Lessons From Potty Girl

     In my last blog I promised to share with you why I believe our future holds exciting possibilities within the purpose of creativity and design in achieving social justice.  It is easy to see the power that increase in technology is having upon our global culture.  Connection is easier than ever now with social networking and faster, more reliable communication networks.  With this increase of connection comes an increased ability to create change, which translates directly to an increased availability of power.  What may not be as easily seen is the potential this increase in power holds for creating social change.

     Simultaneous with this growth of global interconnectedness is a phenomenon in which today’s youth are seeking more avenues for pursuing social justice, and they are doing it an a remarkably younger age.  Recent studies have shown that Generation Z (those born after 1995 roughly) is more likely to pursue social justice than any generation before.  You can see this all across the world as people, even kids, are starting to break out of the typical mold for career development that has become the dictatorial precedent  for since we can remember.  New ideas and ways of making an impact on the world are now available that we could never have imagined before the explosion of the digital age.  An example of this is authors and speakers Brett and Alex Harris.  At the age of 16, Brett and Alex started the website TheRebelution.com in an effort to encourage teenagers to reach for greater goals than society’s expectations, not realizing that it would soon become one of the most popular Christian teen websites on the internet with more than 40 million views since 2007.  At eighteen they co-authored the book ‘Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations’.  Brett and Alex quickly became well-known for their ability to inspire and encourage youth to reject apathy and have since travelled around the world speaking at different events to hundreds of thousands of youth, parents and youth workers.  And it all began with a desire to make a difference and a digital platform to do so.

     It took a leap of creativity for this trend of younger and more powerful entrepreneurship to be born, and it is that same creativity which must be applied in the world of social justice and non-profit work.  In the wake of explosive growth in possibilities and potential due to technology, some are beginning to see new avenues for implementing design into areas of great human need.  Of all the stories and articles I’ve read, none have caught my eye, nor my respect, more than that of architectural PhD student Julia King.  In an interview with ArchDaily, Julia shared her divergent decision on how to apply her architectural education in a situation where, much to the surprise of many traditionalists, not every need is satisfied with a simple building.  In pursuing her PhD-by-practice in the slums of India, Ms. King quickly realized that the root need of the Indian people would not be satisfied with another building but rather improved sewage sanitation.  How many times do you read “PhD” and “sewage” in the same sentence?  Quite by accident, Ms. King assured, she quickly gained the nickname "Potty Girl".  I believe that the momentum this type of action is creating is just what the world needs.  What may have initially seemed like an irrational and misguided use of academic and creative energy has now exposed itself to the world as a potential catalyst for even greater and more adventurous uses of design talent and global interest.  Ms. King summed up her strategy perfectly when she said, “I look for inspiration (or opportunities) from people and places rather than looking for people and places to host my ideas.”  

     It is with this same paradigm that we as the concerned designers and entrepreneurs of the world must look at the opportunities around us!  Take some time to truly look at the needs around you, both local and global, and I assure you that you will discover opportunities in which to invest your creative and innovative energy and ideas.  We live in a much different world than our predecessors, a world where technology mixes with passion and drive to create a fertile ground for new ways to change the world, and you don't have to have a 401K, a family of four and 20 years of experience to join in on the adventure.  If the Harris brothers and Potty Girl can teach us anything, it's that as the need for creative innovators and doers in this generation grows, so grows the number of tools and resources by which to capitalize on the endless opportunities.