Still – after some weeks back at home and in my daily routine – I am overwhelmed by the “What design can do“ conference in Mexico City.

The enthusiasm of all participants – speakers, audience and organizers – about making a better world through social and sustainable design, was a great and motivating experience, and points out that more and more people are gaining awareness of society and environment.

The festival’s main topics were among others: humanizing immigrants, the resilient city, creating cultural identity and design activism. Just to mention some powerful speakers: Richard van der Laken, head of the festivals organization talked about the positiv impact of design. Cameron Sinclair who works for social innovation at Airbnb and is developing resettled refugee projects and rural revitalization. Joséphine Goube, CEO of Techfugees, a non-profit organization coordinating the international tech community’s response to the needs of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people. Nadya Tolokonnikova, a Russian artist and political activist who gave us an insight in her activities and did a powerful performance with her band „Pussy Riot“ at the opening gala of the festival.

The aim of Anna van Nunen, founder of Innofest, is to make any kind of festival innovative and sustainable. A festival is like a village and needs the same infrastructure for water, food, energy and waste. Water supply from waste water, smart and handy bins for cigarette butts are just some of the inventions they made.

Karl Stocker and I had the honour to lead a Breakout Session on the second day, a workshop with 55 participants about creating visions and a prototype of a better World Life Balance. Designers have to be part of the social and sustainable movement and be aware of the inequalities in our societies and around the globe. The workshop was about the contributions of design to change the inequalities in the world.

As part of the event there was also the announcement of the winners of the Clean Energy Challenge with 452 projects by submitters from 52 countries. The projects and winners are listed on the conference website.

Of course, also the “What design can do“ conference itself focused on being sustainable concerning e.g. energy consumption and catering. The leader of this challenge, Dagan Cohen, also did another great project – the data collection of the carbon footprint of the whole festival. Measured data were the mobility, sanitation and food & drink consumption of the participants as well as the energy consumption of the conference. 198.378 kg of CO2 have to be compensated by 9.017 trees, which are going to be planted in Mexico.

Dear organizers, please go on inviting such great people who really want to change the world through Design! I look forward to attending the next “What design can do“ conference in Amsterdam at the end of this year.

Please find out more about topics in design activism in the “What design can do“ online shop.

Text: Sigrid Bürstmayr
Photography: WDCD (2-4), Sigrid Bürstmayr