Recently I spoke with Chelina Odbert, co-founder and executive director of Kounkuey Design Initiative, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that applies design, architectural, and planning solutions to the needs of communities in the U.S. and around the world. Last week, Kounkuey (a Thai word that means “to know intimately”) was chosen as one of five winners in the second annual Renewal Awards, a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. Founded by Odbert and five other friends at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2006, the group has completed projects in Kenya, Haiti, Ghana, Morocco, and low-income neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles.
I spoke with Odbert about the history of the group and her views about what it takes to drive social change. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.