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 (randomspecific.com) 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.