9 years ago, Justyna Turek and Henryk Stawicki, the co-founders of Change Pilots, moved back from New York City to Poland with heads full of ideas, motivation and a strong set of values. Before they returned, In 2015, they produced “Design Beyond the Product”, a side event during the New York Design Week. We consider this one-day event held at the 5th Avenue venue to be a prototype of the DtB Sustainability Summit as we know it today. Created with the Polish Consulate for Trade & Investment support, it featured a talk, panel discussion and a field workshop for American and Polish entrepreneurs. At that time, we were unaware that this could be the beginning of something long-term. After all these years – this is the story behind that we want to share with you all – how this all started and how it’s rolling.
Design talks Business (Design językiem Biznesu) was the first name of the event held in Gdynia, Poland. It started as an outcome of direct collaboration with the Gdynia Design Days team 8 years ago and a brand for content aimed at their business audience. It began with Henryk Stawicki joining the Gdynia Design Days Advisory Board for four years, where he proposed creating a small lecture-based meetup at the intersection of design and business. So we designed a small event and aimed to gather around 30-50 professionals from Poland. We created a space to discuss design from a business perspective and invited different experts to share their viewpoints. Many of them you could see as direct Change Pilots competitors, but we looked at them as co-opetition and a community. Ultimately, this small event gathered over 100 people and made us change the venue to a bigger one once the signup number rapidly increased. We were surprised and inspired by people’s turnover and overall experience. Together with the Centrum Designu Gdynia (the main organizer) team, we have immediately decided to continue and develop the project.
Each event begins with a simple motto: “Stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet”.
Beyond its substantive content value, the key objective of this Summit is to foster connections within the design and business audience and create an inviting meeting place for diverse change agents with shared values. By definition, circular and sustainability-led innovation cannot be done alone within the boundaries of one organisation. As the 17th Sustainable Development Goal points out, it can only be done through partnerships. This is why, in the sustainability area, building new connections based on trust, relationships, and mutual understanding is mandatory. On that note, we would like to see our Summit more as a networking space for a community of change-makers within the audience, our partners, our speakers and organisers. Regardless of our stakeholder position, we share similar values and hopes for sustainable business and a circular economy.
As the event coordination team at Change Pilots, we started as a group of two change pilots and three volunteers – Marta Adamska, Lukasz Strenk and Kamil Podgorski. Today, we are an event team of 15 people that can’t wait to create this event together (no joke – this project brings much excitement to us). How did it grow from 5 to 15? Organically. We invite people who are already motivated by sustainability area or/and excited to produce something tangible together. We focus on quality rather than quantity and, every year, experiment with our project approach. This year, we have decided to swap roles and responsibilities with each other, so most of us could do something new.
After Justyna Turek’s burnout and taking a small break from the event (yes, this happens!), Kasia Witkowska took over the team management and proposed a new element – a well-being space for participants to relax and recharge energy. Paweł Mikołajczyk took over the program’s overall design from Henryk Stawicki, who could focus on moderation and guiding the audience through the program. Filip Nocek has re-designed a partnership unit by himself, which was initiated earlier by Maciej Otrębski. Magdalena Szklarczyk-Kominko was responsible for overlooking the workshop program, earlier coordinated by Michaela Mydlová. Ewa Browarczyk continued to support us from the beginning of the event with all the brand and event visual materials but created a few new elements. Margareta Banaszewska and dr. Dariusz became social media stars by taking over our SoMe channels. They were also team happiness officers; they produced our after-hours parties and informal networking last year. Lukasz Strenk, who joined us as a volunteer eight years ago with Sara Karolak, was responsible for the Dinners with Strangers and evening parties. Łukasz, in the past, was responsible for making photo reportage. Michał Kociszewski ???? was always our technical wizard responsible for the show’s success on the main stage. This year, Paulina Adaszek from Moth | UX & Branding Studio produced visualisations and music for the well-being room and beyond. Iga Górniak brought our networking games to a new level. Michał Rybicki, our registration desk master, has additionally led this year’s breathing and meditation sessions for the participants (wellbeing room) and our team (after morning standups). We also had a new person, Rozanna, supporting Michał in building a smooth on-site registration journey. Last but not least, Justyna’s burnout was removed by handing her over external communication responsibilities, which feel natural to her. Again this year, based on participants’ feedback, every team member had an opportunity to propose changes and new ideas for the event. It’s amazing to see how we have grown as responsible team players year after year, including a few new team members.
This event also marries two teams – Gdynia Design Days (Natalia Kawczynska Karolina Cygert Tomasz Kośmider Monika Juskowiak Ewa Chudecka Klara Czopik Magdalena Stalewska) and our Change Pilots. We have been lucky enough to have the GDD team’s trust and support even if we propose many changes and new ideas yearly. During these eight years, we have worked with different people on both sides, always taking time to build a bridge between us, share expectations and build a common vision. It has not always been easy – together, we survived a pandemic, team members’ burnouts and tough budget cuts for this non-profit event. They say, “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together”. This is the long-term lesson and value we are getting from our partnership.
Change Pilots primarily focus on sustainability-led and circular innovation management for businesses and supporting change agents within their organisations. As consultants, strategists and designers, we have yet to aim to produce events (!). Our decision to create and coordinate Summit has evolved into something far bigger than we initially expected, gradually forming into more of a community space that some participants have even dubbed the “sustain-tribe”. We’ve tackled each year one step at a time, learning and reflecting as we progressed, always trying to respond to the changing needs of our evolving community. Ultimately, it may be good that we are not even producers professionally.
If we could briefly summarise the Summit, we would say – meeting space, shared values, business case and partnerships. In the first editions, we have aimed at the classical business value: suits and numbers. But our audience showed us differently – they are business-oriented change agents representing smaller and larger organisations driven by sustainable change and future visions. They often need arguments, tools and community support to return to their teams and inspire them for the right impact through business. We were happy for the 245 participants joining us this year. Most might make even the smallest positive impact within their teams – because of a new tool, new contact, or just a quote from one of the presentations or corridor discussions.
On that note, we can’t wait to meet you at the 9th edition next year! See you in Gdynia, dear change agents, our muse!