Leyla Acaroglu is a “Sustainability Provocateur” who challenges people to think differently about how the world works. As an award winning designer, declared “Champion of the Earth” by the United Nations, a sociologist, and an entrepreneur, she developed the Disruptive Design Method and designs cerebrally activating experiences, gamified toolkits, and unique educational experiences that help people make the status-quo obsolete. Leyla is the founder of the experimental knowledge lab for adults, the UnSchool of Disruptive Design.
Her TED talk on sustainability has been viewed over a million times, Leyla being a global speaker at international events on topics such as activating positive social change through creative interventions and systems thinking.
1.In 2016, you have been awarded the “Champion of the Earth” title by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). How can each of us become Champions of the Earth in our day-to-day lives?
We are all contributing to the way the world works each day through our actions. The things we buy, to the food we eat, the way we interact with others and the natural world: these are all contributing to the collective impact humans are having on the planet. I worked on a project in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called the “Anatomy of Action” (anatomyofaction. org) which shows how each of us can make better choices in our daily lives to have a positive impact.
After I won the UNEP award I was inspired to reflect on the everyday superpowers we each have to champion the Earth and each make positive change, so we made a free Everyday Superpower Kit which anyone can download (unschool.ck.page/ superpowers).
2.You consider yourself a “Sustainability Provocateur”. What stands behind your “systems thinking” mindset? In what ways is balance the key that we need in order to function fluidly?
When I first started out in my career in sustainable design there were still a lot of misconceptions and barriers to embracing change, so I gave myself the title “Sustainability Provocateur” as I wanted to push at the boundaries and challenge the status quo around what sustainability is seen as, the value it has to offer and the kinds of people who feel that they too can engage with it as an opportunity.
I also believe that we need positive disruption to change the dominant systems that reinforce unsustainability.
By adopting a systems mindset anyone can change their own perception to go from the linear system we are conditioned into, to seeing the full dynamic complex and beautiful systems at play around us. In order to change something, you have to deeply understand it first, and that’s what systems thinking helps. I also try and teach people who come to the UnSchool how to love problems no matter how complex they are, as if we love them, we will not avoid them!
3.The UnSchool of Disruptive Design is an experimental knowledge lab focused on systems thinking, sustainability and design. What are the benefits in terms of creative change-making for all those who attend your classes?
The world needs as many humans as possible to act and to participate in addressing the world’s complex problems: from climate change to social inequity, structural racism, hyper-consumption, ocean plastic waste to food waste, there are many things we can work on to support the sustainability of our beautiful shared planet Earth.
Sustainability is about harmonising the social, economic and environment considerations of what we do, be it the small micro actions we take each day, or the macro systems that companies and governments design. It’s a balancing act that requires consideration, compassion and creativity to get it right.
The UnSchool is designed to help people activate their agency, to provide the thinking and doing tools that make positively disruptive change, and to be an active part of contributing to a future that works better for all of us. We support emerging and established leaders advancing their changemaking skills so that they can be at the forefront of transitioning to a circular, sustainable, and regenerative future.
Everyone who comes to the UnSchool is an active change-maker: creative rebels, pioneers, designers, thinkers, doers, activators, engineers, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between who has a deep-seated passion to make a positive impact through what they do.
4.You think humans must be more community-centered, because communities shift and shape our worldview, and can act as informal education, a place where collaborative learning happens. How can we take advantage of this alternative education style?
We are all social beings, we need others to survive and to build entirely new solutions to the problems that were made by decisions of the past. Collaboration can happen in many different ways, but the key is connection, and to do that well we need to be open and willing to hear the ideas and perspectives of others.
”Community is built through collaboration. It’s about invitation rather than dictation and busting through old models that don’t work for us anymore, like race or gender based hierarchies.
5.Disrupt Design is a platform where the content’s focus is on sustainability and a circular approach. You say that “today, almost everything is designed to break” and individuals are somehow forced to get into endless consumption cycles. What’s the role of design towards a more sustainable future?
Design is everywhere and everything we humans have created is by design. All the unsustainability is a byproduct of us creating goods and services that are intended to exclusively meet human needs, often at the expense of all other species on the planet!
”If we designed ourselves into a waste based hyper-consumption dependent system, then we can design ourselves right back out.
That’s one of the key concepts driving the transition to a circular economy, one that designs products and services to cycle back through intentionally designed systems of sustainability and regeneration.
6.Let’s discuss about the design of the Self. A very powerful message you delivered is that “we design the world and the world, in turn, designs us”. How can we actively engage and make the best out of our creative skillset for positive social change?
We are shaped by our experiences, good and bad, we are individuals formed through the things that we interact with. That’s social systems, industrial and ecological systems that help form how we see the world and the ways we interact with the things we encounter. So not only do we design the world to meet our human needs, but then all the things we created go ahead and help form us. Our culture, ideas, and values – they are all in part formed by design and, thus, can be changed by design.
7.The CO Project (Creative Optimism Project) is a farm you designed as a living learning laboratory: a brain spa where you offer people the opportunity to reconnect with nature. Which are the advantages of this type of eco-therapy?
There are many studies that show the benefits that the human brain and body get from engaging with nature. From crime rates in cities going down to the immune systems fighter cells in our bodies going up – all as a response to more trees and natural spaces.
We have a huge discontent between humans and nature, yet we each are made of the same materials as the eco systems around us, this is a critical perspective shift that I wanted to create experiences around in order to help foster that transition. I myself didn’t really understand how nature worked, so I built the CO farm to discover how the magic is made and now the CO project is a concept that can be applied to any experience that is about fostering creativity and optimism for a better future.
The interview was initially published in November 2021, in the bilingual yearbook Community Index Magazine no. 3, printed edition. It can be ordered here: https://communityindex.ro/community-index-magazine-2021/