As we wrap up our series we hope you have found inspiration in these interviews and continue to reference them as needed. Maybe we will be reading about your latest endeavors in the social design field soon!

For the conclusion of our series we invited you to pose questions for our director at DESIGN 21, Haruko Smith. We received some really fantastic questions, thank you for nominating.

Haruko Smith is the director of DESIGN 21, which began in 1995 as a collaborative design competition project between UNESCO and Felissimo, a Japanese design and merchandising company (see "Our Roots" here).

Haruko also oversees the UNESCO/Tribute 21 DREAM Center program, an arts education program for children — DREAM stands for Dance, Read, Express, Art, Music. The project was inaugurated in 2003 with the goal of providing underprivileged children, especially in post-conflict regions, the opportunities and tools to express themselves creatively. (See our "Mark of Dreams" logo competition brief, open now for entry, for more on this initiative).

Haruko also runs a non-profit organization of her own, The September Concert Foundation which, every year on September 11, organizes a global celebration of peace and universal humanity with free concerts in several cities and locations around the world.

Haruko has had a great deal of experience with the arts and non-profit work, and she is pleased to share her insights with you. Here are her answers to your questions:

The DREAM Center Program - This is exciting work that you are doing! I'm curious if there is an educational and/or an outreach component to this program, in which DESIGN21 members make contact with & engage the children being served. I'd also like to know if you envision this initiative expanding beyond its current roles into more/new ones, and if yes, how? Thank you for your time & consideration.

Currently there exists no mechanism whereby DESIGN21 members can be involved in the Program. But it's always been part of my vision. It would be so wonderful if all kinds of creative people in the arts and cultures could be organized, similar to the Peace Corps, to be sent to these parts of the world as teachers, teacher's assistants, friends, and students, for a month to a year. Right now, there are more obstacles that need to be overcome before this dream can be realized.

We can't just show up if there's no infrastructure for receiving us. Think, for example, in Kabul, can we provide safety and security for the people we send? Are there accommodations available for them? Who will oversee the program locally? The fact is that it's even hard to maintain a smooth communication channel. We work with a local UNESCO chapter and a local NGO/ shelter/ church group, etc. It's easy for us to say "Send us a photo," but it's not always so easy for them to comply. They may not have a camera. They may not have easy access to email. That's the reality.

My other dream, which is a lot simpler and quite doable is to collect art supplies, books, used musical instruments, digital cameras, CDs and DVD's to send to our centers. As I write this I realize that there's absolutely no excuse for me not to start this project! Let me know if anyone out there would like to join us in this effort.

What are the biggest challenges of these programs involving children? Are they the same in every country/ place? How are they different (if they are)? Have you done any programs in India? I am curious as I am currently doing a design thesis on this subject. Will be great to make contact with you and seek a possible partnership.

I would love to know your strategy for getting kids and adults in post-conflict areas involved in creative projects, particularly if they haven't before had access to art education. What sort of materials do you use? Is it possible to get people making art if you're very far away (meaning the person initiating the program isn't actually on the ground in the post-conflict area). How do you approach people who may have been traumatized by war and violence and get them started expressing themselves creatively? And do you have any experience/thoughts about doing this sort of work in countries that are still experiencing war and violence? Thank you so much. Great great work!

I'm going to try answering both of the above questions together.

The common element among these children is that they live in a disadvantaged environment, and do not have much. Other than that, each region has its own unique set of challenges. In Kabul, education for girls had been banned for several years under the Taliban regime, so girls have specific needs. Liberia had just come out of 14 years of civil war during which time hundreds of thousands of children were exploited and remained illiterate, and many still carry physical and emotional disabilities. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and children are vulnerable to domestic violence and HIV/AIDS. There's no classroom for many children in East Jerusalem because they are not recognized by educational authorities, and they are given to the dangers of life on the street.

So where do we come in?

I firmly believe that one way we can help is by giving them tools for creative expression. Whether it's through music, art, dance, or poetry, the ability to express themselves expands their world, and gives them confidence and an inner asset that cannot be taken away. We want to give them access to the kinds of DREAM that they otherwise would not have, and we are adamant about our funds being used for that purpose only, instead of it going towards other necessities, because I believe that nurturing children artistically and creatively is just as important.

In my dreamy stage, I envisioned children in a shelter discovering Mozart. Picasso. Ballet. Not that I wanted to impose these western arts on them. I wanted DREAM Center to offer something that was NOT part of their vocational training - a playground for their world to expand and the creative mind to develop.

In reality, sports activity turned out to be a very freeing experience, a form of self expression for girls in Afghanistan. In Monrovia, the need for trauma-related art therapy was too severe to fight. Like that, we try to understand and adjust the program according to particular needs.

How can I work for UNESCO and be a part of world of live and help? By the way thank you for all you've done for world.

We work with UNESCO, but we are not a part of UNESCO. My company, Felissimo, is a partner of UNESCO in a few programs that we jointly developed. DESIGN21 is one of them. DREAM Center is another. I did find a page on UNESCO's site for employment opportunities here.

What was the greatest challenge when starting your own non-profit, The September Concert Foundation? How long did it take to get things really going?

I conceived the idea in October 2001, looking at a beautiful photograph of the skies of New York. I became obsessed with the idea of filling them with music. The first September Concert took place on September 11th, 2002. The greatest challenge was in getting funding, but to be honest, I did not know that it was a challenge. When you are focused on making something happen, you don't stop to think about how difficult it is. You just keep going and trying different ways.

In retrospect it was hard in the sense that I could not get any funding, but I ended up learning to do it on very little money. I basically asked musicians to come out and make music anywhere they could, and come they did. It gave me a lot of strength because I had a beautiful idea, the execution of which did not depend on how much money I raised.

The September Concert is not a memorial event, it's an attempt to bring people together and celebrate our universal humanity. Every year it spread to other parts of the country and the world, and we now have over 200 concerts globally on that day. Just one day out of a year, I think the world can come together, wrapped in music, and be united in hopes for peace.

Posted October 06, 2009