Why I'm Filming a Documentary About Social Impact Design

Social impact designers are people who are finding concrete, cost-effective solutions to many problems around the world—people who are bringing about real change.

I’m a documentary filmmaker but I started as a sculptor. I’ve long been interested in how we interact with one another, as individuals and societies, through the physical things we select and make. My last film was Objects and Memory, a national, prime time PBS special about the otherwise ordinary things in our homes and museums that mean the most to us because of what they represent. Documentary filmmakers tend to see things that the general public may not notice and illuminate them so that people can better understand their lives and their world. This work takes tenacity and a strong belief that your efforts will have meaning and effect. You have to be an irrational optimist.

I’ve watched (and participated in) the environmental movement with growing frustration. Remediation of our worsening climate mess and intractable humanitarian problems seems out of reach. How does one keep from being disillusioned and jaded? Recently I’ve been researching the burgeoning field of social impact design, or design for social innovation. This is a relatively new but growing field populated by people who use observation, insight, and innovation to confront these environmental, social, and humanitarian problems.

Along with cinematographer Roger Grange, I am developing a documentary series for public television about social impact design. Rather than design cool stuff for the affluent, like iPhones and luxury cars, these thinkers and builders are inventing systems and products to benefit the masses. Social impact designers are people who are finding concrete, cost-effective solutions to many problems around the world—people who are bringing about real change.

How about a foot-powered clothes washer/drier for use in areas without electricity? An inexpensive but durable prosthetic knee joint, to help poor people regain mobility? Clean, safe, efficient cookstoves for folks who can barely afford fuel? These a few of the life-changing ideas that are being developed—and are providing reason for hope.

By introducing the public to the concept and practice of design for social impact we aim to spur increased support for this work. At the same time, these designers can serve as role models as pragmatic idealists so that people can envision paths for fulfilling their potential while making the world better. Our project has the working title, For Good…

We welcome suggestions for refreshingly innovative products and systems aimed at improving lives and for remarkable people to profile in the series. A project of this scope entails substantial costs, so we are also seeking individuals, organizations, foundations, and corporations who would like to support this work through sponsorships and tax-deductible donations to our not-for-profit partner organization.

Image courtesy of Eliodomestico

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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