Cumulus Student Ambassadors reporting from Mumbai, India – In a Planet of Our Own conference
Vanessa Monna, Matteo Fagarazzi and Luca Piallini – students from Politecnico di Milano, Italy travelled as the Cumulus Student Ambassadors to the Cumulus conference In a Planet of Our Own- Focus on Sustainability hosted by IDC, IIT in Mumbai, India on December 3 – 5, 2015. Read their reflections.
It’s a little strange to be a part of the management team of a conference since you would only see the backstage. So, I was really excited to experience a Cumulus Conference from the participant’s point of view, yet knowing how the big machine worked.
As Cumulus Ambassadors, Matteo, Luca and me were invited to take part in one of the students’ workshops that took place the day before the official beginning of Cumulus Mumbai 2015. The workshop we’ve selected was called “Urban Sustainability-Common Ground” and
was tutored by prof. Massimo Santanicchia from Iceland and Chadni Rajendran (non era Sandeep Bomble) from India. The aim of the workshop was to understand the UN Habitat statement about what it means to achieve urban sustainability. We were divided in teams and each team had to develop an aspect.
We were then invited to go out of the IIT Bombay Campus and visit the near Powai Market. It was my very first day in India (we had arrived some hours earlier in the dead of night), and the first time I could walk around Mumbai, so I felt excited and curious to experience the Indian reality. While walking around, my Indian colleagues and me have talked about the differences between Indian and Italian environments and I got to understand better what I was seeing on the streets of the market and how Indian people would communicate to foreigners. Indian streets are lively and colorful, full of people, cars, animals and food shops. It was a whole new experience, that I will keep in a sweet corner of my heart. Starting from the first-person experience, my team developed some insights and discussed them with all the class, getting feedback from the tutors and the other young designers. All the teams’ works were resumed in a poster that was presented later that same evening in front of all the students participating to the conference.
It’s been just a one-day workshop, but I met a lot of young people from all over the world. I think that our experience in India has been so enjoyable also because we were able to hang out in the days of the conference. By the way, we still keep in touch with some of them and, who knows, maybe in the future we will be able to meet again!
I can’t recall precisely who was the man who wrote the words “the world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page”. Well, if this was true, then that means the three of us just added an amazing chapter to our life-books.
Looking back to see how many nice people we’ve met in just a few days at the IIT seems incredible right now, and the best part is that we’re still in contact with some of them. They came to pick us up at the airport at late night, brought us to downtown Mumbai the night before we left, they gave us lots of advice and we spent a wonderful time together. We also had the chance to know a bit better the next ambassadors, to whom we wish the very best for their conference. This is all to say that even if it was for a few days, it totally broke our hearts to leave so soon. The “Love, the Ambassadors” at the end of each post, was especially for them.
However, we’ve experienced another memorable journey, a totally new experience for the three of us in the northern Indian territories. In Jaipur, we got fully immersed in the reality of the place from the first moments: breathtaking buildings, curious people, astonishing elephant rides and spicy, spicy food. On a more personal note, let me say that I feel quite lucky in my life, as I had the opportunity to taste food locally for the first time: sushi in Tokyo, BBQ sauce in US and of course, Indian in India!
Words cannot describe how it was to move to the North, but we know one thing for sure: India is very big and the differences of a region like Rajasthan from Mumbai appeared quite evident after a while – they don’t even seem to belong to the same country!
It was impressive for us to see how such a poor, little town like Agra can house one of the seven Wonders of modern world. I think the Taj Mahal is one of the most impressive things that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not something that can be described, it needs to be seen, at least once in life, to be appreciated. It’s like a pilgrimage, a must for all of those like us who travel and want to see how a foreign culture really is.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to see all the places we’d have loved to: Varanasi and Delhi above all, but all in all, we were more than satisfied with what we did, especially because we know we experienced this country at its deepest. And for those cities, well, they’re one more reason to come back.
We had had a few hours of sleep the night before, but the excitement was pumping into our bodies, making us feel energized and alive. The ceremony of the lighting of the Diya (lamp) officially started the works of the conference.
One of the first to speak was prof. Luisa Collina, president of Cumulus. She welcomed us into the family, showed to the public the presentation video we had uploaded some days before and wished us luck for all that was to come. Little did we know at the time, but surely that was what we would need the most. In fact, managing our roles as ambassadors as well as participants to the conference meant a great deal of organization and sync between us.
The three days of the conference followed, interrupted only by the majestic indian lunches that would be prepared in the hall. During the sessions, we chose to follow multiple tracks: we explored how design can intersect with so many areas and how at each of those meeting points, great innovations await.
We’ve witnessed the presentation of outstanding projects that complement each other and give a taste of the many perspectives design possesses. Experts gave proof of their creative spirits, presenting how they had built exhibitions to make visible, set campaigns to raise awareness and designed new methods to solve urgent problems.
For example, I remember Prof. Laura Korculanin, who spoke about the importance of management of human waste in fast-growing cities. For the occasion, she awarded the IIT Bombay a special golden poo from her “Give a shit” project.
I also clearly remember the passionate tale of Prahlad Kakkar:a leading Indian film director who turned his passion for the ocean into a battle to raise awareness about the importance of protection of this beautifully unknown and endangered habitat.
My personal favorite, though, must have been Dr.Debal Sen’s keynote speech. Maybe it’s because I share his same passion for photography and nature, but I was literally hooked from the moment I saw the first picture and enchanted by his voice, describing what that shot meant for him.
Throughout the conference, listening to the voices of the speakers invited to take the stage, inspired reminded us of the growing power of design as a powerful tool to fuel innovation, which engaging more and more people aims at establishing new revolutionary practices.
Learn more about Vanessa, Matteo and Luca at
Check the Cumulus Student Ambassadors FB for great videos and footage on-site from Mumbai! https://www.facebook.com/Cumulus-Ambassadors-527204344105153/