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More in Common Than You Think: Innovators from Diverse Fields Address Global Challenges

Piyush Tantia — Co-Executive Director, ideas42


Beach Reflection

At first glance, an artist seeking to break stereotypes about hip-hop culture by analyzing rap lyrics may not have much in common with a researcher preparing mental health workers to support developing countries after a disaster.

And maybe it’s not immediately obvious what a cartoonist crafting a graphic novel version of the Kenyan constitution and a professor evaluating how and why environmental policies succeed or fail have to learn from one another’s work.

While the work described above may seem quite different on the surface, it actually all has a shared fundamental element: human behavior. And this shared element is what brought together 13 leading academics, artists, and practitioners from diverse fields, who are currently taking part in a thematic month on human behavior at The Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center.

“The differences between the professional backgrounds and expertise of the participants make this unique residency incredibly exciting.”

The differences between the professional backgrounds and expertise of the participants make this unique residency incredibly exciting, but it’s their shared approach to tackling problems by incorporating the often unexpected ways real people behave that creates such potential for new connections and cross-disciplinary insights.


To help foster dynamic conversations, ideas42 is leading a number of sessions at the Bellagio Center in which residents will identify links between their work and collectively discuss how a widespread understanding of human behavior can help build resilience and more inclusive economies—The Rockefeller Foundation’s dual goals. ideas42 is driven to find unexpected solutions that have high potential for social impact, and this unique endeavor at the Bellagio Center is the perfect setting to spark novel insights among such a diverse group of people. We look forward to seeing the fruits of those connections emerge over the course of the month.

Engaging Youth

Two of the residents are working on projects to reach and engage youth through media they already enjoy—music and graphic novels. Tahir Hemphill aims to expose youth in American inner cities and from minority communities to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields through his Rap Research Lab, empowering them with skills in high demand by future employers, such as data mining and visualization. Godfrey Mwampembwa‘s Kenyan Constitution-turned-graphic-novel will teach students in Kenya about their country’s history, fight for independence, and new constitution in order to break barriers of marginalization and foster inclusiveness and civic engagement. Though their subject matter is quite different, it’s easy to imagine a fascinating conversation between them about each other’s efforts to reach and support young people.

Changing Communities

And speaking of fascinating conversations, what about one between a visual artist exploring the relationship between human bodies and public spaces and a physician bringing new interventions to scale in the community health field? Both are changing how people’s roles within communities are perceived, but in very different ways. Colombian artist Ruby Rumié has photographed Afro-Colombian women over the age of 70 in order to tell their stories and preserve a heritage that may otherwise be forgotten. Founder and President of the Community Empowerment Lab in Uttar Pradesh, India, Vishwajeet Kumar aims to transform community health workers from passive “delivery” people into mediators of behavior change between health systems and families. While focused on communities on opposite sides of the world, both Rumié and Kumar are reimagining how their respective subjects can become more visible, active agents in their communities.

Adapting Systems

The thematic month residency also includes innovators working to adapt systems to the people they serve—rather than the other way around—in different areas of the world. Regina Hechanova Alampay is writing a book to help mental health workers learn about Southeast Asian culture before they arrive in the region in the aftermath of a disaster so they are better prepared to assist the people in need of their care. After Kim Thuy Seelinger‘s research found that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in post-conflict and humanitarian settings rarely report these crimes to the police, but instead go through traditional justice systems, she is now studying how these traditional approaches can help transform formal justice systems into a more viable option for survivors.

The diversity of expertise and approach among the residents, when coupled with their common interest in human behavior, presents endless possibility for fruitful discussion and discovery. We are thrilled to bring change-makers together around behavioral science like never before and eager to share the meaningful ideas, insights, and solutions this group will create to address global challenges in the coming weeks.

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