we don't like about the world we live in, whatever doesn't work the way we think it should, has, believe it or not, been designed to work pretty much exactly that way. Unproductive meetings, products that break, pollution, inequity, even war and poverty are the symptoms of poor design, design that is also usually devoid of social innovation.
We used to think that politicians, business executives, NGOs or even religious figures would save the world. The truth is that we have entered a new age, an age in which it will be designers that solve our toughest problems.
We are all, or can learn to be designers. If you organize a meeting, your design for the meeting affects the outcome. Designers create products, businesses, processes that attempt to bring peace to the Middle East and figure out how to get corn to grow with little or no water.
By building in positive social (and environmental) outcomes to the design process we learn to do everything we do in a way that helps make the world a better place. Seventh Generation, the company I co-founded two decades ago, was a pioneer in this process, designing products that attempted to solve or mitigate environmental problems. We practiced this in a hands-on, learn-as- you-go way but today, just as one can get an MBA, or an MD, one can now learn to become a social innovation designer.
The newest program out there is the Master's of Fine Arts in Design for Social Innovation, which will launch next fall at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
It was developed by Cheryl Heller, who helped Seventh Generation with some of its toughest design challenges and convinced me that this new discipline at SVA was one I should lend a hand to as an advisor. In its inaugural class, a carefully select a group of 25 individuals will master this discipline in real life settings.
I can't wait to see what they dream up.
Having spent many days over the past two months with the newest generation of social entrepreneurs at Pop Tech, the Kauffman Foundation and the Social Innovation Boot Camp at NYU and Columbia, the excitement of hope and new possibilities provided a stark contrast to the news about Europe's impending disintegration, poverty statistics in America that are worse that we had previously calculated and worse that expected contamination from the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan.
By adding design to social innovation the likelihood of success will rise dramatically.
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