As part of International Women's Day, SIX is highlighting a number of brilliant women who are leading in their field.
We spoke with Gabriella Gómez-Mont from Labatorio Para La Ciudad in Mexico City, who is leading creative and experimental, city-based innovation. #IWD2017
Can you tell me a bit more about what you do and what inspired you to do this work?
Three years and a half ago I founded Laboratorio para la Ciudad, the creative and experimental office of the Mexico City government, reporting directly to the Mayor. I lead a diverse crew of 20 people -- half of my team come from the social and political sciences, and the other half come from creative fields. Everyday at the Lab we have intense conversations and collaborations between urban geographers, artists, data analysts, civic tech and social innovation experts, designers, policy wonks, internationalists, historians, architects, filmmakers, journalists, and activists. We even have a masked wrestler amongst us believe it or not. It certainly makes for interesting debates. Every project of the Lab is a brainchild of this mix of disciplines and viewpoints. The Lab's structure is designed to shape-shift continuously to accommodate all sorts of collaborations with an ever wider range of people and disciplines, local and international.
What brings us together is our love for Mexico City and a belief that our megalopolis is full of untapped potential. That is my greatest inspiration, the city itself, and something I share with every member of my team. That, and the desire to experiment in new and more creative and more unusual ways of tackling specific challenges, think about other social scripts and urban futures that could be possible for our city.
As a journalist and documentary filmmaker (my former life) I had beautiful and continuous excuses to traverse the very different geographies (metaphorically and literally) of Mexico City. I'd spend two weeks at the dumps on the edge of the city talking to the pepenadores for a Colors Magazine issue, and then days later I'd be interviewing the former Mayor or flying above it all in a helicopter for a BBC commission. This gave me a taste for the astounding variety and sheer originality of our society, mixed with a bittersweet feeling that we don't know enough of all the different lives that take place here, enough of what could be possible for us all if we dug deeper into our minds and our barrios.
To be honest, I never thought I would work in government. But reading back on an interview that the TED Talks folks did with me several years back (when I would have cried with laughter had someone said I would soon become a public official) I realise that a lab embedded in Mayor's Office was the perfect place to put some of my intuitions and ideas to the test. So many concepts that I was exploring at the time -- multidisciplinary and hybrid structures, the creative capacity of a society, the means and the methods of arts and culture in deep conversation with other fields, bringing about new blueprints for social realities, plus what all of this could mean for Mexico City -- are very much part of the Lab's DNA. I am really grateful that the Mayor was willing to run with these slightly idiosyncratic proposals, starting with the idea for the Lab.
Can you tell us about a defining moment where you could see the impact of your project? What are you most proud of in your work?
Articulating social energy and political will are some of the main functions of the Lab. Given the low levels of trust between government and civil society, less than 30% of the Mexican population trust their government, the Lab is designed to be a bridge between the two. The first thing we needed to do was to create a "strange attractor", if you will, a space that was capable of engaging people's imagination and willingness to collaborate. I am still very moved to see how generous people are with their time and minds, how hungry a younger generation is to participate if they are creatively instigated into action: our Rooftop Sessions are always full even for 'geeky' subjects; 1,027 people signed up to our last Data Festival; more than 4,000 people decided to participate in Mapatón to generate previously unavailable data on the informal bus system that moves an astounding 14 million rides a day; the "crowdsourcing" of the Mexico City Constitution resulted in the largest Change.org movement in the world, with almost a million followers and almost 300,000 individual signers... citizens that are not of voting age or still students got to meet with the Mayor and now many of their proposals and their ideas are part of a truly historic document. These are just some examples and moments of many we have been fortunate enough to be part of. They give me hope and they fuel the fire, but they also keep us restless and awake at night. There is still much to do.
What is your hope in relation to social innovation in the future? How will your work contribute to this hope?
My hope is that we will be able to better understand and tap into what instigates social creativity, political imagination and urban ingenuity. That we will all be more interested in asking ourselves - individually and collectively - what makes a good life, become every time more fascinated by the commons and the public realm in all of its extension, the way we make choices together and how we can create generous and interesting social realities for all; what we each add to the landscape and the conversation and the potential and the solutions, providing a mind-frame, building a space in which to once again experiment and question and create.
I am also a child of the megalopolis so - even though I know there are pressing concerns in rural and periurban areas - I am deeply intrigued by the role of cities in all of this. Because "a city" was our answer to many of our questions as humanity - how do we live together, how do we move together, how do we stay healthy and even play and have fun together? And then here came Mexico City, or Rome or Seoul or Sydney or Medellín with their particular proposals. But I still believe cities have more to explore in terms of their potential. Imagine a league of cities in which social innovators everywhere are the norm. Because creativity is not a luxury. It is indispensable. The way we imagine the world is the basis and blueprint for the world we live in: everything out there always has its start somewhere inside the mind.
You can follow Gabriella on Twitter here.