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In the latest episode of the RCA Podcast, Dr Nick de Leon explores this question with representatives from institutions involved with this year's Terra Carta Design Lab, including the Sustainable Markets Initiative, the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (UAE), the National Institute of Design Ahmedabad (India) and the Rhode Island School of Design (USA).

Following on from the global success of the 2022 edition, the RCA is partnering for a second time with the Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Terra Carta Design Lab - a competition to discover student led, high impact solutions to the climate crisis.

This year’s Design Lab has expanded its reach to also partner with Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (UAE), National Institute of Design Ahmedabad (India) and Rhode Island School of Design (USA).

In this podcast episode, leaders from each of these institutions come together to consider:

  • How we can integrate sustainability into higher education
  • The value of multidisciplinary collaboration, and collaborating between academia and industry
  • Taking an entrepreneurial approach to learning and design
  • Making an impact through international partnerships
  • The Terra Carta Design Lab and Sustainable Markets Initiative


Dr Nick de Leon, RCA’s Academic Lead for the Terra Carta Design Lab


  • Hani Asfour, Vice President of Innovation and Institutional Partnerships, Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (UAE)
  • Professor Praveen Nahar, Director, National Institute of Design Ahmedabad (India)
  • Touba Ghadessi, Provost, Rhode Island School of Design (USA)
  • Jennifer Jordan-Saifi, CEO, Sustainable Markets Initiative

Listen to the episode on: Spotify, YouTube, Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud.


Touba Ghadessi 00:00

These students really see their purpose as ambassadors of art and design in this world. As active agents who are out there, using their art and design tools a pillars to create the world that they want to see not even just for themselves, but for future generations. And that is inspiring and I think we need to listen to them and we need to hear what they're saying.

Nick de Leon 00:33

How can we as designers, creatives, innovators and educators work together to find solutions to the climate crisis? This is a question we consider not only at the Royal College of Art but around the world in educational spaces, designed spaces and especially by businesses and by governments. I'm Nick de Leon, the RCA’s Academic Lead for the Terra Carta Design Lab. A competition challenging some of the world's brightest design students and alumni to create high impact, low cost solutions for nature, people and planet. I'm excited to be here chatting about the Terra Carta Design Lab today. The competition was launched by His Majesty King Charles III in his former role as Prince of Wales. And Sir Jony Ive, the chancellor of the Royal College of Art as part of His Majesty’s Sustainable Markets Initiative. This initiative brings together global CEOs to accelerate industries towards a more ambitious and sustainable trajectory. The inaugural competition took place in 2022, in partnership with the Royal College of Art, and has turned out absolutely outstanding results. Participants have gone on to raise millions of pounds in funding for their ventures, and inspire creatives and designers, and frankly, businesses and governments to act and use design effectively in the same way they have done. This year, we're really thrilled that the competition is back and has expanded its reach to also partner with the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, the National Institute of Design or Ahmedabad in India, and the Rhode Island School of Design in the US, making it a truly global initiative. I was thrilled to be joined by representatives from each of these institutions today for this episode. We discussed the responsibility to integrate sustainability into the educational curriculum, and how we're supporting innovators to address global challenges and build impactful businesses. We also explored the importance of interdisciplinary innovation and putting people right at the very heart understanding how technological innovation can combine with design led innovation. So it addresses truly the needs of society, the communities that we serve, and it's in harmony with people, planet and nature. But before we get into that, I want to set the scene a bit with a conversation with our first guest, Jennifer Jordan-Saifi, Chief Executive Officer of the Sustainable Markets Initiative. From 2018 to 2023, Jennifer served as Assistant Private Secretary to the King covering foreign affairs, the commonwealth and supporting His Majesty's sustainability leadership on the world stage. In this role, she established the Sustainable Markets Initiative, developed its guiding mandates, the Terra Carta and Astra Carta, and its storytelling platform, RE:TV. Hello, Jennifer, it's a pleasure to have you with us on this podcast.

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 03:32

Thank you so much for having me.

Nick de Leon 03:35

Could you tell us a little bit about the Sustainable Markets Initiative? And what it does?

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 03:40

Sure. So the Sustainable Markets Initiative was really a vision of His Majesty the King, you know, having 50 years of experience and sustainability. he really felt that, you know, that we're getting to a crisis moment where we have the 2030 goals with the Paris Climate Agreement, or the SDGs, or the Convention on Biological Diversity. And there's not enough capital within governments to achieve those goals. And he really felt that we needed to mobilise the private sector to help deliver both the capital but also the know how industry by industry, he also saw that there was a need to look at it from a sector perspective. You know, how is the aviation industry going to transition and contribute to those goals? And then what does the future of aviation actually look like? So it's a very insightful vision for the future. And how do we mobilise the world together public, private, philanthropic, academically, how do we mobilise the entire world with purpose for a sustainable future, and that's really where it came about. And he launched it at Davos in 2020. And it's really been moving and mobilising since then, at a very large global economic level.

Nick de Leon 04:51

The thing that really impressed me when we met with all the CEOs was the fact that they were all CEOs? Absolutely every one of them that is part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative. How did you manage to get the very top people? It must be the amazing convening power of His Majesty, I guess?

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 05:12

Yes. Yeah, absolutely. The King has a fantastic convening power. And he also has a huge amount of credibility. So you know, people who are passionate about this issue, who want to be part of the solution, recognise that coming together with him with others around the world that have the same conviction can be extremely powerful. And the networking that they're able to do across different industries across industry and finance and with country leaders, is really unique.

Nick de Leon 05:40

Leading into the Terra Carta as a result, I was, I should say, the Terra Carta Design Lab. How did that come about? Because it's wonderful for us at the Royal College of Art, and of course, Rhode Island School of Design and NID In India, and DIDI in Dubai, it was wonderful for us to be involved, but it's not the most logical, or the first thing that would come to mind. So how did how did that happen?

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 06:04

Well, interestingly, the Terra Carta became the mandate of the Sustainable Markets Initiative in 2021. The King's Speech, launching the SMI was a ten point action plan, and that transitioned into this Terra Carta. But as we tried to think about how do we communicate such a global agenda to the world and like what represents, you know, the values and principles of His Majesty and his wisdom and credibility and sustainability and the future we're trying to build? And so we engaged Sir Jony Ive, to help us design, the Terra Carta seal, as we call it, the visual representation of that mandate. And, you know, in those conversations, it was really clear about how the king thinks about design, like he very much was involved in every single element of what you see in the Terra Carta. And, you know, through that, you know, he kept expressing the importance of engaging, you know, art, design, beauty, creativity, engineers, like the interdisciplinary approach to solution generation, that the world is going to need, like this world has not gone through a transition like this ever before. So we need the power of all minds, and all parts of the world applied to the problem. And so, you know, in conversations with Jony and his majesty, we really felt that why don't we engage these design schools, and as you know, His Majesty was the royal visitor for the RCA has a long history with it. And it was just a natural partner for us to engage in great the Terra Carta Design Lab. And now we're just so fortunate that we're able to take the learnings of that and make sure that the rest of the world has a chance to be involved and look at solution from a very different vantage point, whether that's in Dubai, or in India or in Rhode Island.

Nick de Leon 07:44

Yes, I mean, it now does give us the opportunity to take this to such a kind of global community of creative designers. And what's it also so interesting about all of those institutions, is that they draw on designers and creators who come from a whole mix of different backgrounds, as you said, making it interdisciplinary and, no doubt, in His Majesty's mine was the thought that there needs to be not continuous improvement, but almost discontinuous improvement. We need breakthrough ideas, to be able to land those with industry and with change. Has that been part of the, you know, the Terra Carta? And was that seen as well after that first cycle that we did together?

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 08:26

Absolutely. And I think, yeah, it's just this, this collision of different perspectives and ideas that create the disruption that's really needed. And I think the reality is the status quo isn't working. But at the same time thinking about climate change as a sort of in the in the current narrative of doom and gloom, like that's not going to get everyone on board. And so the creativity, the hope and opportunity of the you know, the design perspective, and that there is a solution. And we just need to create it and come together and make that happen, is really at the heart of what the design lab is really about. And then it's connecting traditional industry that's thinking about this from a very heavy systems like turning the ship or very slowly in the ocean, towards like, well, there are disruptive opportunities that we can connect with now, and make the link and then build that future together. And that's really where the opportunity now lies is how we connect these amazing ideas with the right industries with the finance to scale rapidly, to build a brighter future for all.

Nick de Leon 09:26

Yeah, I mean, I remember talking to so many of our students, when we first launched it and MIT they were thinking, you know, will people be taken seriously, but it is so impressive to see how from that first wave of Terra Carta Design Lab and the projects that emerge from it, how they're successful. They've been raising substantial finance. I think the last count was about 35 million pounds of investment has gone into the winners from the last cycle. So we're very optimistic about you know, this time round and all the things that will happen as a consequence of that. The creativity, I think, is something which I know His Majesty has been very passionate about getting young people fresh ideas in, do you think that the least the corporations in the SMI will be truly receptive to that? Because, again, they've been going about it very much in their way. And I'm just wondering whether we'll be able to land all of these in the right way. What do you think we might need to do to make that happen?

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 10:30

Yeah, let me just say, I think the great thing is that we've been taking our CEOs on the same journey, you know, highlighting the importance of this element, you know, having yourself come and speak also, with the CEOs that are, you know, CEO events, whether that's a COP or in London in New York, and the exposure is there. We also brought some of the winners to various events, whether that's the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda a few years ago, or, you know, COP most recently in Dubai, I think exposure is really important, but also very practical engagement. And like I said, I think now is the time not just to celebrate, and these amazing ideas, and these students who've really given so much time and effort to the cause. We need to connect them with the real economy. And in the SMI, we have that opportunity. So I think there should be a lot more collaboration between our two communities. And again, elevation on the world stage, because for the SMI, it's so so critical that we inspire the world in this transition, that they all see that we're all pulling in the same direction that we great a sense of hope and opportunity that currently we don't see.

Nick de Leon 11:40

How do you think we can best connect, not just the winners, but all this incredible focus of talent that is now driving that way to get it really at the very heart of these companies, you combine them? They want to do it. We've got some ideas, any other thoughts about how we might really get those enmeshed?

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 11:59

Yeah I mean, I think there's so many different ways and opportunities, we can do that. But one of the things that I think is so critically important, we have over 20 different industry and financial task forces, we also have country and regional councils, whether it's India, China, Africa, Brazil, North America, there's a real opportunity to matchmake. And what would be wonderful is not only have a forum where we can sort of bring these communities together, but really understand what the various students solutions were all around the world, and then how I can connect them, whether that's in fashion, whether that's in health, whether it's an automotive, like where in the world, their solutions lie so then I can connect them with the people who are interested in investing in those spaces, but then also the industries themselves and the CEOs so that they can have that chance to talk to them about their solutions. What does it mean for companies that might be interested, but also the industry as a whole?

Nick de Leon 12:47

If we look forward, just a few years from now, what do you think success might look like? You know, finally, what are the what are the kinds of hopes for the impact of this design lab?

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 12:59

Well I'd really love to see these solutions mainstreamed in through industry partnerships through elevation through global communications, I also really hope that the communities across the different design schools have the chance to collaborate. So again, if it's on fashion, like looking at how, you know, maybe in India, they're looking at it one way and Dubai, they're looking at another way. And you know, at RCA, they're looking at one way and then how those students are coming together, and then also advising the global industry. Because I think that's extremely powerful. Because there are different perspectives, there are different learnings that we can gain from a global interpretation of the issue and the problem and the opportunity. And I think that that dialogue is going to be really critically important. But I do hope, you know, over the next few years, the whole world knows that our Terra Carta Design Lab. Knows that amazing students that have been involved, and that we're actually seeing those investments grow from 35 million to maybe 35 billion over the next few years.

Nick de Leon 13:58

Well it sounds like we'll need to also turn this into quite a movement for not just the four players who are in there right now for renowned institutions, but also to be able to think about how we bring some more organisations on board and other elite institutions, but others more generally, to make this something that can happen at every single level. Jennifer, thank you so much for being part of this podcast today. It's so wonderful to hear the ideas that have emerged from His Majesty, how those have been turned into not just good ideas that companies are willing to embrace, but now they've turned it into doing and to have the sponsorship and support of the overall programme to enable all of these institutions to make an impact. So thank you so much for giving us that opportunity.

Jennifer Jordan-Saifi 14:50

Thank you so much for being involved. We look forward to what's ahead.

Nick de Leon 14:55

I'm really pleased to be joined by to Touba Ghadessi, Hani Asfour and Praveen Nahar. Touba Ghadessi is Provost of the Rhode Island School of Design setting a visionary path for student learning and academic affairs, of Iranian ancestry and raised in Geneva, Switzerland. Tuba embodies a commitment to diplomacy and cultural dialogue, those aspects which are so necessary today. Hani Asfour is Vice President of innovation and institutional partnerships at Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation. He's a founding member of DIDI playing a pivotal role in shaping his curriculum, developed in collaboration with MIT, and The New School’s Parsons School of Design. Praveen Nahar is the director of the National Institute of Design, and NID Ahmedabad, India. His leadership extends across various departments and committees within NID with a focus on areas such as sustainable design systems thinking, and much more. Welcome everyone to the podcast today. It's a real pleasure to have you with us. One of the things that I'd love to just begin with is to have each of you perhaps, in turn, tell us a little bit about your institution, and particularly about how your institution has built sustainability into the core curriculum. Touba, why don't we start with you if that's all right?

Touba Ghadessi 16:21

Of course, it's my pleasure. Thank you, Nick. It's delightful to be here. With the three of you, I feel we make a really good quatro of thinking about art and design. So it's delightful to have this conversation. I have the privilege of inhabiting the role of the provost at the Rhode Island School of Design, which we all call RISD for short, which works out really well in RISD, essentially, is an institution that was founded in 1877 through its Museum and by women and it’s a project that continues today. And the reason I'm saying this, it's because projects allow us to ask to pose questions and to constantly iterate and ask those questions. And in doing so, we allow ourselves to be nimble. And in order to to respond to the big questions that our world poses today, I think sustainability is one of the most important question we can pose to all of us. In order to sustain it into our curriculum, we have inscribed it in various ways. One of them is through the nature lab, which is a hub for research with staff facilities support natural history collection of biomarker space scientific imaging centres. And so the courses that are taught through the nature lab and in collaboration with the nature lab, really allow the students to find a natural entry point, to address issues that are tied to sustainable living. We also have courses that are tied to NSF funded research with other universities. We actually have collaborations with external partnerships like the Hyundai Motor Group and Kia, where students, faculty, and staff work with biomimicry strategies that transform material structures and concepts of automotive design. And internally, we have the Somerson Sustainability Grants that provide seed funding annually to support student and faculty in their research and sustainability. John graduate programme, and in 2023, RISD launches sustainability design lab, a collaboration between interior and landscape architecture, to develop low impact design strategy. And Nick, you're familiar, of course, with the Centre for Complexity, which collaborates with partners to run design studios on topics that explore the future of oceans, the relationship between global security and climate change, and many, many other questions. And overall, this ties to the strategy that RISD has, and that deploys that every level. I know that was a long answer. But hopefully that gives you a glimpse into the many things that we do every day.

Nick de Leon 19:21

It's wonderful to see how it's kind of actually woven into the very fabric that RISD is. It's not just single elements within the institution. It's something that is something that can enable that connection between different subjects, that kind of interdisciplinary engagement as well. And I, I wonder how many whether that's a similar kind of thing that DIDI as well.

Hani Asfour 19:48

Yes, definitely. And like to Touba said, what a wonderful group to be amongst and to think together how we can empower the youth in dealing with urgent issues of climate and sustainability. We are the smallest of the institutions and also we are the newest. And we have the opportunity of being new university is to start without having to rely on legacy or anything. So the sky was the limit if you want to use that cliche. And in that sense from the beginning, we established that in every part of our programme and curriculum, there are four C's that we're looking for, like any typical school, we have concept, communication, and craft, which are things we focus on in every course that we do. And we inserted the fourth C, which is the care. And to us, this is the why, why are we doing this thing? Why should anybody care? How are we caring for other species, other humans the planet, and it just goes into this ethical realm that is embedded in our DNA, that sustainability and ethical practices are here to actually transform the way we teach, and particular teach design and in higher education. So and what's interesting is that when the students first came in the finishing the first year, they said, next year, when we do fashion, you better be teaching us ethical fashion. Otherwise, we're leaving, right. And this was music to our ears, because it is this generation that is asking and demanding that we become responsible and that we become actual agents of change. So it's a very exciting time. And in our DNA, this sustainability is built in yet we want to expand it beyond just talking about it. And so every project that we do, we measure the amount of care that's in it. And what's fascinating is that the students have been challenging their creative thinking not to make things prettier. But using that creativity to actually become engineers with a heart if you want, or humanised problem solvers.

Nick de Leon 22:09

I think this kind of concept of having care to be caring for each other, caring for our planet, caring for nature, caring for all of those elements together, and making sure people are empathetic, I will use the term here I've even run a course called ‘The Empathetic Engineer’, as well, as part of building deep empathy and caring in to it now, I'm sure at NID Praveen, we are in a very, very similar situation as well, although the scale of course, is very different. As you know, nid is the leading institution in this field in India. So Praveen tell us a little bit more about how you're about your institution, how sustainability is connected into it.

Praveen Nahar 22:56

Yeah, see NID, as you all know, that established in 1961, during the post-independence era, where a lot of institutions were set up. NID was thought of as a big experiment. I think it was based on the recommendation by Charles and Ray Eames, who were invited to write something called India Report. And they actually said that India should build its own sort of framework for design, and how design responding to its industrial needs or societal needs, based on its own history, heritage culture, and what sort of India it stands for, in terms of sustainability, is a very integral part of the where we are in the world and also as a school from the beginning. I know there are a lot of no traces of how people were questioning and sort of challenging their own norms and, you know, working in all those areas, which are very difficult to address, so sustainability, whether it is from the materiality perspective, or whether it is, from our entire, you know, systemic change behaviour change perspective, I think there is all extremes, people explore whether they, whether, as a part of classroom projects, or as a part of their graduation or, you know, or other forms of these things, so that the young people are asking really good questions and really challenging the norms.

Nick de Leon 24:38

It's great. I think that aspect of young people right now, and of course, we do have that diversity in all our institutions where it's not exclusively young people that we should be explained to all of the people listening to this podcast, who come to our institutions, but it is fascinating to see their passion, the fact that they care, but also that they want to act and they want to act, designing with purpose, designing with ethics, expecting to be helped in that, expecting to work collaboratively across disciplines on these challenges as well. And I would also underline listening to all of you as well, the very fact that we're also looking for impact from this. When Touba, when you and I were together in, in London, we talked about the fact that by the time our students reached the zenith of their career, it's probably going to be around 2050, they should have achieved something quite significant by then, and we've got to help them do that. But 2050 is less than 6000 working days away from today, it's a very finite element of time. And there isn't much time to act in that as well. And I often notice that the students really take that on board, realising that they had 6000 pounds or $6,000 to or 6000 euros to last them for some significant period of time, they, they think about how every pound, euro or dollar was spent. And so each of these days is precious for them to, and therefore being able to help set them up to deliver impact, I think is something which I think all of us really do care about, and wanting to make sure that we enable our students to actually achieve that goal. Praveen, I was particularly thinking about something you said just now? And do you think there are some lessons as well that industry can learn from our approaches to interdisciplinary innovation? You know, we we have taken institutions which have been historically very much built around individual disciplines within and we've realised to tackle these issues, we have to reach across disciplines, do you think there's some quite important learning there for industry to be able to take from from this approach, because they, they're also seeing this as both an opportunity, as well as something they need to tackle because it's a challenge to their current business model. I'm just wondering what what else we can bring to, to the world, not just our knowledge, but also that these kinds of practices of interdisciplinarity

Prvaeen Nahar 27:25

Yeah, I mean, it is actually quite interesting that a lot of industries are actually coming and looking out for ideas and frames of references, where people would like to change, you know, from their existing business practices to a new models, and I think design is actually really leading up there and people are looking at circularity sustainability in their practices on one end, and the other end is, there are so much of technological shifts, which are happening, and you need a lot of thinking, and sort of humanistic thinking, which actually sort of goes hand in hand with humanising technology. And there, there is a lot of role, which design can play in those kinds of transformations,

Nick de Leon 28:13

I'd say we should probably say to any of the any companies out there listening today to this podcast, that if they are in India, and they are looking at these challenges, whether they're the biggest companies in India, or small startup enterprises, whether they're social entrepreneurs, as well as entrepreneurs in a more traditional sense, that they should be coming and banging on your door right now, to get some extra help, and get some of the kind of the guidance and exploit or leverage the resources and knowledge that you have at NID.

Praveen Nahar 28:49

So one of the things, you know, very interesting things that happens with NID is our transition to the world. When the students are in their final year, they are mandated to do a project with industry or social sector, I mean, and then they have to actually work outside the campus as a young designer, which actually makes you comfortable to work on, you know, work in a real situation. And I can see that over the, in the 60s 70s 80s while people were going in setting up design studios or designers, you know, setting in the in the industry and the sectors now, I think these young designers are actually going and actually addressing those new challenges and building up new perspectives. So this is something which is quite interesting to see how many ways new kind of design is now being practiced or, you know, or addressed by this young group of people.

Nick de Leon 29:46

That’s fantastic. I would love to bring you in Touba on this as well, because I think this kind of entrepreneurial approach where the students don't just want to go off and create a design studio, but take their ideas and turn them into something. And that goes for faculty as well, of course, at RISD, and I just wondered if you'd like to kind of comment on that, because I know you've got business incubators, you've got all of that kind of programmes and initiatives to help with that. But is that something you're seeing as well, that creation of direct impact from our students going on to create enterprises? We

Touba Ghadessi 30:22

We really do. And in fact, it's inspiring because I think at first I started talking about being nimble. And I think that we learn from our students. In fact, by seeing the kinds of projects that they're interested in, we can redress, address and remake our curricula to respond to what they see as what is urgent in our world today. So you're talking about interdisciplinarity, which is crucial, I would say we need to bring in cross-disciplinarity and pluri-disciplinarity into these conversations as well. And then see how we can partner with their communities. And I use communities in the plural to be able to actually foster how those multi-pluri-cross-dsiciplinarity collaborations can occur. And then to see what the impact does, right? Because to me, this is almost sort of like a reverse design thing. It's like we are guided by the kinds of questions that our students are posing, because they see the world that they inhabit. And to them the world doesn't function in silos. And I really appreciated what you noted earlier, Nick, which is the deep dive into disciplinarity, which is what we are as Schools of Art and Design, especially RISD, emphasising materiality, emphasising slow design and the processes that are tied therein. But to the students, they again, don't see the world and silos, and so they have to take it upon themselves, as do the faculty, as you rightly noted, to actually break those silos, to see how the questions that they pose, in fact, have meanings that are valid, and that are very salient for all of these industries out there that are tied to the disciplines that they that they study. We, actually and I mentioned communities, we you know, beyond the intrapreneurship, that we have this great student led group, which is called ISHA that are absolutely fantastic. And the students, it's a very large group on campus, they work with faculty, they work with various offices, like strategic partnership, shout out to Sarah Cunningham, Sarah, Asana, Katherine Cooper, who are absolutely amazing and doing all this work. These students really see their purpose as ambassadors of art and design in this world. As active agents who are out there, using their art and design tools a pillars to create the world that they want to see not even just for themselves, but for future generations. And that is inspiring and I think we need to listen to them and we need to hear what they're saying.

Nick de Leon 33:10

And I'm just wondering, as well, because of you know, your experience now with Terra Carta, where we are with the Terra Carta Design Lab, we've had hundreds of students at the Royal College of Art, I know you've reached out to more than 3000 students and alumni at RISD, to what extent is, as well as that being a catalyst to bring disciplines together, to give that focus, to encourage people to work beyond their own discipline as well and create communities that are passionate about a challenge, rather than just in love with their own discipline.

Touba Ghadessi 33:41

It's been absolutely incredible. And in fact, I think it has amplified the kinds of work that was already occurring, but it is giving it this enormous platform where I think the students and the alum feel validated and what they've been asking for. So the Terra Carta has been absolutely incredible. And I will say RISD is a privileged institution. It's true. We are, you know, we were founded many, many years ago, we have the opportunities that we have. And we're very grateful for them. So the Terra Carta is allowing us to, again, align with our students and our alum in amplifying the incredible work that they're doing, and to make it meaningful beyond ourselves. And I think that's really crucial for what we do. We need to think beyond ourselves. That's what the Terra Carta Design Lab has allowed us to do.

Nick de Leon 34:37

Oh, that's fantastic, Hani, just picking up that kind of sense of empowering people giving them agency. I'm wondering to what extent that again, the Terra Carta Design Lab has been a kind of catalyst for you for bringing together people who are eager to be able to see that discipline being applied to create impact are driven by the fact that they care for people, planet and nature, and they want to create models of prosperity that are aligned with ensuring that there is value created for all of those actors that are part of it. To what extent do you see the Terra Carta Design Lab having contributed to that goal?

Hani Asfour 35:18

Thank you, Nick for asking this question and tying it to the DNA. Definitely, Terra Carta comes at a time when we were trying to explore different ways where we can take the projects of our students to the next level. And to be honest, it has been a challenge, especially in the environment that we are everyone wants to help. But it's not clear how we can take these projects forward. So when Terra Carta Design Lab came and selected us, and how serious and how committed the Design Lab team is to actually helping those ideas come to fruition because of the sincerity of the goals was was just such a refresher to hear. And the generosity of the Terra Carta project gives us a lot of hope. So you can imagine the students, a lot of students had ideas that were just percolating, or they knew they were good, we were talking to different types of incubators, trying to start our own incubator. And then the Design Lab comes along and says, “Look, we're serious, we're going to do it. And we're going to help you get there.” So it is remarkable as a model that we will use to encourage others, whether they are sovereign funds in the in the region, or whether they are private enterprises, to use Terra Carta Design Lab, as an example, as a model of how you can actually make an investment in the future and show that you are sincerely committed to fixing the urgent problem of the climate. So it's very exciting for the students to see that there are people actually who are doing something about it and helping them and listening to their ideas and getting excited by them.

Nick de Leon 37:16

I think it also it kind of amplifies the voice so substantially. And of course, although DIDI is relatively small, its ambitions are not, nor are any of the ambitions I think of Dubai, I think it's in the kind of Dubai DNA as such, if you don't mind me say as part of it. And of course, you have such large-scale events such as the Dubai Design Week and Expo Dubai. And these are tremendous platforms, I imagine, also for being able to share those ideas, as well as becoming a nexus for the exchange of ideas that can take place at the DIDI and the events that are associated with it. Is that something that you can you think we can really leverage, maybe we all ought to be turning up with our wonderful winners from each region in Dubai?

Hani Asfour 38:05

I know, this is not the podcast. But if you look out here, that's exactly where Design Week happens just outside the door. So it's really really in the heart of the Dubai, design, culture. And the exciting thing about Dubai, it's so diverse, and it's so tolerant, that we welcome everyone, anyone we have a small body of students yet we have 30 nationalities. And it's amazing and you have you have touched upon creating communities. What's interesting is when the students come in, in the first year, they clustered around people like the people of their culture, their language. By the end of the time they are in the IDI, what happens is that they start clustering around interests and ideas. And it's so wonderful to see these cross-cultural, cross-national people coming together because of the ideas rather than because of other things that they had inherited. That's one thing. The other thing I want to say about Dubai, we are literally on a mission to change two perceptions. One of them in the western Asian and North African idea of what design is it is seen as a luxury and an add on. And we want to through education show that actually design thinking and design strategies and design approaches are actually about making the world a better place on on a fundamental human level, and multispecies if you want like we have our product design team, that's what they focus on. The other thing is we want to shift the understanding from this especially this region, being consumer culture to culture that is put juicing, whether it's ideas or solutions, or, or, or all these things and this shift, we are beginning to see, for example, as you know, we have developed the curriculum with MIT and MIT launched the new Academy of Design. And at the keynote of our first graduation, the dean said that what they had learned from DIDI now they're applying at MIT. And I was like, this is fantastic, because we are collaborating. And now we are importing ideas, which is amazing. So I just wanted to put those in to actually show that our mission is not just about… our mission is ambitious, as you said, Nick, let me put it that way. Yeah.

Nick de Leon 40:45

But it is, and you know, but you are also, you know, you've got two very illustrious and highly, two wonderful partners in MIT and the new school. So it's not surprising that the students should be engaged also, with the similar kind of ambitions attracted to DIDI because of that, but also seeing that kind of reverse innovation process, where the ideas that can emerge in this living lab of an environment are able to kind of be disseminated those approaches those models to go back into MIT. So I'm not surprised at all. But in terms of Living Lab, I'm going to return to Praveen for a moment if that's okay for Praveen, because, you know, what we've been hearing about is that the fact that it is very mission led, it's very impactful. It's really redefining what design is. And I wonder whether through Terra Carta as well, though, those questions have come even more to the surface, where people are rethinking what design is, and what contribution it can make. And I just was eager to have your kind of, again, your perspective, because as I said earlier, in my question, you know, you're right at the front line of change, you have the most diverse and extreme communities and audiences that you're engaged with. So how is that affecting you now?

Praveen Nahar 42:08

See actually Terra Carta Design Lab came in a very interesting time, of course, I see it as a as a kind of climate change, global warming, depletion of the world, actually, it's, it's more of a global issue, rather than the original issue. And I think Terra Carta design challenge with these four continents addressing the challenge, in its own ways, it's quite a phenomenal kind of thing, because it's to address some kind of a super wicked problem, you know, if you look at the wicked problems, the climate challenge the super wicked problems. Somehow, I think, while we are, we have been addressing such issues in our own ways, and sort of doing in the academic sort of silos in settings sometimes, but I think this is really pushing you and challenge, not only your to make sense, but also it has to make a business sense in all these guys, actually, I was looking at how, you know, these guys are going to develop and build their business models and ideas around that, and that is really pushing it. And I really see that as a collective, I think, of course, you will get support. But I think as a collective of, you know, this 50-70 projects across 40 schools, it is it is actually create a, it will create a new future design leadership, actually, which is, which is actually really challenging that 21st century design, you know, in real world challenges, through this collective action and, you know, pushing abroad, and I've seen in last few weeks how I know some of the mentors and you know, guys from startup ecosystem are coming in looking at their business models and questioning that, you know, how will you make a sense, and I think that the conviction of this young group, their whole mindset of being able to make change, through a sense making, I think that's quite a bit of an angle. And I see that there is a lot of interesting ideas and perspectives will emerge. It has a lot of potential to see how, in the future, I think many such challenges can be addressed through such initiatives.

Nick de Leon 44:27

I think it's very interesting that you touch on the fact that they're becoming very entrepreneurial. And I've always felt that designers have a lot in common with entrepreneurs. In fact, many of the main attributes, it's so similar, you know, that people become entrepreneurs, because they don't want a job. I mean, they want to work hard, and they don't want to just make a living, they want to make a difference, you know, and they're passionate and they're opportunistic, they look for areas they can and if you look at designers, you know, we became designers because we didn't want a job like other people. We wanted to work really hard. And we again don't want to just make a living by being a designer, we want to make a difference. And we're driven by our values. And so I think it's not surprising that when we start to teach our designers about entrepreneurship, how they can create not only something that is good for sustainability, but it is also economically sustainable so it can become impactful that they seem to relish that. And I just wanted to just going across the group now, just reflecting on that, that connection with industry, and helping designers understand the business implications of what they're doing, and enabling them to take those entrepreneurial concepts both into companies, as well as being able to form companies themselves. Is that something that you're seeing as well within your institution? Certainly, we're seeing it here at the Royal College of Art. So that too, but maybe you would like to comment first, I see you nodding.

Touba Ghadessi 45:52

I am nodding, because I think what you're noting, there's another part to this as well, which is that we want to materialise the things that we find to be meaningful. And in order to do that, I think that this is where the intrapreneurial mode model comes in. And this is where I think the partnerships with the corporate world and with the external world are crucially important, because without that, with that these partnerships, things can't happen. So it's a pragmatic approach to that as well. I don't mean to be cynical at all, but I actually want to be really objective about how it is that we enact change. And I think this is where the ways through which we can find these conduits so that we can actualise the ideas that are brought through our institutions and what the students and the faculty and the alums are doing, it is important to materialise them and concretise them and actualise them through these partnerships. I think to me, this is where this notion, I would say on an intellectual level of entrepreneurship comes into play, which is actualise an idea have a business model, so that it is sustainable, I will say human energy needs to be sustained as well. And in order to do that, we all have to believe in what we're doing and making the change that you note we want to make. So unsustainability can find its way through many things.

Nick de Leon 47:13

And Hani, what about for you as well, because I'm guessing that there are many companies that have been round do by design, we've seen the work that your students have done, the RCA students have done from the previous cycle of Terra Carta. And you know, we have an expression in England, which is to blow people's socks off. But I'm assuming they looked at that and said “Wow, we didn't think designers did that.”

Hani Asfour 47:37

That's exactly the reaction we get. And one of the most engaged companies has been Accenture surprisingly as as as a consulting company, and actually, we have an open house and they will be our guest of honours the Saturday. They just love being part of the ecosystem that we're developing. And they are actually looking to hire our students, which is very interesting. And when you talk about this breaking down the silos earlier and tying it to industry, and I loved what you said about the mind of the designer is similar to the mind of an entrepreneur. And in fact, we break down the silos we call it hybridization from the get go. So from day one, the students learn design technology and business and we postpone any extraneous courses that are not related to these to the second year onwards. So the students can focus on learning design, learning business and learning the latest technologies, whether it's AI, whether it's coding, we do give them intensive courses in those things, fabrication, all the tools, all the equipment robotics, from day one. So this way, they are immersed and blending naturally, and breaking down the silos which they don't realise that they're breaking those silos they think this is the way the world should be. So this entrepreneurship thinking we instill it in the first year. In the second year, we raised the level of, of hybridization with the students have to combine two design disciplines together. So we have a student, for instance, who chooses to do product design, along with fashion design. In the first semester, she took, you know, all the product design, she learned all the product design methods and making so whether it's fabrication, vacuum forming, you know, robotic arm printing, CNC printing, and then this next semester, she went into the fashion studio, and she had all these skills and she applied them to fashion and we were looking at her, we were like, Wait, you're on Mars, we're in Houston, we're still behind the screen, we're thinking about this, but you're actually doing it. And so we are also learning from our students and their this is a two edged sword on one level they are, I believe being prepared for a future where one needs to be flexible and nimble, which is what NID was saying. And this is very, very important. At the same time, the industry hasn't yet understood what breaking down the silos are, especially in Western Asia here. So my sense is that we need to find the right balance between hybridization, and then making sure that the employers understand what our students are doing, because they tend to want to pigeonhole them, and they don't fit. And so what we found is a very interesting situation. However, I'm confident that as time goes on, and these, these AI starts taking over these, these jobs, that the new jobs that require hybridisation as Touba said, breaking down the silos, the multi-disciplinarity, will be much, much, much more in demand. Yet, in Western Asia, we haven't reached that level in the industry, yet there is awareness that that's happening.

Nick de Leon 51:05

It's good to find that there is momentum. And I think there's momentum all over the world, we might be all coming from different starting points. But I think projects like the Terra Carta Design Lab, have been able to catalyse so much of that bringing that focus to interdisciplinary thinking, bringing together technology, and business and design, recognising that technology alone is not going to solve the problems unless it connects with society and culture, and can enable people to achieve their goals and live with dignity. But also understand that they can do it connected with the needs of nature, that other people and communities and creating prosperity for the planet, but where everything thrives as well. So I think this is something which, again, we're we're hoping for, and it's always important, I get guests as well, to see this strong connection that the Terra Carta is part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative, that initiative that was launched back in 2020 by His Majesty King Charles III. And that has catalysed industry. As we met in London, we were with, you know, 250 CEOs, that is what makes up the SMI. And we heard from all of those different programmes that were taking place. And that one thing that sits with me is every conversation we had about design landed, it was about people saying we have to innovate. And the only way of innovating is to connect to technology, business and society. And understand these are systemic issues and they need a systemic response, not a technological one, not just a business one, but something that combines all of those elements in the service of it. I mean, did you take that away as well, Touba as part of that experience?

Touba Ghadessi 52:55

Absolutely and I will repeat something that you shared with me, Nick, we are the remedy. And I think that remedy is found in all of our shared humanity and how we harness that technology, how we harness that design, to come to the solutions. I genuinely agree with you. I think the moments where all boundaries, all frontiers, everything disappeared, and we can all align is sustainability is our planetary health. And so we are the remedy. We

Nick de Leon 53:30

We are yes, I remember saying that to you. That also really relates to all of our institutions, we are very privileged institutions, we must use that privilege, because we have a duty to serve our planet, our people nature as part of it. But with that privilege, and part of it comes a sense, we became designers because we wanted agency, we want you to be able to make a difference. And therefore none of us can never think of ourselves as being a victim of anything. If you have agency, you are not a victim, you are the remedy. And I think that's what the message that you know, we have to give to the 250 CEOs, they've got to start thinking of themselves as the remedy. And I know that almost all of them are really in that mindset. And for our students who will be the agents of change going forward. They manifestly are the remedy, we ought to get those T shirts. I'm part of Terra Carta Design Lab, I am the remedy. Well please my sincerest thanks to you all for being part of our session today. It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for giving up your time. Please share this podcast with all the communities that you work with. And greatest thanks to all of the people I know that you know are behind you were able to sit and talk to you today but I know there are hundreds and hundreds of students and many tens of members of faculty that have been part of the work we've been doing with Terra Carta and they deserve our sincerest thanks as well for making this the success it is. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Touba Ghadessi 55:12

Thank you so much. This was a true delight.

Nick de Leon 55:16

And thank you again, Praveen. Thank you, Hani. Thank you, Touba.


This podcast is from the Royal College of Art. Home to the next generation of artists, innovators and entrepreneurs, and the world's number one art and design University. You'll find links to more information about the Terra Carta Design Lab, the Sustainable Markets Initiative, and our guests in the show notes. And you can learn more about our programmes at rca.ac.uk as well as finding news and events relating to the college and our application portal if you're interested in studying at the RCA.

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The RCA is collaborating with the Sustainable Markets Initiative to deliver the Terra Carta Design Lab, inviting students and recent alumni to develop credible and sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

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