Design for Social Innovation / by Valerie Poort

(On a side note, I do admit that I write this almost two months after the symposium took place. Seems that I needed those that time to reflect! But that’s ok; it just shows how what I learnt has stuck with me all this time).

More than a few things blew my mind in two days. As someone who has just graduated design school – learned the academics and the methodology of what I do – I’m still very much imitating what I observe. As I practice what everyone around me does, I question why I do things, I see what’s not working… (I’m not sure if that’s just me, or more common).

I volunteered to help out (thanks to Rachel Knight and Billy Matheson) at the two-day Design for Social Innovation symposium, which took place mid-July; this time in Wellington. The symposium gathered a community of practitioners who contributed their thoughts on what is archaic, dominant, and emergent about what we do.

Don’t you love those mind-boggling moments when you learn something and everything just clicks? This happens to me a lot at conferences. And this symposium – which, comparatively, sounds much less boring! – certainly didn’t disappoint.

One epiphany I had was during our welcoming into and opening of the symposium. Many customs and practices from Māori culture were embedded here. Everyone was grounded – reminded of where we were physically, what we were there for, who we were. We also indulged in morning tea and chatted with our neighbours. Simple and powerful.

Two inspirational keynotes followed, to set up the rest of the two days. Christian Perry, Director of Toi Whaakari, showed us how his school had become truly bicultural. One way they did this was not ‘doing’ Māori for the sake of it. It meant using kaupapa Māori only if it improved on how things were already being done.

I was thankful that the symposium wasn’t two days of talking the talk. A lot of talks were geared towards the practical, the ‘so what does this mean’, and the ‘so how do we do this.’ Many workshops during the two days were people sharing real techniques with other people. 

To start off day two, Keriata Stuart took us through a mindfulness exercise. For at least 10 minutes, everyone in the room sat with their eyes closed, listening to the words Keriata was speaking. A moving reminder of the importance of breathing, taking a break, standing back, and observing. This, she reminded us, was exactly what we were doing by attending the symposium.

Most importantly, I’ve connected into a community of passionate practitioners, which has been invaluable. They’ve helped me glimpse into places where I could definitely find more and more of my purpose. But also they’ve helped me realise that my purpose will change all the time (thanks for that Noel Brown!). 

This note was scribbled at the back of my notebook, “nothing is perfect. You have to start somewhere. You can always go back. Nothing is ever good enough. It is going to need to be good enough. Good enough is enough.” I don’t know whether someone said that, or whether it was my brain, or somewhere in between.