Chatting with Marcelo Rosenbaum

Marcelo Rosenbaum Close Up


Using the design process to bring social change 

By: Claudia Repsold & Dave Anderson

We spoke with Brazilian design Marcelo Rosenbaum, the creator of the project “We Transform”, about his vision on Social Design and the use of the design process to bring social change. This interview has been translated from Portuguese and edited for clarity.


  1. What inspired you to create the AGT (We Transform) project?

Rosenbaum: “We Transform” was more than inspiration, was a spin off of another social project. In 2010, in partnership with Suvinil Painting, we participated in social action in Parque Santo Antonio, a slum in Sao Paulo. Our mission was just to revitalize the community soccer field, so we did it. It felt great to help the community. After that project, we realized that we had set up a network of people and companies willing to work in social projects. We realized that our reach could be beyond São Paulo, we could be the agent of transformation in other parts of Brazil.

We use this social capital to boost the community’s own talent and potential. In “We Transform”, we believe that knowledge of the designer should be used to help the local artisans improve their trade. Our mission is to teach new tools to enable them to earn money with their own crafts. One example was a collection of bags that we helped local artisans to develop and that turned into to a venture.

We believe that through their own craft, the community could rescue their core cultural values and present it to the world as a designer piece.

“We Transform” showed that the shortage of resources can be overcome when people are creative and work together. The project demonstrated that using the creative economy, where design (craft) is aligned with some business tools is possible to transform a community from inside out.

2- In this symbiotic relationship that mix integration with learning promoted by We Transform, what have you learned? What do you think was your greatest legacy to the communities that participated in the project?

Rosenbaum : People are disconnected from their self-esteem, forgotten their own path to beauty. When we arrive in a community, group or territory, a healing process begins through recapturing their core values.

“We Transform” is a catalyst for this reconquest and the rediscovery of one’s identity. For communities, the results is that they begin to value their own knowledge. On the other hand, we develop a rich creative output learned from these communities that inspire to encounter the essence of the design.

We Transform has pointed to the market, that the market itself can help to generate social prosperity.

3- When you returned from the Amazon to the city, what was the first impact?

Rosenbaum : The forest did flourish within us a sense of connection. The forest people do not see any separation; everyone and everything is interconnected. You are part of me, I’m part of you and we are both a part of the whole. The first impact is to understand how the environment of the city does not stimulate a collective vision, nor promote unity. After the experience in the forest, we understand how the city make us deceptively individualized. The city makes us think that we are separate from the whole, apart from the system that acts directly on us, but we are not. We are all interconnected.

4- How has this experience influenced your work as a designer on a daily basis?

Rosenbaum :It has a great influence on my work. The work as a designer became a systemic work based in how things influence one another within a whole. I understood that the design is just a unitary view inside a larger context. The result of one project can be translate in a designer piece or other creative activity but is always a consequence of this broader understanding that it is all connected.

5- How “We Transform” changed your views on the social responsibility of the designer as he creates a piece and the means used to manufacture it?

Rosenbaum : It helped establish a vision I always had. First, the beauty of the identification, there is no ugly. What really matters is the memory that the piece can bring to people. The beauty is the connection between the piece and someone cultural values.

“We Transform” clearly shows that the designer’s job is not just to create an object, but also think about the goal of this action. At Rosenbaum´s, we have a methodology called Essential Design that we apply in every project. That is to identify the potential in the project and create a network of relationships to make that happen. We have created a workflow that benefits everyone.

6- AGT promotes sustainable entrepreneurship, as it enables isolated communities to generate income with a sustainable activity. Do you think this is a way for environmental conservation combined with social advancement?

Rosenbaum: The road to sustainability is a systemic and unified vision. We are not separate a whole. We are not separated from the forest nor we are separated from the people of the hinterland. The understanding that our actions can be unified and generate prosperity to all, is the path of sustainability that I believe.

We Transform generates income for the community, but above all builds self-esteem. The recognition of the value of the Brazilian cultural heritage in the formal market makes them feel appreciated.

7- What are your plans for 2015? How companies and people who are interested in supporting We Transform can contribute?

Rosenbaum: In 2015 We Transform will keep work with the community of Varzea Queimada in Piaui´s heartland, is the same community where we worked before in 2012. We are developing together a collection of objects made with rattan of carnauba wood and a jewelry collection made of recycled tire rubber. Both the collections are inspired by local objects and it all handmade with the craftsmanship of the local community.

We also will put to action the plans that was structured in 2014 when “We Transform” was one of project selected by Yunus Social Business in Brazil, to participate in the incubation process to receive Social investment and act as a Social Business Yunus.

20 Comments - Write a Comment

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  2. Thanks for another wonderful article. Where else could anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week on How Social Designer are Changing the Design Industry, and I’m on the look for such information. How can I contact Mr. Rosenbaum? Do you have more info that is not on article to supply me ? Thanks you

  3. I visited Rosenbaum site but unfortunately he does not sale the Amazon pieces online. I think that he is loose a great opportunity to marketing his incredible social design worldwide.

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  7. I got this web site from my buddy who told me on about this article. I have a small store in Denver, DSocial that just sells Social Design products. Social Design changed our life. Every piece that is sold is helping to improve the life of people associated with the product, this is very powerful

  8. Hi everyone, it’s my first visit at this site, and post is really
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  10. Within the design world social design is sometimes defined as a design process that contributes to improving human well-being and livelihood. Mr. Rosenbaum is certainly doing that

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