Some Things I Learned in Mexico

Last week I spent a few days in Mexico City to give a workshop on Transformative Storytelling and to mentor startup founders at the Smart Impact Accelerator. Here are some things that I learned from my visit:

  • Many of the startup concepts from the groups that I mentored were derivative ideas of things that already exist elsewhere, whether they relate to e-commerce, social enterprise, or education. But that’s ok. It’s all about the execution anyway, and how the startups can learn to leverage their specific local knowledge and expertise to make their ventures work here in Mexico.
  • There is a small but scrappy startup scene down here. The Mexican government is also putting money into supporting innovation.

Read the rest of my travel reflections and recommendations on Medium.

Some Things I Learned in Mexico

Rwanda Reflections

Word Associations.

If I say “Rwanda,” the first thing most of you will say would be “genocide.” Or maybe the animal lovers and adventure travelers among you will say “gorillas” as a distant second.

Rwanda for me is haunting memories and unforgettable images, seared into my consciousness. Twenty years since the genocide. Two months since my trip there for UX for Good. Rwanda is still on my mind. My words can hardly express my thoughts and feelings, but allow me to offer some thoughts about my experience in the Land of a Thousand Hills.

So, how was Rwanda?

Awesome. Awful. Both.

Do these words even mean anything relation to the best and the worst of the human experience?

On one end, the trip of a lifetime and a life-affirming experience for a designer like me. On the other, the mass murder of a million people to the pain and suffering of those who survived.  Twenty years have past, but deep scars remain.

Words fail again. I wish I could edit together a documentary video of my memories, but until that’s possible, I offer you a series of snapshots.

For me, Rwanda is:

Having the honor and privilege of meeting and working with the most amazing people, from my fellow UX for Good designers to colleagues working at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.


Seeing the Memorial for the first time. Learning about how decades of hate bubbled over into a bloodbath. 100 days, almost 1 million people killed.

As John Petrie, our client and host, pointed out, it was not 1 million murders, but 1 murder of a human being with a family, with a story, followed by the murder of another human being with her own story, and another, until you get to a million.

A million. That’s half of Manhattan. Slaughtered over three months. Beaten with bats, slashed by machetes.


The blood and brains-encrusted wall of a former church Sunday school building, against which children were bludgeoned to death. A wooden spear used to rape and impale women and girls seeking refuge at the church. The overwhelming feeling and smell of death, even though twenty years have passed. All brutal reminders of mass murder burned forever in my memory.

Leaving the final room of the Kigali Memorial, the Children’s Room. Speechless.



The quiet dignity of the genocide survivors. The humility of heroes.

Attending Rwandan song/dance/percussion performance. And being invited to join in the dancing. The songs were pure energy, pure joy, pure life.

Goat Burrito with Mango Salsa and Habanero hot sauce at Meze Fresh.


Fried sambaza, small whole fish from Lake Kivu with just the right amount of salt and grease, enjoyed al fresco on a balmy evening, washed down with a cold Mütsig beer, accompanied by a panoramic view of Kigali and surrounded by the company of new friends: artists, activists, designers, dreamers.

Meeting Grace Uwamahoro and hearing her story. Grace was 10 years old in 1994, the year of the Genocide. While fleeing from the confusion with her family, Grace walked by a dying woman clutching to a baby. The dying woman implored Grace to take the baby. Grace did, and raised the baby, Vanessa, as her own sister/daughter. Vanessa is now a 20 year-old woman. The best of humanity in the worst of times.

Witnessing for myself a brief snapshot of the story of Rwanda’s rebirth.

First you have to die to be reborn.


Inzovu” means “elephant” in Kinyarwanda.  It’s our design response to what we saw and the stories we heard. It’s a framework and narrative strategy for moving visitors from the memorial from a state of empathy to compassionate action. It’s a way to turn a museum that memorializes genocide into a place that can help prevent genocide? How does it work? How can we test it?

More coming soon. Stay tuned.

What did we do in Rwanda?

Via UX for Good:

This year’s Annual Challenge will take place June 1st – 7th in Kigali, Rwanda and London, UK with Aegis Trust, the organization that established the Kigali Genocide Memorial on behalf of the Rwandan people in 2004.

Like genocide memorials around the world, this site produces powerful feelings in all who visit it. UX designers have a unique capacity to understand the steps that take place between emotion and action. In Kigali, we’ll ask them to apply that skill set on behalf of all humankind.

As part of the Annual Challenge, UX designers from across the globe will visit Kigali for several days of exploration, research and debate. Then the team will reconvene in London, where they’ll design an original way to translate the feelings evoked by genocide memorials into sustainable action. Finally, they’ll share their findings to leaders from Aegis and other advocates for human dignity.

In addition to a presentation to Aegis Trust, the findings will be publicly shared and be used as the starting point for a day-long virtual event in August. As part of that event, UX for Good will work together with experts and volunteers to refine the concepts developed and explore how they could be applied in many different contexts.

Designer Voices

Here are personal accounts from the trip by my UX for Good colleagues:


Catherine showed me around her old stomping grounds in London last week.  We walked around, ate surprisingly good food (despite the British stereotype), and hit the requisite tourist sites – Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Notting Hill, etc.  I also had the chance to meet up with Venu, and old friend from my Swedish class at Harvard, and Steph and Olie, a couple of British friends I met in Japan.

Eat! Above: Ploughman’s Lunch at The Spaniard’s Inn, Hampstead

Below: Fish & Chips.  Ok, these are from Giraffe, a chain in Heathrow before my flight back, but it was actually pretty good I had to get my mushy peas fix before leaving the UK

Drink! Below: Summer in England = Pimm’s, of course! @ the Scarsdale Tavern, Kensington

Above: Some photos from the Elephant Parade 2010

Elephant Parade is a conservation campaign that shines a multi-coloured spotlight on the urgent crisis faced by the endangered Asian elephant. Brought to you by, the event sees over 250 brightly painted life-size elephants located over central London this summer.

Stay: Travelodge Marylebone – inexpensive and centrally located

Panda Eyes at the Design Museum London

More London photos and video on Flickr.


I went on an impromptu trip out to Montauk, Long Island last weekend with Catherine.  Photo essay and travel tips below.

STAY at The Panoramic View – simple luxury, right on the beach

EAT fish and chips at Gurney’s Inn, right next door to The Panoramic View

DRINK at Nick’s, a beach bar right in town with live music

WATCH the sunset at the Montauket

EAT lobsters at Duryea’s.  Rustic and delicious.  My lobster was pregnant! Yum.

ADOPT a sock monkey and shop for other kitsch Americana at a shop on the main street in town (don’t remember the name)

More photos on Flickr.


I got back late Friday night from a 5 day holiday on Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with my ITP pals Elizabeth and Catherine.  Saba is a tiny, tranquil island with no beach, but excellent diving and hiking.  We stayed at El Momo Cottages and I took a PADI Scuba Diver certification course at Sea Saba.  We came back tanned (a little sunburned actually) and relaxed and ready to take on the last 6 weeks of thesis before graduation (cue freak out now).  Photo essay and travel details below.

Saba Quick Guide

Stay: El Momo Cottages
Just the right kind of rustic (pictured above and below). Proprietors Andries and Marieke are gracious hosts. It’s a bit of a schlep up the hill and stairs, but the view is worth it. The homemade breakfast is a great way to start your day, while the homemade flavored rums make an excellent nightcap.

Eat: Brigadoon
The best restaurant on the island. Owner Tricia is a lively hostess, while her husband holds down the kitchen. Stick with the fresh seafood dishes and definitely try the luxurious seafood chowder.

Dive: Sea Saba
Professional and friendly staff. Scott was a knowledgeable dive instructor who explained things very clearly and helped reassure us total beginners.

Snack: Saba Snack
Tiny snack bar on the main street in Windwardside. Soursop smoothie and a coconut cookie (pictured below) make the perfect mid-afternoon post-dive snack.

Above: St. Maarten through a 70’s-tinted prop plane window. Below: Winair prop plane.

Above: View into the cockpit.  Below: Local wildlife.

Above: Mango tree.

Above: A final taste of the islands: smoked herring-stuffed plantain washed down with piña colada at the St. Maarten airport while waiting for our flight home.

Additional photography courtesy of Catherine White.