Thirteen years ago, in a faraway place called Barcelona, I was helping a friend to structure the first postgraduate program in coolhunting design and global trends. Martha had worked hard putting together the contacts and names for big celebrity faculty that included filmmakers, fashion designers, writers, musicians, and tv personalities who would talk about the latest trends in culture, for designers and other professionals to keep up with the contemporary world. I knew we could do a lot more.
When the program started in 2008, we had some good times with excellent people talking about new exciting things, students chose their preferred topic and created a fictional report on relevant trends affecting their businesses. That was simple and easy.
As years went by and generations evolved, the program grew big time. We got a lot more professional, deep, and hands-on about trends, business scenarios, innovation, agile methods and developed an innovative way of thinking that changed student’s view of the world. It became my place of activism to improve the world, to help the millennial generation be changemakers and leaders, my way to contribute to their lives and their future and to hopefully see a change in the future.
More than 100 real one-year projects were developed for companies, governments, and organizations that believed in our spirit including HP, Telefonica, Cirque du Soleil. Cisco, The Government of Chaco Argentina, The Barcelona City Council, The Government of Colombia, SEAT-VW Group, Nike, Doctors without borders, UN, Civil Rights Defenders, Bosch, Procter & Gamble, Artemide, among so many other SMEs and non-profits for whom working with us was opening a door to change and improvement of their future as organizations. All these clients believed our alumni were great professionals and some even were hired by them. Many testimonials and references appear on social media and more companies and institutions were contacting me directly to work with us. In the same way (by word of mouth) more and more students came from around the world. Our contents were copied, replicated, and spread in many schools and universities, but MIDI always evolved and has been a step ahead of everyone else.
Three projects were done to improve the experience and services of Elisava: The redesign of their recruiting process and student experience, The mentorship Program for Elisava Alumni, and the redesign of the Enric Bricall Library experience for Elisava Students. All these projects provided opportunities for the school to improve their educational experience, but only one of them (Alumni Mentorship) was fully implemented.
These projects worked as the means of creating a real-life experience and help those who enrolled in the program to adjust their mindset to an innovative one, going through all the ups and downs of a real innovation project. You only Learn by Doing is one of our mottos, Project-based Learning, and Teamwork did the work.
Their emotional and cognitive journey was mapped and fully designed each semester, helping them keep track and control of their journey. We all know the journey of innovation, but going through it is a different story. The program required high commitment and hard work from those who enrolled, not just classes but workshops, events, trips, fieldwork exploration, and exchange was part of the journey. A lot of work for good results and quality.
After 12 years of hard work and more than 400 graduates, I am leaving Elisava and the program I created and managed together with Daniel Zentgraf behind. Times change and so do institutions. When the program grew so much, we were part of the Pompeu Fabra University a world-class raked public institution that provided reputation, quality, and of course guidelines. Being a private Foundation. Elisava’s mission should have been to promote access to quality education in the fields of design and engineering and that is what we believed for many years. Our efforts were aligned with that goal and the teachers, guest lecturers, visits, and collaborators in Berlin, Munich, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Lisbon also believed so, and joined our spirit. But times changed.
New direction and business policies have appeared in several universities and schools around the world, and those programs that made people work too much, think too much, read too much, or turned them into “unsatisfied customers” that did not recommend the service to other customers became a marketing burden. The experience of learning with real commitment has changed to a customer-centric offer, where students are treated as clients who pay high fees to complete (or not) a program, always obtaining a title and a diploma from the institution. We do not fit with the future of the institutions, our “customers” complain and feel disoriented (see journey above) and that is inadmissible.
Pressure from the school to make the program more “recommendable” and “sellable” to fit the needs and claims of their customers became very strong in the last 3 years. Every end of the semester I would receive emails, urgent serious meetings, and “recommendations” on how to do my work from my boss (a former factory manager with no previous academia experience) telling me I had no friends at the school, to improve my teaching, to “wear the t-shirt” of the institution and not be too much on the side of the student’s needs but work towards the school goals. The problem here is I needed to be true to my values and my activism. I needed to do what is right and what education needs to do for the world, even if it doesn’t improve sales.
I started teaching at universities very young in 1995 while studying for my second diploma in Arts. I started as an assistant teacher at UJTL in Colombia when I graduated I competed for a public position at the biggest public university in my country and won over 50 candidates, I started as an associate professor at 28 and I am proud to say I have learned a lot about not only education but creativity, business, and strategy and how real national universities build and execute high-quality programs in 26 years of working in universities. My grandmother, my mom, my uncle, and 4 of my siblings are teachers too. So teaching runs in my blood and in my heart.
In the last 3 years, the school decided neither Daniel nor I were aligned with “school values ” anymore. They quietly did not promote the program. All you can find in social media came from us, and new students to the program came by recommendation only. We had to argue about proper space for workshops and presentations, about the virtual campus, about the Sygma system. We were complainers and potential “persona non grata”. Also, Covid 19 didn’t help. We found ourselves left alone, with no school resources, support, or guidance to create the virtual experience for MIDI, but nevertheless, we made it, they didn’t promote the Design Thinking Week nor the Service Design Week or the Trendslab, we did. They did not create an online workspace for students, we did (and even paid for) it, they didn’t provide necessary tools, software, or platforms that met our specific needs for online learning, we did (out of our pockets). Elisava did not care, but we did.
Last December I had burnout. A nervous breakdown that made me collapse emotionally and physically. The pressure from the school, the subtle emotional manipulation that made me feel mediocre, guilty, and worthless, took me by the soul, they broke my spirit and my confidence, made me feel I didn’t do good work, That I didn’t matter, I wasn’t worth it, They made me feel irrelevant when I am not.
Daniel helped me call emergency services, I cried endlessly in a one-hour call with a social security psychologist who helped me understand I was a victim of harassment and was being bossed or mobbed.
I never imagined myself in this situation and was clueless about how to go on. So I was urged to go to my family doctor who immediately sent me on medical leave, prescribed antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medication. She urged me not to respond to emails, calls, or any attempt of contact from my employer. She said I needed a safe space away from the cause of my burnout. I couldn’t stop crying, each day I felt weak, insecure, and vulnerable. I was broken. I started sessions with another psychologist from my medical insurance. She is helping me understand who I am and what I am worth. Why I need to leave and focus on new horizons, new projects, and most of all a non-toxic professional environment. I am learning a lot from her about them, about me, and about humanity in general. But this story does not end here.
Two weeks ago I received a letter from the school firing me. A 15 pages accusation about my bad performance, the damage I do to students, how neither I nor Daniel follow school rules and policy, and how the program is going down the hill because of our mediocrity. The letter describes how my work affects students who feel abandoned and makes me guilty of all the complaints in school surveys show about the program and our work. It was a mix of being devastated and relieved. I felt insulted but free. Humiliated but also happy, to be away from a place that once embraced my talent, juiced it, and threw it away.
I have joined UGT, a workers union who in the first meeting clarified they know the case, they know my boss, they know there have been a lot of cases, a lot of irregular procedures in contracting, using resources, managing talent, and other fields.
Following the advice of my therapist, my doctor, friends, and family, I have also hired a lawyer who is helping me with legal protection, because they fired me illegally during sick leave, and sent a final settlement payment of 1492€ for 12 years of work (even forging my signature) and saying that I refuse the presence of a workers representative (I was never even given the option)
If you feel this is not fair, and you want to share your experience in the program or working with us along all these years please send me an email in English or Spanish with your thoughts about my story. Feel free to comment below and let your friends know about this. I do not want this to happen to anybody else. Work violence is real and I have been through it. help me do something about it.
Thanks for reading and hope to keep in touch.