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Grant Will Support Work of New Research Lab Dedicated to
Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability

Lab to Establish the U.S. Branch of DESIS Network Founded by Ezio Manzini

New York, October 21, 2009—The Rockefeller Foundation has awarded The New School a prestigious New York City Cultural Innovation Fund award to support the work of its newly founded Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) Lab. The DESIS Lab brings together faculty and students from across the disciplines at The New School, led by Parsons The New School for Design and Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, to research, promote, and amplify community-based solutions for sustainability in New York City. The New School, a research university, has established the DESIS Lab as the next step in its commitment to playing a leading role in the emerging field of design for social change, and more broadly, social innovation.

In partnership with design labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University, the DESIS lab will establish the U.S. branch of the DESIS Network. Founded by Ezio Manzini, DESIS Network is a global consortium of design schools, private companies and nonprofit organizations that support the use of design to generate social change. The New School's Rockefeller Foundation-funded project, Amplifying Creative Communities, will be the first project in the U.S. to utilize the DESIS approach.

“With the support of this prestigious grant, the DESIS Lab will pursue much needed research at the intersection of design and sustainability on a local, grassroots level,” said Joel Towers, dean of Parsons. “The recent international economic convulsions and the challenges of global climate change can, at face value, appear mutually exclusive and remote to local concerns. The work of DESIS and Manzini prove otherwise. Short-term challenges, and local and global concerns for sustainability can be linked through design. As President Obama has acknowledged in the creation of an office dedicated to social innovation, creativity can be a key to unlocking next-generation solutions to long-standing social issues.”

The New School is one of 15 recipients selected by the Rockefeller Foundation from more than 500 submissions. The grant represents the first to be supported by the foundation's New York City Cultural Innovation Fund that takes a cultural approach to social and environmental issues. The project, Amplifying Creative Communities, seeks to find creative ways that New York residents can live more sustainably by strengthening and multiplying the many grassroots activities that exist within local neighborhoods—such as food coops, co-housing, community gardens, car sharing and clothes swaps. This is in contrast with many sustainability programs, which are more likely not to succeed because of a top-down approach that imposes unfamiliar practices on local communities.

“The Rockefeller Foundation is pleased to continue our support of art and creativity right here in our hometown of New York City,” said Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation.  “In today’s economy, our artists and communities need support to continue to build an innovative creative sector that provokes us to react, question, and learn.”

Through the Rockefeller grant of $150,000, The New School's DESIS Lab ( will focus in this first phase on the Lower East Side (LES) neighborhood of Manhattan. DESIS Lab will work in partnership with Green Map System (, which utilizes mapmaking to promote sustainable community development in over 50 countries, the Lower East Side Ecology Center (, which provides community-based environmental education and activism opportunities to New York City residents, and IDEO (, an acclaimed international design consultancy. The project will include an exhibition and design workshops to identify sustainability initiatives that exist in the LES, and demonstrate how design strategies can amplify these activities as well as create new ones that fulfill unmet community needs. A customized toolkit will be created for the community that will facilitate the ongoing implementation of sustainable activities. In future phases, the DESIS Lab will replicate the project in other New York City neighborhoods.

“The research we are conducting through this project is vital, considering the increased economic and demographic pressures urban communities will experience in the next decade,” said Lara Penin, an assistant professor in the School of Design Strategies at Parsons, who is establishing the lab along with Eduardo Staszowski, assistant professor in the School of Design Strategies; Cameron Tonkinwise, chair of Business Design and Sustainability in the School of Design Strategies; and Nidhi Srinivas, associate professor of Non-Profit Management at Milano. “The creation of the DESIS Lab allows us the opportunity to partner with global universities and organizations, so that we can collaboratively research and find solutions to sustainability challenges."

The DESIS Lab will work with the Design for Change Lab at Stanford University and the Design Laboratory at MIT to establish DESIS USA. In its first year, DESIS USA will develop a roadmap of academic programs of study and research that utilize the international DESIS model in the context of the United States. At Parsons, the DESIS Lab is being led out by its School of Design Strategies, one of the five schools that comprise Parsons. The School of Design Strategies houses Parsons programs that apply design thinking to real-world issues, addressing the intersection of cities, services, and ecosystems. This includes undergraduate programs in environmental studies, integrated design and design and management, and new programs under development in graduate-level transdisciplinary design, undergraduate- and graduate-level urban design, and graduate-level design management.

Located in the heart of New York City, The New School is a center of academic excellence where intellectual and artistic freedoms thrive. Established in 1919, the university is comprised of more than 10,200 degree-seeking graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in 82 degree-granting programs in the fields of liberal arts and social sciences, performing arts, management, and design. In addition to the DESIS Lab, other recent initiatives in the area of social innovation at the university include The New School's partnership with Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs, in the Ashoka Changemaker Campus Initiative. For more information, please visit

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