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Nina Simoes, Founder, Producer, Impact Designer
I discovered social justice in my native Brazil at a very early age. I grew up in a poor town, but I wanted a better education so I decided to study in a school 40 minutes away in the city of São Paulo. As my family couldn’t afford the school fees, I began to work as a florist.
Riding the train was a terrifying experience. Day in and day out, I boarded overcrowded cars with hundreds of others. It was often unbearably hot. In this tinderbox of humanity, tempers flared. Violence erupted with alarming regularity. I witnessed fights and even shootings. The sight of splattered blood is forever etched in my mind’s eye.
From this train, I would step into the posh universe of my school. Shiny-faced classmates with promising futures would go about their business, completely oblivious of my awe at their good fortune.
As I struggled to make sense of the contrast between my two worlds, I began to ask questions. Why the violence? Why the disparity? Why the wasted human potential?
I began a career in advertising and TV, but the questions wouldn’t leave me alone. I got involved in campaigning to raise awareness for oppressed groups. I also dreamed of travelling the world, camera in hand, in search of people and stories that would provide me with answers.
My chance came in 1998. I quit my advertising job and became a multilingual researcher for the BBC and Channel 4’s award-winning Dispatches program. From 1991 to 2000, I worked with the charity Brazil Network. In both of these positions, I met incredible people and their communities. I learned about their issues and concerns. I shot thousands of hours of footage, and I helped turn that footage into story-rich films.
The stories touched people. But more importantly, they inspired and motivated the very subjects of the stories to take action and make a difference in their own lives. Over time, my question transformed from “Why?” to “How can I tell this story in a way that sparks change?”
To explore that question further, I applied for a scholarship to the University of the Arts in London in 2002. There, I produced Rehearsing Reality, a docufragmentary that used non-linear narrative, interactivity, technology, and live events to encourage spectators to become spectACTORS and tackle real social and environmental change. Rehearsing Reality broke new ground with its innovative approach and was presented at festivals throughout Europe, Brazil, and the USA. I dug even deeper into the question of how to create greater impact through storytelling, completing a PhD in 2007.
Today I continue my quest for new tools, technologies, and methodologies, always with an eye toward sparking audience participation and impact. As a lecturer at the School of Postgraduate Studies, Design and Innovation at Ravensbourne and a guest speaker and lecturer throughout the UK, I encourage my students and my fellow creators to reflect on the possibility as well.
To that end, I produce Learn Do Share London, where I help bring together storytellers, students, scholars, activists, and technologists to exchange experiences around storytelling, technology and impact. Co-founded in the US by digital pioneer Lance Weiler and based at Columbia University, Learn Do Share is a global initiative focused on storytelling, design thinking and social innovation in the 21st century.
Translimits Storytelling, founded in 2012, is the production arm of my endeavours. The company exists to trigger real-world impact through meaningful stories. Toward this aim, I am co-producing Sherlock Holmes and The Internet of Things, a Columbia University Digital Storytelling Lab prototype, together with Lance Weiler and the global Learn Do Share team.
On a personal note, I am currently delving deeper into my interests in Design Thinking, Design Fiction, and the wonderful social innovations which are beginning to transform our societies into more sustainable Future Cities. My family and I are active members of the Glengall Wharf Community Garden, in Peckham, where we enjoy rolling up our sleeves and contributing to a more sustainable London.