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Episode 03

Craig Bida is CEO/Founder of Think Design Disrupt, an impact-focused, brand-building and innovation consultancy; a Senior Fellow in Social Innovation and Adjunct Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship at Babson College; recently helped to launch the FutureLab on Mobility, a collaboration between Babson College and the Toyota Mobility Foundation; and serves on the board of the Charles River Conservancy. On this episode of the PFF Podcast, Craig and Jeffrey discuss his passion for mobility as a factor underlying many key societal challenges, and his work to identify potential mobility solutions that can shape how we move people and things on the broader landscapes of cities and exurban and rural environments in the U.S. and all around the world.

Transcript

Welcome to the Piaggio Fast Forward podcast. Join the conversation by subscribing to the PFF podcast at https://www.piaggiofastforward.com/podcast.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Welcome to Mobility +, the PFF Podcast. I'm your host, Jeffrey Schnapp, Chief Visionary Officer at Piaggio Fast Forward. It's my pleasure to present to you today's guest, Craig Bida, who is the CEO founder of Think Design Disrupt, an impact-focused innovation consultancy, and a senior fellow in social innovation and lecturer in social entrepreneurship at Babson College. Passionate about mobility as a factor underlying many key societal challenges, Craig recently helped to launch the FutureLab on Mobility, a collaboration between Babson College and the Toyota Mobility Foundation. He also works with The Barr Foundation to foster the creation of a world-class mobility ecosystem in the state of Massachusetts. Craig also serves on the board of the Charles River Conservancy, working to strengthen sustainable, multimodal transportation, to foster public space resiliency and to protect natural resources in the Greater Boston area. Welcome Craig Bida to the PFF podcast.

To start out our conversation today Craig, I wanted to invite you to tell us a little bit about what the FutureLab on Mobility does.

Craig Bida

Absolutely. Great to be here chatting with you Jeffrey. The FutureLab on Mobility is a collaboration between Babson College in Greater Boston and the Toyota Mobility Foundation. It really is a partnership that is based on ... Combining some different ways of thinking and mindsets with the goal of trying to stimulate and spark new mobility solutions. So when you put together a Toyota Way, which is all about identifying very specific issues and challenges and then countermeasures to address them, think of the incredible discipline the Toyota manufacturing system brought to the social sector. When you think of entrepreneurial thought and action, Babson's calling card around thinking about discrete steps you can take to have an impact, to learn quickly and then to use those to shape further experimentation, and then you think as the third leg of the stool, human-centered design and acting with empathy and putting consumers and people and individuals. I know at Piaggio you think and talk about citizens on the urban landscape and not viewing them as passengers or cargo but as humans and as actors and protagonists, it's really bringing that mindset together and combining those in a way that says how do you use those tools meshed together in a powerful way to identify potential solutions that can shape how we move about, how we move people and things on the broader landscapes of cities and exurban and rural environments in the U.S. and all around the world.

Jeffrey Schnapp

All of those themes have really taken on a kind of ... Not just currency but even urgency over the course of the last three months with the pandemic and its effects on our ability to interact socially. I'm wondering from the platform of the FutureLab on Mobility, what kind of perspectives have opened up for you with respect to the post-pandemic city or the emerging cityscape as it's been reshaped by a lot of the constraints and challenges of the past few months?

Craig Bida

That's a great question and it changes every day. I'm sure that you're living in the same rapidly evolving landscape and I would say ... Maybe to plant some personal context, it is ... I see it through the work of the FutureLab also, I've been partnering with the Barr Foundation here in Boston which is thinking really hard about the urban landscape and transportation and mobility solutions as part of a broader lens around sustainability and equity and access and so if you put those together with technology, you think about public space and public space resiliency, about the new demands that are being put on public spaces. I work as well with the Charles River Conservancy and they're not just working on protecting the Charles River here in Boston but ensuring access to public space and thinking about multimodal transportation and parks as human corridors, human corridors that are much more positive and compelling than sitting in traffic on the Mass Pike or on an interstate.

So I think that as you look at it from that lens, you see, "Wow, there is this incredible opportunity right now." As the skies have cleared over Delhi, as Mayor Marty Walsh and other mayors around the world are opening up public spaces and bringing space, urban territory back from a monoculture around cars and experimentation is happening at a rate that it didn't happen before. It's driven by urgency, it's driven in a forced way, but nonetheless it's creating these really compelling both entrepreneurial opportunities for companies and social entrepreneurs and individuals as well as civic actors and equity activists and those focused on social justice because it's not just the pandemic, right? We're in a public health crisis, we are in an economic crisis and now increasingly a crisis that's been going on for so long but has now become so painfully visible, a crisis of racism and of social justice. Those are all hitting the urban landscape and us as voyagers in that landscape at the same time and it's an incredibly fruitful potential opportunity. At least that's how it strikes me.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Yeah, within that opportunity that you were so nicely sketching out, I want to bring up a negative point but it's one that I worry about a lot and that is that one of the main victims of the pandemic and the restrictions on human mobility that the pandemic has entailed has not been just the automobile as the protagonist of this kind of monoculture model of urbanism that you alluded to, but also mass transit, public transportation. As we move into this post-pandemic reality, however long that transition may take, the whole question of how these experiments, what the legacy of these experiments will be, will there be sticking power to the reconversion of city streets into pedestrian and cycling zones, but maybe even more pertinent to where I'm going with the question, the CDC just issued its guidelines for cities emphasizing the need to avoid mass transit and favoring the choice of private automobiles as a mode of transit, the risk that is, that rather than achieving the kinds of goals that I think we share in terms of the future design of cities, that perhaps the automobile will have the last word as people return to automobiles and exit mass transit vectors over the course of at least this transitional period.

Craig Bida

Jeffrey, you're right. That was the press release that just made the hearts stop of every mobility and transportation innovation advocate everywhere, right? Like wow, here comes car culture back in such a powerful way, and you can also trace that to government bailouts. What are the industries that are getting the support now? It is these legacy industries, so you're absolutely right to point out that there is this incredible moment where we return to a status quo potentially and what do innovators do in that moment? The role of public transportation is I think … People are starting to see it potentially differently and their expectations are changing in this at the same time, that maybe something that we took for granted before is now being understood more as an essential service and it is something that will persist and continue, so the question is what do you do now in a context where revenues are declining, ridership is declining, public health officials are saying this is not a viable or a safe form of transportation. So I think it's about trying to understand ... This is work I know you do with your team, just really thinking about this from a human-centered design perspective and saying, "What does safe mean? We had expectations of safety before for mass transit, but we've just bolted on another one which is that mass transit, public transport is going to protect me and my family."

There are innovations that are happening. Think about how in China the use of ultraviolet lights to decontaminate entire subway cars and these crazy sci-fi like tunnels, right? There are ways from that to just increased maintenance and cleaning of the apparatus and the infrastructure, but you're absolutely right. I think there are going to need to be significant changes for people to feel comfortable. That might paradoxically mean more service in a time with declining ridership which therefore means that the public investment and public support for this as a powerful piece of urban and, not just urban, of regional, urban, societal infrastructure will demand and require additional support. I think it's up to us and advocates...I'm sure listeners are out there today pushing for the attention that this merits.

There is a risk, a possibility of this privatization wave that goes potentially too far, right? We've seen the liabilities of that on a day when the Redline breaks down and surge pricing goes through the roof. Some people can afford that, that's when you realize that private services are not a public good, they're a private service acting as if they're a public good and providing valuable options but not having that same commitment to equity and access that public assets and infrastructure does.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Those are some great points and one piece of the larger kind of mobility ecology that you didn't refer to and I'm curious to hear your thoughts about it, particularly with respect to the work that your lab is doing, is micro-mobility. If you had asked somebody 20 years ago in a similar conversation to ours “What is the future of regional or at least city-scale mobility going to be?” I suspect that electric scooters would not have been part of a conversation. They kind of exploded, landed in all kinds of different urban environments, have had enormous success but also enormous challenges, problems that they have given rise to, forms of protest, resistance, but all that said, there is certainly an emergent feature of the larger sort of mobility system that has added a component that we probably wouldn't have imagined not that long ago and so I'm curious to hear your reflections on the role that they might play in present as well as future cities.

Craig Bida

Absolutely, and it has been so interesting to see that wave come, right? And sort of in some cases borrowing a page from the Ubers and Lyfts of just showing up on the streets of cities and in some cases working in a more controlled way with municipalities in terms of tests and prototyping and trying to learn together. We are in a micro aspect of this, right, as bicycle sales go through the roof in the U.S., as people are starting to understand that there is more than one way to get around and so there is a moment of challenge though, in terms of just the funding that's available to some of these startups, the well-capitalized ones may survive some of this, others may not, and I think that we're already seeing the consolidation that can be expected in those moments.

There are aspects of micro-mobility that though from a human-centered design perspective that in some cases are hard, right? I have a colleague who refers to some of the scooters as urban device contamination. It's hard to walk down the street and see 14 scooters strewn across a sidewalk, particularly if you have access and mobility issues. I have older relatives, they are terrified of falling over one of these things in an urban landscape and so I think there is a sense of we have to design solutions that work for everyone and so having sort of Wild West kind of behaviors and collisions of different modes of transport is not in the best interest of any of us, right, and in some cases I think has diminished people's understanding or appreciation of this, it's a really viable … It has all the things one's looking for, it's individual in the sense it's convenient, they're electric, they're point to point, door to door, so there are aspects on the pro side that are through the roof, there are other aspects I think that still need to be worked out in this increasing tug of war between what's good for individuals in terms of systems or for the broader public goods, but I am hopeful that this trend, this form of innovation will weather this storm and continue to provide another great option for all of us as we move through our environments.

Jeffrey Schnapp

With respect to the kind of work you do with the Barr Foundation, the focus is on public perception, public narrative. Does the foundation also try to serve as a catalyst for partnerships across the public-private divide? What is the range of activities that you're engaged in in the mobility sector?

Craig Bida

Yeah, and I think you hit on all of those things. Some of the key pieces are ... I think this is often overlooked by companies or individuals with ideas or solutions is a real comprehensive understanding and mapping of the landscape and understanding what are people thinking and then what will it take to move perception and move trial of new solutions from B to B. Electric vehicles have had this for a while. "Oh, range problems. Oh, I can't write the ... I don't need it because, I can't use it because." Those are really powerful repellents to innovation and thinking about the future of innovation.

It is about all the things you said. It's thinking about the public narrative, it's thinking about what people are thinking and feeling, digging deeply to understand that, and then collaborating with others that are either acting directly in connection with those stakeholders or those with platforms or the ability to influence and shape perception? I think that we are about to see an explosion of partnering. It's going to have to happen in a resource-constrained environment that I think so many organizations across sectors are going to be facing over the coming months of economic challenge, that it's going to be harder for sole actors to solve a specific problem or even a slice of a problem and so things like the work that the Barr Foundation is doing and others, certainly from Babson's perspective with the FutureLab of Mobility is really around identifying who can collaborate, what are the resources we have and how might we work together to create better solutions?

This is certainly true as we look at the urban landscape and mobility solutions, the kind of battles that we've seen in Toronto with Sidewalk Labs with wrestling over data are going to continue but a starting point that says how might we work together, to use some language of design thinking, how might we create a solution that bridges sectors, I think we're going to see more of that and I'm hopeful that that can help us all as we try to move through the coming months of the crisis we're in.

Jeffrey Schnapp

You mentioned Sidewalk Labs in passing and of course Sidewalk Labs has been in the news over recent months because ... The fact that the project is not going to move forward as had been anticipated. I'm curious given your expertise in this sector to hear your diagnosis of the nature of that impasse that led to the abandonment of what seemed like a visionary project? Certainly one that was surrounded by a lot of excitement and even a bit of hype at the moment of its launch.

Craig Bida

Jeffrey, I think ... I'm sure listeners out there are living in different sectors. My career began in the public sector. I worked for the city of New York in housing and economic development many moons ago but I remember then sort of feeling that part of this sort of web of multisectorness, right. It took everyone working together, private developers, it took state, local, elected, federal ... It took nonprofits and community organizations to kind of pull together stuff to move the needle on something as complicated as housing access or economic opportunity and I think that this ... I'm not an expert on the Sidewalk Labs situation but it was so interesting to see the pain points coming up, right? Thinking about who owns data, this tussle over data. It's hard to imagine a mayor of a city trying to operate in an environment where so much of the data that informs current mobility and action in the city is inaccessible to her or him, to think about data being a privatized asset and so the tussles over shared data trusts and the tussles over how will this thing operate I think is indicative of a larger challenge in this space, and there's a tug of war going on over this.

When you speak to municipal leaders, there's no shortage of technology streams coming their way. The insight is is that many of these technology solutions are proposed without an understanding of the behavioral implications in terms of adoption. They're proposed in some ways without even an understanding of the revenue model, how it really fits into the broader context of the urban environment and so I think that there is a need right there, is a bridge need that says, "Okay, we've got a great technology, what are the human implications for the city and how do we ensure that the ideals of civic participation, the ideals of equity and access are honored while we are adopting these leading edge technologies?" There is a best of both model I think that the Sidewalk Labs experience was not a best of both outcome and I think it dissolved because of some of those foundational elements which weren't really ever resolved. I'm curious what you think.

Jeffrey Schnapp

It's a complicated question because there are parts of that endeavor that I'm very sympathetic with and other parts that I thought from the beginning had a very low prospect of success. In a prior episode of this podcast, I had a very lively conversation with Ben Green who is a prominent critic of the sort of smart city movement, some of which turned towards some of the powers and limitations of the Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto. So I guess my own feeling is that there is a bit too much of a technocentric bias in a number of those grand urban redevelopment, urban redesign projects and that perhaps one of the things that human-centered design brings to the table is a greater attention to the complexity and the human factors in cities, not just in the cities of the future but the cities we have inherited from the past because most of the cities people truly and deeply love are really palimpsests, they're layerings of history, meanings, intelligence. They're not dumb cities so to call what comes after them smart cities is really to bias the conversation right from the get-go. So those are my sort of two cents about the question.

Craig Bida

Such a great perspective, and there are examples of this type of thing working, right? There is a pretty phenomenal thing happening outside of Denver with a great partnership between Panasonic and the mayor of Denver that's trying to explore in some ways some of the same things in a controlled environment, how do you put together technology and mobility solutions and multi-generational access and the last 50 feet to your door and so it can be done. I'm hopeful that it is not a ... “That was a bad idea,” because you're right, there are many aspects that were very powerful. So hopefully we're always up for more experimentation and innovation in this arena.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Yeah, indeed. It's a new chapter in a sense and we'll see how it evolves with all the twists and turns that it's taken already in just the last five years. It would be hard to predict the outcome at this juncture. In a couple of responses, you've alluded to human-centered design and I think our listeners would be interested in understanding with greater precision what we generally understand when we speak of human-centered design. I'm wondering if you could just share a few thoughts about the nature of human-centered design, what it adds to the design process, how it changes the outcomes, how it approaches the core questions of mobility in a new way?

Craig Bida

Thanks for the opportunity to decode that. At its core, human-centered design says what it is, right? It's putting humans and people at the center of design and of solutions, so this has been work that has been going on in many sectors over decades now led by certain design firms and folks, the D School out on the West Coast and there are nodes of design thinking everywhere. I worked for Procter & Gamble for about 11 or 12 years and there had a front row seat to using human-centered design and design thinking in product design, how do you deeply understand what people need and want and then identify the barriers to that and really try to approach solutions through empathy and understanding what people need versus dreaming up a molecule or a technology or a widget and then trying to find someone who might use it starting at the other end of the spectrum and so this incredibly powerful tool that can be used to shape product design and service design it turns out is applicable across all domains and in terms of system design and mobility, it's particularly powerful, that if you think about something as complex as a public transit system or as complex as multi-modal transportation needs happening in a dynamic way across an environment, whether it's urban or exurban or rural.

If you really get into the hearts and minds of people and what they need, particularly across generations, as you think about inclusive cities from young people to older adults, what are their needs, how do you design systems that work for them and based on their needs and so some of the work that our foundation is doing is really focusing in on this, thinking about people's attitudes towards transportation and mobility systems, how do you think about encouraging hope for positive change in a landscape where many changes, particularly those related to governance, support of public infrastructure, need to go to the ballot. So if I believe that transportation systems are broken and traffic has always been traffic and that's just the way it's always been, the bus always comes late, I'm less inclined to then support increased public expenditures to drive to the next place and so this work of understanding what's in people's hearts and minds and then figuring out what do I do with that, how do I create products and services and systems that are designed to meet their needs instead of just trying to say, "Hey, take the bus," it's like, "Hey, we've created a flexible bus route system that meets your needs." There's a whole different way of kind of push versus pull and using design thinking in this context can be a powerful tool for unlocking that.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Speaking of experimentation and innovation, certainly one of the driving protagonists of at least the journalistic conversation around the design of cities has been self-driving automobiles. What role if any do you envisage for self-driving cars in future cities?

Craig Bida

It's such an interesting part, right? As the levers have been hit disproportionately and the work that you and your firm do around robotics is an interesting ... I'm sure you have a really interesting take on this, so the idea of self-driving and of these ... The idea that technology can help not just move people around but move stuff around I think is becoming all of a sudden a little bit more appealing as you think about supply chains and how we're all ... Many of us will be in our homes for long periods of time, how the nature of work will change, how the nature of how we purchase will change and so I think that that's probably one thing that maybe has a little bit of an acceleration that in the end will come from this work and seeing how that works.

I think that the challenges in that arena are known and one of the conversations we've had over the past spring related to this was we've got incredible technology moving in squares around the seaport here in Boston, the downtown district, but that's not Delhi. That's not a context in which driving happens by a look, a slight inflection on a face, and so there's so much rich humanity that is still kind of wrapped around some of the needs, let alone the bouncing red ball going across the road and so I think that we're going to need, and what we've been hearing is that there was such a need for increased understanding and increased technological evolution married with how do you put human intelligence with artificial intelligence in a way that does that, but I do think that said that we're going to be seeing more of that. I think that that's going to be ... That ties to a human need in our new context and all of us should be saying, "How are we going to create value and meet human needs in this evolving context?" I would put a star next to that.

Jeffrey Schnapp

That's a good solution. I like that solution myself. You mentioned Delhi as a counterexample to the sorts of cities that typically come up in conversations where self-driving cars are part of the urban landscape. If you look at long term projections like the ones that the United Nations has been issuing for decades now, the trend towards urban aggregation is a growing one, by 2070, the predictions are that there will be a significant number of cities with populations up to 50+ million inhabitants. Those are not typically the cities we see in visions of the smart city. I think that's the direction in which you were pointing us.

This brings me to a kind of just a broader question and your activity in the Charles River Conservancy, Barr Foundation, you've had a really appropriately regional focus in the sorts of areas you think about, the FutureLab on Mobility is obviously thinking beyond that kind of regional scale more broadly, but to what degree do you think that the mobility solutions for cities are going to be transferable from one environment to another, between Paris and Dhaka. Paris will probably have the same population that it has today in 2070. Dhaka is probably going to be three times bigger than it is and it's already a city that is unmanageable from the standpoint of all of the kind of classic infrastructure needs. It's a question that I ask myself with respect to the kind of robotics mobility work that we do at Piaggio Fast Forward, who are we making these vectors for and where, for what circumstances, what environment?

Craig Bida

Yeah, and I know that you are such a mission-driven company with such desires for sustainability and social impact and to get another layer, like where can you have the greatest impact? What is your desire, to have global impact or to impact in a disproportionate way? I think that in ... This is my opinion on this, that some of those large urban conglomerations are so ripe for potential interventions that could have such a disproportionate impact. If you look at fossil fuel scooters switching to electric scooters which is happening in some of these geographies, the impact that that will and is having on pollution and on public health issues is phenomenal. There might be there a desire to try to maybe not turn a city like that into an orderly ... It's a cultural expression, right? So in some ways it might be wrong even to try to come in from the outside and impose an orderliness on something that is in fact a part of a unique expression of culture and humanity in that location.

I think there are going to be interventions that can have disproportionate impact in each context and I think it's up to the entrepreneurs and the activists to figure out what that intervention is and is there a way to buttress and support public transportation access and options that enable these impacts. So yeah, as part of FutureLab, we had students from all over the world participating in it as part of the Babson student population and many of them would just smile and say, "Boy, this works great in Berlin, this works great in Boston, but I'd love to see you, Mr. Product Designer at this autonomous vehicle, come home with me on one of these breaks. Let's run your software through this complex environment." I'm hopeful though. I think that it could be really interesting to see how can one create positive change in these contexts, the ultimate test, right?

Jeffrey Schnapp

It is the ultimate test. Our parent company, The Piaggio Group, just in the last six months launched the Electric Ape. The Ape is the tuk-tuk, it's the three-wheeled vehicle that is the taxi of the developing world and that's I think a really great example of what you were just talking about. Those are public taxis. If all of those vehicles became electric vehicles, that would have an absolutely enormous effect on the pollution levels in a lot of the highest density cities of the developing world. I'm optimistic too.

Craig Bida

Good, I like it, but you look at what you're talking about and all of a sudden, your company is acting in some ways as an agent of public health. You're thinking not just as a mobility provider but you're saying, "Wow, if we can operate at scale in a scale environment ... " I guess that's something I learned from my Procter & Gamble days. It's like when you're operating at the range of big, when you're in a large context, sometimes the intervention, even if it's a small intervention or a very focused intervention at that level can have this absolutely disproportionate impact. So that also cries out for partnerships too and I'm sure that your parent company is involved in that, thinking about public health solutions, thinking about fleet adoption. I think forward thinking organizations think in these terms.

I've worked with the American Heart Association for a number of years a number of years ago and they began to realize that kind of one to one change, trying to get Person X to change their health behaviors in terms of preventative health is a hard and expensive slog. If they could get groups of 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 employees and work with employers to change the way that groups of employees are approaching preventative health, very quickly, you start to realize, "Wow, we can actually have this massive impact at a much lower per person intervention." I think this is where partnerships become key to this in thinking about how do we make changes unique to the specific context and leveraging that power of scale. It sounds like you're well on that journey, which is really exciting.

Jeffrey Schnapp

I think it's a necessary journey, particularly when we're talking about a sector like the mobility sector that's just so woven into almost ... It's the connective tissue, holds together communities and cities and economies, which is to say that it's everything at the same time. It's really hard to disentangle it from so many other threats and the partnership I think is kind of a natural expression of that entanglement in the richest possible sense. In moving towards a close to our conversation, I wanted to ask you just a couple questions that move more towards the individual and the personal. One has to do with the really interesting trajectory that you followed. You mentioned work for the city of New York, you mentioned some work for the American Heart Association, Procter & Gamble, you're now at the helm of the FutureLab of Mobility and teaching at Babson. What's the threat that runs through those that joins them together and that led you to mobility as a question that you were particularly engaged by?

Craig Bida

Thanks for the personal opportunity to reflect. I think that my whole career has been around thinking about impact and thinking about how organizations can play a role and I learned in my very first job in life about the role that public-private sector partnerships, working for the city of New York and seeing that as much money as the city of New York was spending on housing at that time, it was more than the next 77 cities in America combined on housing, that was still not enough, it was just enough to get the flywheel turning, to stimulate private development, to spark and support and nurture grassroots organizations and to get a collective of networked innovation happening. That was a really powerful lesson I learned early on and I think along the way I've really tried to do that, to think about different sectors, whether it was working in the corporate sector. Part of my work has been involved in ... We haven't talked a lot about, but thinking about branding and projecting values and purpose and mission and operationalizing that and so I think the through line for me has been what is your organization's desire, what is the positive environmental and social impact you seek and then how do you engage other stakeholders to get there?

In terms of mobility, it's been a thread for a long, long time. I think for me the ... Sort of light bulb has gone over time in terms of looking at the millennium development goals, the sustainable development goals now to think about, "Wow, if you look at mobility and you tie them literally to every single sustainable development goal, if you think about economic opportunity, you think about the role in terms of food security, if you think about the access of different populations to different types of opportunities," it plays such a critical role, so to me it's a meta-variable. It's a meta-component and I'm always inspired to work on those scale opportunities and I think that interventions into mobility systems, as we all sit here and have the highest diminished mobility ever experienced by the human population perhaps, that it really does make you realize that this is an absolutely essential issue and thing to be working on, so that's what drives me.

Jeffrey Schnapp

How does that narrative connect to your own teaching practice today? I imagine that Babson, knowing Babson's tradition of hands-on learning, that your students are not just sitting in classrooms but really actively engaged in all kinds of institutional realities, contexts where issues of mobility and city planning are alive and kicking. How do you teach mobility as a field of endeavor to this generation of students?

Craig Bida

I would expand your question to how do you teach social entrepreneurship, right? How do you teach problem solving in the social sector and I would put ... There are a lot of for-profit mobility adventures going on and rightfully so but they all have this kind of huge societal impact. I would put Ford in there. Even the major car companies are realizing increasingly their role in terms of the impact on the environment, the impact on societal advancement. So I think that ... I'll answer your question to that broader lens. One of the most exciting things I'm involved in at Babson is a program called Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship which is an undergraduate program, a capstone program that takes college juniors and seniors for usually two semesters, sometimes three, sometimes even longer and attaches them to social ventures that outlive the students, they last five, six, seven years even sometimes, that are focused on context of poverty and that are creating opportunities to co-create solutions with community actors, community agents, with communities, whether that's in Mississippi here in the U.S. or East Boston, focusing on air quality issues related to Mass Port and the airport to the freeways going by.

Whether that's working on global health on the other side of the world or food security in Ghana, these are all live ... They're all live ventures that are designed to enable ... In some cases with employees, a founderless model in some ways that says we're not about creating a venture tied to one individual that's all about them moving something forward, it's about people plugging into a live experience for a period of time, getting on the bus and moving something forward, and so we've heard such incredible feedback from students. This past semester, someone said, "I never thought that my life could change, be changed so much, by taking a course." We always say it's a course in quotes, so that this type of experiential learning is going to be more and more essential.

I honestly think it's going to be demanded more immediately if you think about the fall when many students and parents are making a decision, "Am I going back to school and for what? What am I getting?” That there are needs and opportunities to expose people to problem solving this way?" At the FutureLab this summer, there's an ongoing COVID sprint which is all virtual but is attaching student teams to seven organizations to a specific challenge that they're trying to address right now and we're working using these principles of entrepreneurial thought and action, of Toyota Way and of human-centered design to try to make tangible progress in real time against an issue and I think that students increasingly are going to be demanding that type of service and that type of experience that allows them to learn real skills and real stuff versus being taught theoretical ideas or getting just content that frankly is becoming a commodity. You can learn how to do just about anything you can learn online today for nothing or next to nothing, but this is the type of thing that really differentiates and it's what I really thrive on and love to be part of. So very much the direction I think that higher education and education in general is and should be doing.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Yeah, I think that's a real enhancement of the kind of depth and quality of experience that students can have and of course built into it is also a model for a kind of career trajectory that embeds students in already emerging working operative realities rather than preparing them and then sending them out into the world to just see what happens so yes, indeed, I share that enthusiasm. Are there any other future initiatives that the FutureLab on Mobility has that our audience might be interested in hearing about or anything else we haven't touched upon in the course of this conversation?

Craig Bida

So where the FutureLab is heading, right now, the work is really an almost myopic intentional focus on these sprints over the summer to really try to test out that model and figure out how to increase the power of those tools. I think that for me broadly, I guess I would just say that we're in a landscape in which perceptions about mobility are changing by the day. So I don't think it's a moment for organizations, for individuals, for companies, for entrepreneurs. There's a lot going on out there in terms of the volume of things that are happening. None of us can be quiet or tacit to the issues of social justice and racism that are occurring, none of us can underestimate the impacts that COVID is having disproportionately on parts of our communities and populations but it is a time I think as well to advocate for the issues that are important for organizations and to be out there trying to shape and help people understand the implications, in mobility specifically on the future of mass transit on this kind of will we go back to sitting in traffic but 25% worse. What would have to be true for that not to happen?

There's work that needs to be done and quickly in real time as we envision going back to some version of what it used to be like. It's probably more of what the Toyota Mobility Foundation calls a dynamic normal than a new normal or a return to normal but it's a moment to be involved, in my opinion, and be trying to solve and think and push the dialogue forward in terms of addressing some of these difficult challenge so that we continue to move forward towards a better future in terms of mobility that's more equitable, that's more sustainable, that offers different forms of access, that is more affordable and just a better system that we deserve and need and that the planet needs as well. So stay at it. That's my key message.

Jeffrey Schnapp

On that inspirational note, I'm going to thank Craig Bida for joining us on The PFF Podcast. It's been a delightful conversation. I look forward to following your work at FutureLab in the future. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Piaggio Fast Forward podcast and come back soon for further lively conversations about walking, light mobility, robots and the design of neighborhoods, cities, and towns. The PFF podcast is hosted by Jeffrey Schnapp, sound engineering by Robert Allen, narration by Ryan Harms, produced by Elizabeth Murphy, web designed by Jerry Ding. Intro music is Funkorama by Kevin MacLeod. End music is Your Call by Kevin MacLeod. Special thanks to Tory Leeming. To learn more about PFF and gita, please visit piaggiofastforward.com.