REAL Social Impact Design // Virginia Bruce on design & social enterprise.

The R.E.A.L Design for Social Impact mentoring program has once again partnered with COFA, one of Australia’s leading design institutes, to turn ‘ordinary’ designers into budding social entrepreneurs.

Through a staged process, the program offers mentoring, guidance and connections to industry professionals, and for the selected designers, a platform for distribution and marketing through The R.E.A.L Store.

Bridging the gap between ideas and reality, ‘R.E.A.L Design for Social Impact’ builds a professional pathway for emerging designers to use their own set of skills towards a positive and tangible social impact beyond the classroom.

Virginia Bruce, founder of the R.E.A.L Group, shares how she helps students to realise their own potential as ‘impact designers’, what it takes to make it onto the shelves of The R.E.A.L Store and how simple it really is to make a difference.

Designers will be designers. How are the students encouraged to be ambitious while also being realistic ?

For some, the project will quite comfortably end at the end of the 15 weeks. I am comfortable to say that just doing the program is enough of a social impact by the fact that we have made them think about their role as designers.

And for others, they don’t even realise just how ambitious they are but it is this naivety that I love about the program and that we need to nurture, to allow it to be a free-thinking platform where the sky is the limit, infinite possibilities exist within.

From an innovation perspective, it is our role to ask, “How do we take it to the next level?”

Where the idea comes from doesn’t matter. It can come from somebody who has no idea about the realities of what they are trying to do. That’s OK. You can bring in the experts later so I’m big on not putting any ceilings on it or any judgement other than guidance.

How does The R.E.A.L Store support the program ? 

The R.E.A.L store acts as a channel to market that allows this creativity, these ideas and designers to be showcased. We have often talked about it as being like a community centre or a catalyst, a space through which things pass to give them a sense of presence and the visibility to make an impact.

Whenever possible, we have provided paid internships for the graduates to develop their project into a social enterprise. We have been able to do it in some capacity however it is our hope to secure sponsorship to make this opportunity accessible to more graduates.

How does a social enterprise define the words “profit” and “success”?

We talk about “people, planet, profit” so a social enterprise needs to be both economically and socially profitable.

To succeed, it needs to have a positive impact so how do you define a ‘positive impact’?

Just a beautiful vase in someone’s home, coming from somebody who loved what they did and handed it to someone who loved what they received, that to me is positive.

The R.E.A.L Store goes from one extreme to the other. I have a high respect for people’s positive energy and how they want to contribute as much as I have for somebody who would go into a slum and really put everything on the line to help these people move their way out of poverty.

With Santina’s (Life In Parts – pictured below) work, I thought it was so fragile and beautiful in her message around mental health. It worked to have just 30 pieces to sell in the store. That was enough. It didn’t have to be s.e.a.t (pictured above) and become an education program that I’m trying to take global. They don’t all have to be big, they can just be beautiful.

What is your message to people who would say, “I am not (smart/rich/famous) enough to make a difference?”

Every hand shapes humanity but the difference is doing it consciously.

Whether it’s teaching children with s.e.a.t or mentoring at COFA, it’s about putting each person at the centre of their universe and recognising that their value is just by the fact that they were born, that each one of us has something to offer.

As a social impact designer, what are you going to design that you love? What are you going to design that is part of who you are but also makes a contribution to other people’s worlds?

The journey is trying to get it right.