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Mbulance: A Mobile Design Studio for Disaster Relief

This month, Project M is celebrating its 10th anniversary of using the power of design to uplift, change lives, and accelerate good around the world. Project M is an immersive program designed to inspire and educate young writers, photographers, designers, and filmmakers by proving that their work—especially their 'wrongest' thinking—can have significant impact on communities. We're sharing some of our favorite examples of Project M's work here.

Kodiak Starr grew up up off the grid, with an outhouse and no electricity or running water until the age of 15. Some might say that’s a strange beginning for anyone, let alone a designer-turned Project M'er-turned White House Creative Director of Digital Strategy. But off-the-wall backgrounds at Project M aren't uncommon—founder John Bielenberg celebrates the weird and the wrong, turning them into fertile ground for creative potential. As a result, Project M thrives on unusual backgrounds like Kodiak’s and converts that creative potential into positive impact and creative advocates. The result? Projects like the Mbulance, a result of the 2007 Project M session, and M'ers like Kodiak, who bring unusual creative perspective to the daunting communications challenges of a nation.

The Mbulance was designed as a rescue-and-relief effort of creative proportions, providing access to thousands of dollars of design materials and support after Hurricane Katrina left fellow designers stranded without the equipment to rebuild their livelihoods. As Kodiak says, “Project M’s Mbulance addition was developed to help our creative community in a time of need after the hurricane. After taking our mobile design studio to the AIGA conference in Boston, we met Nancy Sharron Collins and Lori Reed and it was quickly obvious that we needed to quickly change our Mentor project and head to New Orleans.”

Although Kodiak and his fellow M'ers originally intended the vehicle for a nationwide recording tour for mentor experience and advice, Kodiak and other M’ers transformed the Mbulance into a disaster relief resource for creative professionals after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. “That is the great thing about Project M and John Bielenberg—you are encouraged to take risks and push every idea the the edge. Then, at the last minute, throw it in the trash and do something different,” Kodiak says of his Project M experience. “Plus, who else other than John could be so easily convinced we should buy an ambulance. From a simple Craigslist photo, John was able to realize the potential the Mbulance presented.”

As an Mbulance driver, Kodiak drove more than 1,800 miles from Belfast, ME, to New Orleans, stopping to load up in Boston, Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Washington D.C., Charlotte, and Atlanta. The Mbulance delivered—and this list is by no means complete—five iMacs, five G4s, eight monitors, seven printers, four scanners, portable hard drives, Pantone chip books, several tons of office supplies, books and furniture, and more than $1,200 in monetary donations and gift cards to designers and other creative professionals left struggling in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Images courtesy of Project M

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