Community Oriented Design Studio is a Melbourne-based non-profit organisation working in partnership with disadvantaged communities around the world to create ‘equitable, healthy, livable cities.’ Mobilising communities, governments and stakeholders, CoDesign provides the opportunity for all parties to fully participate in designing and creating great, sustainable places to live.
Today, we chat with Founder and CEO Lucinda Hartley about her inspiring work.
As Lucinda tells us, “the design and planning of our cities and built environment affects almost everything we do on a daily basis – from how we get to work, to whether or not we have access to parks and green space, to public health. However, very rarely is planning and design considered when it comes to community development projects such as schools, housing, playgrounds, community services.”
With a background in landscape architecture & urban design and experience working throughout the Asia-Pacific, Lucinda was first struck by the alarming speed of urban development in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and the need for communities to be empowered to be able to understand and transform their built environment – be it a house, community centre, bridge, or a footpath.
“There was no time to wait for the municipal engineer or architect to create a solution – communities needed to be able to design and create their own solutions to self-identified problems,” Lucinda tells us. So CoDesign began working with some local organisations to run small scale slum upgrading pilot projects which is where the idea for the studio was born. CoDesign is now partnering with community organisations in India, Cambodia, Vietnam, West Papua and Australia to design and implement community infrastructure projects.
Lucinda sees participatory, community based design is an important and necessary tool for delivering effective and sustainable urban growth – especially considering that by 2050, 70% of the world will live in cities, and most of that urban growth will occur among the slums in informal settlements in the developing world.
“Traditional planning and design processes don’t have the capacity to deal with these types of new environments, and need to be radically transformed. CoDesign aims to play a part in this transformation.”
We wanted to find out a bit more about Lucinda’s experience leading an organisation and most recently, doing so as an expectant mother:
As a woman in your field and a woman leading an organisation, have you come across any challenges since CoDesign’s inception?
There have been many challenges! Although I’m not sure if they have all necessarily been more challenging because I am female. Building and design is a fairly male dominated industry in general, although it is changing. I have faced challenges working in leadership overseas, where it is not expected that a woman is the technical expert, or the leader. This is a cultural barrier, but working in teams and working closely with local partners has helped overcome this issue.
And we hear you are expecting! Congratulations! We recently posted a piece on the challenges that Jessica Jackley (of KIVA & ProFounder) was facing as a pregnant CEO/Co-founder, including her investor’s doubts in her ability to effectively lead an organisation and raise a family. Have you run into any issues so far? How do you plan to balance the demands of running an organisation and raising a family?
Being pregnant, and facing a new challenge of what work/life balance looks like, has brought up a number of questions for me, many of which I am still thinking through. I’m fortunate that my work with CoDesign is relatively flexible, and that we have a great team to keep moving things forward. The question for me is more of a personal one, about balance. I believe that our generation will need to redefine what being a leader and a parent looks like. It may require a new type of leadership, and to a large extent it will require both parents to be flexible and to be actively involved with the family. I still don’t know how it will work out, but I plan to return to CoDesign in some sort of leadership capacity.
In terms of partners and investors, they have generally been really supportive, more so than I expected in fact. While they have not questioned my ability to return to the workforce, they have asked me to demonstrate clearly the capacity of the team, and any interim leadership strategies, but this is understandable. In many ways this is a great opportunity for our whole team to step up and take ownership of the work we are creating, together.
Do you have any advice you would give to other women looking to pursue leadership roles or balance a successful career with a family?
Only that they should not be mutually exclusive. I hope that I will have greater advice on the subject later this year, when the realities of parenthood are a little more familiar. All I know is that women should not feel that having a family is a step back in their career, or that it makes them less of a leader. We need to define a new model for female leadership, and our generation is making great progress towards this.
What has been your proudest achievement?
Watching CoDesign grow over the past 12 months has been so exciting! While we have had a number of awards and grants, all of which I am proud of, the most exciting thing for me is to see emerging professionals from all over Australia and internationally start to take responsibility for community projects and for creating great cities.
Who inspires you?
So many people inspire me, each in different ways. A few key people are:
Tim Brown, Partner IDEO, who has been instrumental in redefining the role of design thinking for community development on a global scale. And Sopheak, a community leader from Phnom Penh who I first worked with on slum upgrading projects in Cambodia. His passion for transforming his community and the pride he had in his work inspires me continually. Sopheak is one of many community members and leaders we have the privilege of working with.
I’m also really fortunate to have great mentors and peers, whom I meet with regularly and would be nothing without their support and guidance.
Thank you Lucinda!