18 Designers at the table

The Climate Creative Collective bringing maverick creativity to COP27

Innovation lies at the heart of climate action. Meet the 18 eco-deviant artists and designers heading to Sharm El-Sheikh to shake things up

If we want to see less climate talk and more action, we’ll need more creative ideas at the table

What Design Can Do

This year alone, blistering heat waves, floods and famines have proven that climate change is the single greatest challenge of our time. To address it, we’ll need international collaboration, creativity and a hands-on mentality.

In just a few weeks, thousands of activists, policymakers and business leaders will gather at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for his year’s UN Climate Change Conference on 6-18 November.

There’s a lot up for discussion: from the relationship between finance and fossil fuels, to how countries can shore up their adaptation efforts or begin to make reparations. A climate emergency means that it’s time for business as usual to halt, for our priorities to shift and to recognise our responsibility to those on the frontlines of the crisis. While the African continent is only responsible for 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions, it is currently experiencing the brunt of its impacts.

In order to tackle this – and create true climate justice – we need creative ideas and disruptive voices at the table.

What Design Can Do (WDCD) sees this gathering as an opportunity to advocate for the role of design within climate action. “After all, our hope lies in our collective actions.” That’s why, in collaboration with the Creative Industries Fund NL, the platform is bringing 18 Dutch and African designers and makers together at COP27. They’re calling this group of innovators… the Climate Creative Collective.

WDCD will join COP27 in Egypt with a group of 18 creative innovators from the Netherlands, Egypt, Mali, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique and Ghana. “We believe we have a design problem when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. We have good ideas, but we fail quite miserably when it comes to actually implementing them. Or lack the urgency,” they say.

What do bars of soap made entirely of human activity waste – including urine – and buildings made out for recycled and discarded materials have in common? They highlight design’s instrumental role in both advocating for a more sustainable future as well as tackling the social impacts of climate change with creativity. And they’re just one of the ideas being brought to the table.

Shell Homage tables | Photo courtesy of Rania ElKalla

WDCD believe creative innovators are fundamental in rethinking and showing how to change the system and start rebuilding our future by design. In that spirit, they intend to join those around the world who have already declared a climate emergency, and they are inviting everyone to join them.

Meet the designers and makers they’re taking…


Abla elBahrawy is an architect and researcher based in Amsterdam. Her practice oscillates between architecture, archaeology and art. Her project aims to raise awareness of the contemporary value of papyrus as a cultural product and local material, to question our understanding of authenticity, to create opportunities for development and explore what craft can contribute to contemporary design.


Aboubakar Fofana is a multidisciplinary artist and designer who started an indigo farming cooperative project involving the local community in southern Mali. His project aims to heal the devastated land, replant trees and demonstrate a complex, entirely organically farmed, agricultural ecosystem, in which all the plants and cycles they undergo support the structure and the short-term goals of feeding local people, the medium-term goal of indigo production and dyeing, and the long-term goal of assisting to maintain biodiversity and preserving the agricultural and cultural heritage of this part of Mali.


Arthur Guilleminot is an eco-deviant artist and positive maverick who practices “fertile and generative disobedience”. With his project Piss Soap, he proposes radically regenerative approaches to meet our persistent need for change. Piss Soap is a hygienic cleaning product made entirely out of human activity waste. It is not only circular and sustainable but regenerative for our environment and urban habitats. It can benefit local inhabitants and municipal services.


Dirk-Jan Visser is a documentary photographer and educator. Using walking as a research method, he is focused on the interrelationship between humans and non-human entities and their interest in a landscape. In his ‘New Horizons’ project with with artist Gus Drake, he visualises and depicts the different interests based on a visual stakeholder analysis – using AI. This can provide decision makers with insights into the importance of non-human life in relation to political and governing agency.


Ghalia Elsrakbi is a design professional and researcher. She co-founded Foundland Collective, an art and design research practice between Cairo and Amsterdam. Ghalia is also co-founder and the Artistic Director of Cairotronica, an electronic and new media arts festival in Cairo. Ghalia’s projects explore under-represented political and historical narratives by working with archives via art, design, writing, educational formats, video making and storytelling. Her work aims to critically reflect upon what it means to produce politically engaged work from the position of non-Western artists working between Europe and the Middle East.


Hannah Bosland’s passion is uniting disciplines and people to achieve a more sustainable future. She grew up in the Netherlands and is an industrial designer by training. Her focus has been on plastic pollution: from getting her hands dirty at a recycling facility to starting her own company – ComposTerra. ComposTerra’s mission is to make sustainable lifestyles more accessible by extending the journey of biomaterials. They turn waste streams, like coffee grounds and wheat bran, into useful products, like plant pots and food bowls. ComposTerra’s products are made from renewable sources and are fully compostable.


Julian is a Colombian architect and co-founder of TALLER architects. The project he is bringing to showcase is Montes de Maria – a natural laboratory to show that peace and environmental sustainability are possible. Instead of displacing local families for environmental protection, local communities, NGOs and environmental authorities have joined a decade-long effort to establish socio-ecological corridors through voluntary agreements to conserve the forest and its most critically endangered fauna, within private lands. These agreements can become an effective model and set of tools that can help with the complex realities of much of the developing world.


Community architect, researcher and social innovator in sustainable development, Kevin Kimwelle researches the use of alternative design and technology as an agent towards social change merging the environmental with the socio-economic aspect and applies a trans-disciplinary and multidisciplinary approach. His work emerges from the foundation of a people-centered design approach responding to the urgency towards social justice through activism and accompanied by business, environment and technical studies. His work explores alternatives in both the design and development approach grounding the green agenda in sustainable solutions.


Marta Uetela is an industrial designer and entrepreneur who is passionate about the sea and alternative production systems. Marta founded BioMec to design and build high performance prosthetics and wheelchairs based on plastic collected from the sea (fishnets and PET bottles). The goal of BioMec is to create more and better access to these products, giving a second life to plastic waste and ensuring people with mobility challenges experience life with more possibilities, productivity and self-esteem.


Marwan is an energy engineer passionate about creating positive impact. His work revolves around local communities’ engagement and capacity building to achieve sustainable local development. He does that through Greenish – an Egyptian foundation that aims to achieve sustainable development through interactive educational activities, environmental assessment services, and provides support to local communities vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. Greenish aims to improve the wellbeing of MENA residents and the health of their natural environment.


Prof. Noha Essam is an award-winning design academic, Interdisciplinary designer, foresight consultant, and environmental psychologist. She is the founder of Studio ne+ where she moves the masses and change behaviour through her foresight-based design approach and trend forecasting techniques that tackle design from different context and perspective. Her research aims to develop a better understanding of the relations between sustainable design education, and the creative industry with a focus on the multidisciplinary studies of future literacy and speculation.


Olivier de Gruijter is an Amsterdam-based industrial design engineer and public speaker. After witnessing water scarcity first-hand while travelling, Olivier designed JERRY. This device enables people to filter water in their jerry cans, as the water source may be contaminated, or the jerry can itself may not be clean, or both. JERRY contains two filters, eliminating over 99.999% of bacteria, parasites and dirt from the water. A glass is filled in only three pump strokes, allowing young children and elderly to filter water with ease.


Rania ElKalla is a global award-winning Egyptian designer. She is the founder and CEO of Shell Homage biodegradable materials out of egg and nutshells. The materials look like marble or natural stones, rubber or glass but are made out of egg and nut shells waste. Rania’s aim is to create functional and sustainable products that have a life span, and they should be completely biodegradable. Shell Homage is 100% compostable when it is no longer in use.


Designer-architect Rianne Makkink is the co-founder of WaterSchool and the Dutch design collaborative Studio Makkink & Bey based in Rotterdam. The self-initiated design research project looks into the possibilities of building a holistic school revolving around water as an essential material, subject, social, economic and political phenomenon. WaterSchool is displayed through exhibitions, all the while building a curriculum for the topics to be taught (education) and eventually constructing the distinct necessary spaces (architecture).


Salma Belal is an architect and urbanist interested in spatial and design practices, particularly in how cities are shaped and mediated through politics, space and time. She is part of Tahayyuz Alliance that aims to build a complimentary pedagogical system, in order to reorient the teaching approach towards integrative multidisciplinary models addressing historic and precarious urban landscapes, spatial justice and climate change. The physical environment is continuously examined and addressed within its environmental footprint.


Sammy is a fashion designer based in Accra who has been repurposing second hand pieces for over a decade. Within his work he is keen on making a socio-political statement, exploring issues of neo-colonialism, sexuality and gender fluidity. Sammy is part of the OR Foundation where he is involved with The No More Fast Fashion Lab – a community center and circularity lab located in the heart of Accra. With a team of designers and fabricators from within the Kantamanto Ecosystem along with artists-in-residence and apprentices from Kayayei (female head carriers), they work to catapult innovations around circular product design, waste management solutions and skills training.


Shaakira Jassat is a designer originally from South Africa and now lives in the Netherlands. Her multidisciplinary research methodology nudges her towards the thresholds of philosophy, craft and science. Shaakira is the creator of Aquatecture Water Harvesting System – a compact and modular system designed to collect falling rainwater in the urban environment. It can be installed as a façade panel on buildings, making water harvesting an integrated building feature. It can also be used as freestanding elements in landscapes, providing water-harvesting stations at various nodes throughout cities.


Wekesa Zablon is a designer with Circular Design Nairobi, working with a multidisciplinary team resourcing communities to develop and implement circular economy strategies. He is also a regional coordinator for the African Circular Economy Network and founder of the UON Bikeshare program. His strength lies in his broad knowledge on the circular economy, his never-ending perseverance and his enthusiasm which is contagious. Wekesa has a clear view on how his ideal society would look like, and he doesn’t hesitate to act on it. Wekesa is driven by a heart full of love for his country and all the living creatures that it holds.

What’s so good about this?

Design is action. As Greta Thunberg pointed out in one of her speeches: “I don’t think we have a problem on the ideas level, the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. You are failing to act.”

Meet the writer

This article is published by TOPIA in partnership with What Design Can Do, an international platform for the advancement of design as a tool for social change.

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