Hey – I’m Dominika, a process-oriented, social designer working at the intersection of design, social innovation and speculative futures. This is my story half through my EYE exchange with Mariella Stella in Italy.

The first three weeks of this program were filled by various social activities and networking opportunities; initially, this made the COVID-19 quarantine seem like an obstacle. Though with time, it turned out to be a unique period, which has inspired me to re-focus and reflect on the system that I live in. The pandemic has exposed the social inequalities, ecological destruction and lack of reliable leaders.

Living in the current situation can be perceived as a state of a liminal, transitional or transformative space. We are collectively on the verge of the old systems falling, without knowing the ones that will replace them yet. In this time, new paradigms are more likely to emerge. However naive it may sound, I hope that it will inspire us to shift towards a future where humans can thrive without causing harm to nature. That shift makes me question my current business model, and explore further what services I should offer to address the emerging needs of businesses and the communities that are significant to them.

Our current western system is built on capitalistic values, linear economy and individualistic lifestyles. Blinded by the idea of endless growth, we tend to choose what is best for us at the moment, forgetting to consider the well-being of society as a whole. Therefore I want to start a consultancy that helps businesses, governments, and individuals apply new approaches such as systems thinking, circular economy or the ‘doughnut model’, to their strategies. Those concepts are designed to meet our today’s needs without having a negative, long term impact on the planet. Moreover, to accelerate that positive change and reinforce individual actions, I also want to discover the secrets behind resilient communities to support their creation.

During these 2,5 months of EYE programme, I have been privileged to experience the power of such a community at Casa Netural. I have ve realised how much time and effort it takes to create a strong bond between a diverse group of people and build resilience among them. In the case of Casa Netural, the house, including co-working and co-living spaces, has been the meeting point; a place with a mission to collaborate, inspire and build relationships. The less tangible elements such as events, initiatives and projects, serve as some sort of social glue; helping to form a unique and ever-growing sense of belonging between the members. The insights that I have gained during my stay here will serve as a solid base for building the services that I want to offer in the future.

Casa Netural is a unique organisation, with people and their well-being at the soul. Since the lockdown was implemented, hindering the interactions among the community members, we had to find new ways to connect and sustain them. Together with my HE and the rest of the team from Casa Netural, I have co-created new services and helped move the already existing ones online. I have used some of my already existing skills such as design thinking and service design. Besides, I have learned how to quickly prototype; co-create /include the community in the process, test, and improve by observing how people interact with and react to what we’ve created. Some of the services include; Online “Netural School” – based on the peer-to-peer learning concept, Online Board Game meetings, Online English Conversations, and Friday Music Hour with a local DJ. Being part of that process was rewarding and exciting; both because I felt a lot like part of the team, but also because I could support the community that I have become part of.

During my time here, I have been able to contribute to my host entrepreneur’s organisation with existing skills such as Graphic Design, Design Thinking, Co-creation, and Systems Thinking. We organised an online Netural School, where I shared my knowledge about Design Thinking in the context of social innovation. I initiated an online language course called “English Tea Time”. It created a virtual meeting space where the local community can improve their language skills and get to know each other better. Being a co-host of those meeting has allowed me to improve my facilitation skill and gave me an insight into community building.

Moreover, I have been co-designing several services, strategies and concepts. One of them was an online campaign which promoted and communicated the project to the broader public. The fact that I am able to use diverse skills, approaches and methodologies, is challenging but also exciting.

 

Networking in times of the lockdown

I have been lucky to work together with my HE on an application for a European grant. Considering the circumstances, it was for me an unusual opportunity to network online, with many socially responsible organisations in the EU. We have developed a proposal for a training program, built on concepts such as Ecosystem Design; Design Thinking; Service Design; Social innovation; Co-creation; Living Labs; Earth-centred Design; Peer-to-peer learning.

 

Supplementary activities

To enrich my time in Italy and gain various perspectives on the process of becoming an entrepreneur, I have committed myself to a few extra activities.

I am participating in an online course called ’30-day brain-activating bootcamp’, developed by Unschool. Its content overlaps with many of my learning goals; systems thinking, circular economy, co-creation, critical thinking. It was thanks to that activity that I started to acknowledge my agency, both on a professional but also a very personal, human level. It is a fantastic supplement to the learning outcomes that Iam exposed to through collaboration with my host entrepreneur.

Moreover, shortly before moving to Italy, I found a coach with whom I am exploring tools, methods and approaches, which help me overcome and learn from the challenges that I meet along my way. It was through that coaching, I have realised that the relationships I form, both privately and professionally, are my driving force. It made me realise that I want to find a partner with whom I can start the consultancy.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a worldwide online “Coronavirus Hackathon”, with a mission to design solutions for the post coronavirus world. I worked in a group of 5, exploring the topic of behavioural change. Two questions stuck to me after the hackathon – considering the learnings from this pandemic, What should we reinforce? – and what should we stop doing when the pandemic is over.

 

Soft skills

I have improved especially when it comes to soft skills such as:

  1. Proactiveness

I am experiencing a transition from thinking about myself as a ‘recent graduate’ to acting more proactively and feeling like an upcoming entrepreneur. This experience has helped me balance and gradually add another dimension to my own professional life. I am building upon the methodological thinking that I have been used to while becoming a social entrepreneur and doer. The approach of my host has played a significant role in that transition. Interacting daily with a person who is an extremely pro-active entrepreneur has shown me a different way of approaching projects and building support networks for them.

  1. Flexibility

Even though I tried to live in different countries before moving to Italy, getting used to this new context and lifestyle has stretched my flexibility again. The change of the environment has helped me adapt an explorer mindset, so I started to treat each task as an experiment. It has unlocked in me a great deal of openness and readiness to change the direction easily.

This Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs program has given me plenty of motivation and space to experiment, and to take the first steps towards turning ideas and concepts into reality. Even though the future is more uncertain than ever before, I am happy with creating a flexible base for my future plans, and a consultancy which I want to design around systems thinking, alternative economies and eco-centred design.