con­stant col­lab­o­ra­tor

Element - - Community - By Re­becca Barry Hill

The in­ter­net has seen an ex­plo­sion in in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tive projects, and a Kiwi is re­spon­si­ble for the ‘cross pol­li­na­tion’ of those ideas for so­cial good.

day saw the job ad­ver­tised on Twit­ter. It’s the ideal role for the mul­ti­tal­ented aca­demic, who has a pas­sion for so­cial in­no­va­tion.

After gain­ing a de­gree in an­thro­pol­ogy and a masters in de­sign, she worked as a graphic de­signer and cre­ative di­rec­tor be­fore mov­ing into teach­ing in New Zealand, In­dia and China. While based in Ber­lin, Kadri lec­tured across Europe and wrote for the likes of style mag­a­zine Mon­o­cle and the Guardian, and New York de­sign blog, De­sign Ob­server. At the heart of her work is her con­sul­tancy, Ran­dom Spe­cific (ran­dom­spe­ which looks at the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween com­mu­ni­ca­tion, cul­ture and cre­ativ­ity. The 41-year-old Welling­to­nian re­turns to In­dia, where her dad is from, ev­ery year.

Kadri is cur­rently work­ing with the Depart­ment of Eth­nic Af­fairs on a re­search project that draws on her back­ground in both de­sign and an­thro­pol­ogy, and her tal­ent as a pho­tog­ra­pher. Her re­search in­volves in­ter­view­ing com­mu­nity lead­ers from dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups in New Zealand about their prac­tices, rit­u­als and be­liefs, what kinds of ob­jects

It’s an odd job but one that, po­ten­tially, could help save the world. New Zealan­der Meena Kadri is what’s known as a cross-pol­li­na­tor for the on­line think tank, openIDEO. Her job is to fa­cil­i­tate on­line dis­cus­sions to solve global prob­lems. Run by the de­sign and in­no­va­tion con­sult­ing firm, Ideo, the site’s ob­jec­tive is to tap into the col­lec­tive con­scious for so­cial good. Mem­bers of the pub­lic are in­vited to come up with so­lu­tions to global is­sues, such as im­prov­ing san­i­ta­tion in Third World com­mu­ni­ties, en­cour­ag­ing bone mar­row do­na­tions or look­ing at ways to en­cour­age kids to eat healthily.

The Webby-award-winning site launched last year and now has 15,000 con­trib­u­tors from around the world, proof that money isn’t al­ways an in­cen­tive when it comes to knuck­ling down on a big project. Kadri re­cently re­turned from Queens­land where she worked with the Queens­land gov­ern­ment to work­shop ideas on how best to con­nect food pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion.

“We started by iden­ti­fy­ing in­ef­fi­cien­cies in the com­mu­nity, then cited things go­ing on in the world that are go­ing well. We’d cre­ate themes out of those – cel­e­brat­ing pro­duc­ers, aware­ness of sto­ry­telling, trans­port and trace­abil­ity, ur­ban pro­duc­tion. We had some very pos­i­tive feed­back from the gov­ern­ment with a view to pro­to­typ­ing some of the ideas.” Kadri is one of two re­mote fa­cil­i­ta­tors (the other is based in Cal­i­for­nia). She started at OpenIDEO as a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor, and one they use around death and dy­ing; the re­sults and ac­com­pa­ny­ing pho­to­graphs will be dis­played in an up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion. In the past Kadri has also worked for Ra­dio New Zealand, re­port­ing on her work from In­dia. For a Smoke­free ini­tia­tive she also fa­cil­i­tated a rap com­pe­ti­tion on Twit­ter to en­gage young peo­ple about the most ef­fec­tive anti-smok­ing mes­sages. But her big­gest project at the mo­ment is her work as a con­trac­tor to OpenIDEO.

“I like that I can in­ter­act with it and waft on at a high level if I want to, but also some­one who has no de­sign back­ground – per­haps they’re an engi­neer or a doc­tor or they have no job or they’ve just grad­u­ated from high school – can come along and in­ter­act on­line, be part of the con­ver­sa­tion. It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tive thing.” Even her mother, a re­tired doc­tor, con­trib­utes oc­ca­sion­ally. “I think there’s a cer­tain kind of per­son that if you give them the op­por­tu­nity to do some so­cial good, in con­junc­tion with other peo­ple and set up the plat­form, they are re­ally into it.” The youngest con­trib­u­tor so far is a 6-year-old girl from Ti­maru who made a post re­lated to her lo­cal farm­ers’ mar­ket; her idea was so pop­u­lar it was dis­cussed at the Queens­land work­shop and piqued the in­ter­est of a Ti­maru coun­cil­lor.

It’s still early days for the site, and while not all the ideas are im­ple­mented in the real world, they do make a dif­fer­ence, says Kadri. The hope is that even­tu­ally users can re­port back on the im­pact their ideas have made.

At the very least, it’s get­ting peo­ple think­ing about how they might im­prove the world they live in.

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