Thursday, July 6, 2017


I'm writing from beautiful Fusagasugá, (say it five times fast) Colombia, where IDDS Climate Change Adaptation is being held at the University of Cundinamarca's sports center. There's a lot of high quality content about the summit being put out on U de C's youtube channel ( and on Facebook and Instagram (, so I'm just going to focus on my perspective on the summit and on life here. Some photos of the campus to get us started:

The horse who lives here, whom I have dubbed Campus Horse. He's not really concerned about rules or boundaries and just sort of wanders as he pleases. There are also two cows, but they mostly stay in their field.
Participants hard at work on their design challenge outside of the gym-turned-workshop.

A very big palm tree outside the dining hall.

Life here is really good. Showers are cold, wifi is limited, and bugs are rampant (currently having a bit of a strange allergic reaction), but I really don't mind any of that. I'm living in a double room with another girl from the organizing team, and we share a bathroom with one other roommate pair. My time is mostly spent in the workshop, teaching participants to use tools, documenting projects, and doing odd jobs. My hands are always covered in small cuts, and at this point I'm sure my nails will never be clean again, but it's some of the most fulfilling work I've ever done. In the mornings, I often have the opportunity to go for a short run on the concrete track, but breakfast starts at 7am and organizer meetings and nighttime hanging out sometimes run until midnight, so I'm trying to live a balanced lifestyle and prioritize sleep. 

The workshop (my second home).

The track and soccer field, complete with forested mountain backdrop.
Speaking of breakfast, the food here is absolutely incredible. Meals rarely happen on time (this is still Colombia), but the kitchen is very aware of the presence of foreigners and seems to be really stepping it up. We also get to drink amazing coffee from local farms, and I've completely abandoned my tea-drinking roots. We all eat together, and mealtimes have been a great opportunity to get to know some participants. They're from near and far, and work in many different fields, but they all care deeply about solving the challenges of climate change. The accents from different parts of Latin America sometimes confound me (sorry Uruguay), but everyone is friendly, patient, and involved in really cool work. I'm also one of the younger people around, so hearing about people's paths is also really interesting and inspiring.

Watching the execution of the summit itself has also been really cool given my background. The material that the summit covers is basically the second part of UOCD (mandatory Olin human-centered design class) with the addition of maybe one prototyping cycle, but packed into three weeks. It's intense, hard to execute in a culture without punctuality, and definitely not perfect, but participants get to work in very close contact with local communities. There are unique challenges here. What do you do when community members aren't as engaged as you thought they would be? When the project direction you've been planning for months falls through? We're also getting to the point in the summit where participants are starting to have complaints and criticism, which is super interesting from an Olin perspective. Going to a small college with experimental classes and an emphasis on feedback makes think I've heard every complaint that there is to complain about design curriculum, but I thought wrong. I feel like having experience with how students react to design curriculum gives me more of an insight into what are actual problems with the class and what are parts of the process that students just need to accept, but it's still difficult to distinguish. I don't think I would be ready to be a design facilitator in charge of a team, so I'm glad that I just get to help out and be along for the ride. 

I'm trying to get as much out of the opportunity to be here as I can. I've learned some new techniques for problem framing and insights into team formation, and there are many more lectures for me to sit in the back of and conversations with talented designers to be had. I've also been able to visit some of the communities that we're working with, which has been incredible. I spent the 4th of July at three different farms, and found myself in a blackberry field at the top of a mountain at sunset, which was absolutely transcendent. I only took two photos, and they don't even begin to capture the moment, but I still want to close with one of them. Your coffee comes from a magical place.
The tourism board here doesn't have to lie.

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