Since 2012, the Center for Science and the Imagination has led transdisciplinary projects to inspire collective imagination for better futures, including new ways of living and thriving amid path-breaking technologies and new forms of governance.
Now, as our society contemplates a world profoundly changed by COVID-19, while continuing to face the looming challenges of global climate change and systemic inequality, imagination will be a crucial skill for cooperation, reinvention, and civic participation.
To explore how imagination is practiced by individuals and communities, we invited organizers, scholars, curators, scientists, and innovators of all stripes to apply for our new Applied Imagination Fellowship program. The call for applications drew responses from around the world, in fields ranging from art and design to community advocacy, environmental studies, international development, economics, literature, astronomy, film, engineering, journalism, and more. We are proud to support an inaugural class of five fellows who will work on projects to motivate transformative change and advance visions of inclusive futures.
Ian Edwards is executive director of the Cape Cod Center for Sustainability, a registered nonprofit organization in Provincetown, Massachusetts that is focused on the question, “What’s next in sustainability?” He works on new models of leadership and engagement in the sustainability space, acknowledging the gaps between what we need to do and what we are actually doing—at planetary scale and with urgency. As part of that mission, he is the host and producer of Broto: Art-Climate-Science, a global, transdisciplinary conference, and he builds collaborative groups of experts who chart paths toward innovating new climate ideas. Previously, he was a print journalist, communications consultant, and global sustainability strategist for large brands. He holds an MBA in Sustainability from Bard College, and has developed his new project, Bank of Nature, as a way to engage in regenerative sustainability and to remake, at planetary scale, our economies to include the nature as a stakeholder.
Ian’s Applied Imagination Fellowship project, “Bank of Nature,” involves creating an alternative financial structure that incorporates nature as a lender and encourages the flow of investment funds toward projects that create more sustainable communities and economies and support efforts to remediate environmental damage.
Regina Kanyu Wang is a writer, researcher, and editor, currently pursuing her PhD as part of the CoFUTURES project at the University of Oslo. Her research focuses on Chinese science fiction, with emphasis on issues of gender and environmental perspectives. She writes science fiction, nonfiction, and academic essays in both Chinese and English. She has published two story collections in Chinese, a short novel in Italian, and a forthcoming collection in German, as well as short stories and critical essays on various platforms. She coedited the Chinese SF special issue of Vector, a journal of the British Science Fiction Association, and is a coeditor of The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, an all-women-and-non-binary anthology of Chinese speculative fiction. She is, or has served as, co-secretary-in-general and standing council member of the World Chinese Science Fiction Association, board member of the Plurality University Network, and cofounder of SF AppleCore and Asia Science Fiction Association.
Regina’s Applied Imagination Fellowship project, “Her Imaginations,” involves creating a series of video interviews with female science fiction authors, editors and fans, as well as scientists and entrepreneurs, from across China, both to foreground the creative vitality of women imagining and creating the future and to explore how these creators promote nondualistic thinking in their work, as a way to reframe conflicts and imagine a more inclusive, harmonious future.
Panthea Lee is a strategist, organizer, designer, and facilitator working for structural justice and collective liberation, and the executive director of Reboot. She builds healing coalitions between communities, activists, movements, and institutions to dismantle inequity—and partners with artists to drive transformative change. Panthea is a pioneer in curating and guiding coalitions to tackle complex social challenges, and has done so in more than 30 countries. The global co-creation efforts she’s led have launched efforts to protect human rights defenders, tackle public corruption, strengthen democracy, advance knowledge equity, reform international agencies, and drive media innovation. In past lives, Panthea was a journalist, ethnographer, and cultural organizer. Her analyses have been featured in Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, CNN, Fast Company, the New York Times, MIT Innovation, and Stanford Social Innovation Review. She has lectured at Harvard, Columbia, and New York Universities. Panthea serves on the boards of The Laundromat Project, RSA (Royal Society of Arts) US, Development Gateway, and People Powered: The Global Hub for Participatory Democracy.
Panthea’s Applied Imagination Fellowship project, “The People’s Commission for Justice,” draws on healing justice, participatory art and deliberative democracy practices to engage Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in building nourishing visions of the future and creating both compelling public art projects and concrete plans for advocacy and social change.
Benjamin Ong is an ecologist by training, an educator by passion, and an explorer at heart. Between 2014 and 2019, he anchored volunteer engagement and environmental education at Universiti Malaya’s Rimba Ilmu Botanic Garden through two platforms he co-founded: The Rimba Project and the Urban Biodiversity Initiative (Ubi). An avid writer and photographer, his book The Backyard Before You was published in 2017. Benjamin’s interests center on the relationship between humans and nature in cities, and on the power and agency of student volunteerism. He won the 2017 Chevening Green Volunteer of the Year Award and the 2019 Marsh Award for Education in Botanic Gardens. He is also a U.S. Department of State/East-West Center alum, a Chevening-CIMB scholar, and former Board Director of Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (Student Volunteers Foundation). He holds a BSc in Ecology & Biodiversity from Universiti Malaya and an MSc in Sustainable Development from the University of St Andrews.
Benjamin’s Applied Imagination Fellowship Project, “The Kampung City,” considers how urban farming and micro-terraforming of city spaces brings the kampung — Malay for “village” or “hometown” — into rigidly planned, densely populated environments and creates an opportunity to reimagine cities of the future as lush, ecologically diverse and with an emphasis on edible.
Sultan Sharrief is a trans-media activist, filmmaker, and XR designer. He holds a BA in Film from University of Michigan, an MS in Comparative Media from MIT, and is a PhD candidate in Media Arts & Practice at USC.
His directorial debut feature film, Bilal’s Stand, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and he has since produced four additional feature films and a TV program. His youth media program Street Cred was a four-year sponsored project with Allied Media Projects in Detroit.
In 2018 he founded the Quasar Lab at MIT, an institutional-hacking research lab that uses disruptive community organizing as a strategy for futurist design. With a custom Sufi design methodology, the lab designs decolonizing prototypes using the affordances of augmented and virtual reality, algorithmic data aggregation, and blockchain. When not making media and organizing, Sharrief enjoys doing absolutely nothing, playing rugby, and occasionally visiting the University of Michigan Ice Carving Team, which he founded in 2003.
Sultan’s Applied Imagination Fellowship project, “Visions from a New Tribe,” involves creating video, virtual-reality experiences and augmented-reality technologies to share the stories and experiences of unhoused people in the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, to celebrate their creative expression and to shift our larger understanding of homelessness.