My life’s journey changed course in Botswana in 2016. I was invited by one of my heroes, Amy Smith of MIT D-Lab, to attend an International Development Design Summit. Not as a mentor, but as a participant. After nearly two decades of leading large multidisciplinary teams and multimillion-dollar programs, I was looking forward to being one of a few dozen international participants, and meditated in the month before the summit to open my mind and heart to my new individual contributor role and my new (probably much younger and very different) peer group. I promised myself to go into the experience with a beginner’s mind, so I could see product design and development from a fresh perspective. It was the most intense and meaningful experience of my adult life.
I was incredibly curious. Had my first summit been a fluke, or was it possible to have similarly wonderful experiences in different roles with entirely new groups of people?
Flash forward a couple of years, when I returned to the Kalahari Desert to volunteer at a second summit. Again I camped out for 6 weeks, and again I was amazed... by how quickly we overcame enormous differences to develop strong friendships, and by the astounding level of ingenuity our solutions had when we all contributed our unique perspectives and skills. One of the new friendships I made was with a co-organizer, a Costa Rican woman named Ta Corrales. Neither of us had any idea at the time that we’d launch a company together.
As IDDS Botswana 2018 came to an end, I realized I needed my life and my career to be more consistently welcoming and inspirational (like the experiences I’d had at both of these summits). Long story short, I sold my house and quit Google so I could eat tacos and investigate immersive activities. After an incredible 18-month sabbatical, during which I participated in a wide variety of courses and events, I finally knew what I wanted to do next in my life.
Before I continue, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge my privilege. I’m grateful to have had an education and a career that gave me opportunities over the years to attend these types of immersive activities and save enough money for a sabbatical. Most people don’t have these luxuries, so during the past couple of years I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about how to make experiences like these more accessible.
Late last year, after months of research and thought (and a respectable number of tacos), I came up with a compelling idea for a business. I invited Ta to partner with me in Smith Assembly so we can share with you what we’ve learned about finding connection and meaning through building. We offer hands-on workshops for building human connections. Our workshops are co-created with innovators from around the world, feature inclusive approaches to problem-solving and product design, reinforce growth mindset values, and support social impact nonprofits. As you can imagine, our lives have been a whirlwind ever since — especially after we were invited in January 2020 to join Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program as part of Spring’s May 2020 Cohort (and, like the rest of humanity, have had to navigate the additional chaos and stress of a global pandemic).
Ta and I know there’s magic in building something with someone else. When people use their hands during a meaningful shared experience, to create things like a fishing kite or a rechargeable bamboo speaker, they inadvertently open themselves up. What makes the world turn isn’t knowledge or technology — it’s the power of human connection. When people from different backgrounds see each other’s unique brilliance in action, their compassion builds and they feel a greater value for the full spectrum of humanity. Once that happens, we believe they and the companies they work for will create cultures and products that address everyone’s needs.
We came into our partnership as friends, and both intend to remain friends throughout and beyond the life of our company. Ta and I respect, appreciate, and care about each other as people in and out of the office, and have made that a key pillar of our collaboration as well as our company’s culture. Day by day, we model the world we want to live in — even when those conversations and decisions take a lot more consideration, time, effort, and/or money.
Smith Assembly is both purpose- and impact-driven. We believe that embracing and empowering a breadth of perspectives results in better culture and better business. We’re brave, collaborative, inspirational, and solutions-driven. Our name reflects who we are and what we do — skilled craftspeople who gather folks together to build things. We plan for Smith Assembly to make a profit, but our path to profitability will prioritize providing you with high-quality services and supporting our team and communities over fast growth. Our long-term goal is to iteratively evolve our company in such a way that our participation in the business remains engaging and fulfilling for both of us (hopefully for decades). We’re also committed to having a positive environmental and social impact on the world. Smith Assembly offsets our carbon footprint, participates in 1% for the Planet, donates 5% of our revenue each quarter to a nonprofit selected by our global innovators in order to amplify the positive impact they have in their communities, and supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
To learn more about who we are as people, check out the Q&A with Liz and the Q&A with Ta. Explore our website to learn more about Smith Assembly and the onsite and online workshops we create. Keep an eye on our blog, we’ll soon be introducing you to brilliant innovators from around the world.
Let’s Build Together! Contact us — we’d love to get to know you and your teams.