Melbourne DAY 1 (or “My cup runneth over”)

8:46am You can’t help but feel welcomed as a sea of beaming volunteers holding etched placards help you find your way to Link Festival; a two day event hosted by Wildwon and Engineers Without Borders at the wonderfully asymmetrical glasshouse that is Deakin Edge.

The ‘so-friendly-its-like-I-have-known-you-my-while-life’ greeting epitomises what Link is all about — fostering a vibrant, eclectic and inclusive community that is keen to explore the sweet spot where design, technology and social change collide.

The room is a feast for the eyes, ears and mind: engineering drawings mashed up in nonsensical ways, the hum of conversation over clicking of odd teacups (more on that in a moment) and an agenda that’s bursting at the seams with speakers ready to challenge the status quo.

9:02am One of our favourite event conversation starters — the upcycled mugs that participants receive in their showbags — is back and cornier than ever. Our MC for the conference, Matt Wicking, declares that his cup — a dog riding a skateboard — is the corniest. (You’ve still got another day to challenge his claim.)

Wurundjeri elder, Uncle Perry Wandin welcomes us to his land and reminds us of the big battles facing our community right here in Melbourne.

“We’re gathering at a time when our species is having an unprecedented impact on the country. This festival is aiming to tackle some of these problems using the design and tech capacity that is now at our fingertips,” Matt says.

Sally and Yvonne, the dynamo co-founders of Wildwon, tell us a bit more about how the five principles behind Link this year:

  1. It’s solving real world problems, not just #firstworldproblems
  2. Things start here.
  3. We think big and small.
  4. It’s all about the content.
  5. It gives us faith in humanity.

9:27am Biomedical engineer Dr Jordan Nguyen tells us about three disruptive technologies that are changing the future of humanity — personal robots, virtual reality and augmented reality. It’s equal parts exciting and frightening. Exciting because we now have personal robots that can hold a conversation and can even work out from your facial features and gestures what kind of mood you’re in. Frightening because it’s hard to predict the unintended consequences of say, raising a generation with no fear of failure.

“We’re on the verge of the world changing all over again,” Jordan says. He asks us to imagine our role in shaping that future.

11:10am Morning breakouts mean difficult decisions of choosing which session to go to (and which to miss out on). In the session on Impact Entrepreneurship Matthew McKnight from Autodesk talked about the nature of disruption in industry; from customised design (an app that scans your ear and 3D prints a earphone to fit it) to connected products (cars that talk to each other and the infrastructure around them). Speaking to the high school students in the room who attended as part of FutureLink, he said “You’re quick and nimble and can have products enter market quickly. You have a chance to implement and change the world like never before.”

Open source technologies are enabling everyone to become a maker, hacker and designer. Abilitymate gives people with disabilities the tools and know how to solve problems their community is facing. For example, the prosthetic limbs they have designed are 99% cheaper than what is currently on the market ($50,000 vs $500).

We’re also designing the materials of the future:

  • Condoms that are as unobtrusive as contact lenses are being trialled to combat HIV;
  • Gas trapping metal sponges that can soak up carbon;
  • The smallest batteries you’ll see are now made of Graphene

Panellists talked about the challenges of meeting market demand while being pushed to innovate by the fast moving take-no-prisoners tech world.

12:38pm 6 slides, 6 minutes, 4 speakers. It’s lightening talk time!

Hannah Guy from Dorsu chooses to sell affordable clothing made with love in a Cambodian village. Each piece has a unique story about the person who made it. Link Fest volunteer tshirts have all been supplied by Dorsu. No wonder they look so cool.

Nic Newling talks about his mental health journey and finding your purpose sweet spot.

Daniel Oldfield from RMIT talked excitedly about graphene’s superconducting strength and how it will revolutionise electronic devices. He also touched on self healing building materials that can repair themselves when wounded. Creepy, but cool.

Arie Sawyer from Field Trip gave us the kid’s perspective and told us (with a stacks of poise) to take risks but also to take care.

1:05pm The yummiest vegan lunch that you ever did see. Actually while we’re talking food, it’s great to see Link walks the talk when it comes to social and environmental sustainability. Upcycled cups, no meat, organic waste bins, event tshirts made with love in Cambodia — Wildwon set a new standard for what could and should be routinely done at events.

While eating, the School of Life walks us through the art of conversation. We’re invited to ask an adventurous question when meeting participants over the next two days, as a new way of starting conversations differently. Mine is: “You have a billboard. Where is it and what does it say?”

2:12pm A strongly STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) focused afternoon, particularly looking at how to encourage more women into the fold.

We throw an “A” (arts) into the mix too to create STEAM in a session that says when artists and scientists collaborate, magic happens.

Take this example: By using soundscapes, artists and scientists can transport dementia patients to a different era, which can have a calming effect. We also talked about the important of interdisciplinary teams and breaking down silos.

4:06pm THIS.

4:18pm What do hackers, pirates and ex-cons have in common? asked Kyra Maya Phillips from the Misfit Economy. They bring a different perspective into a world that really needs one.

Our other closing keynote, the legendary Pamela Hartigan, quotes Irish writer George Bernard Shaw:

In almost the same breath, she tells us that she has come to intensely dislike the term ‘social entrepreneurship’ for the division it has created between making money and doing good.

She also tells us this wonderful joke.

Pam encourages us to make entrepreneurship a verb (entrepreneuring) and to use it wherever we go. She also reminds us that we are the “technofortunate” and that we need people that think beyond the problems that white, privileged people have if we’re truly going to solve the world’s challenges.

As the title of this post suggests, my Mickey Mouse cup definitely did runneth over today, both with delicious free chai tea but also with thought provoking conversations that underpin the future of design, technology and social change — that true diversity is disruptive, empathy and compassion is essential, that we need to harness the creativity of kids.

Conversations that I can’t wait to continue at Link Festival tomorrow. See you then!

For the wrap up on Day 2 of Link Festival, click here.