PEOPLE: Not your ordinary Strategy and Design Consultant

Chun-Yin San is not your average strategy and design consultant. Alongside his role at ThinkPlace, he is the head of TEDxCanberra, where he and his team of volunteers showcase the best ideas from Canberra and around Australia to the world, and act as a platform for up-and-coming changemakers and artists.

We speak to Chun-Yin San about his work and the challenges he has overcome over the years when it comes to identity. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Chun-Yin San? 

As a strategy and design consultant, it’s actually very hard to have a “normal” day. Each day can be incredibly different depending on what projects I am working on, and for which client. I will usually have about 4-6 projects running in parallel at any point, and at different levels of intensity. During the day, I might be running co-design workshops, carrying out user interviews, building solutions, liaising with the client, and more. 

That’s what happens when it comes to my ‘day job’ with the design firm ThinkPlace. At the different times of the year, I will also spend some time with my ‘night job’ as the licensee and director of TEDxCanberra. That involves a lot of fun times, often late at night, working with (and occasionally cat-herding) a beautiful group of nerds to make possible TED conferences for the Canberra community.

Somehow in between, I will manage to find time to go outside for a walk or swim, and to catch-up with friends and family in different places.

How important is diversity and inclusion to you and in the work that you do?

It’s not just a matter of importance – it’s essential. I do everything that I can to make diversity, equity & inclusion an actual part of my work.

In my day job, this manifests as working on projects that are focused on diversity, equity & inclusion. For example, I have helped large Government agencies design new strategies and frameworks for more inclusive workplaces, as well as working with organisations to build new learning programs that can empower youth from diverse backgrounds. In my night job, I work closely with my TEDxCanberra team to make sure we are an inclusive platform for people from all walks of life to be able to share their bold ideas for better futures. 

Helping people from diverse backgrounds to break down the structural barriers and inequities that are in their way is something that I’m deeply committed to. Of course, I’m driven by lived experience too. And it is a real joy and privilege to be able to make it part of my day-to-day. 

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Absolutely – and I dare say anyone from a diverse background will have faced those challenges at some point in their careers. 

Speaking as a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse person (I’m Chinese-Australian), I’ve definitely faced some ‘’overt’’ challenges. Often, it’s people making assumptions about what you’re capable of, purely based on your appearance and name. My favourite moments are when people act surprised when they realise I’m fluent in English and can write well. Of course I can – I came to Australia when I was 7 and practically grew up here!

The important thing to do when those moments come up is just to treat them as what they are – a minor nuisance – and not let it get under your skin. 

What’s harder to deal with are those less obvious, “covert” moments – when you feel you might be being treated differently to others in your work environment, but you aren’t 100% sure whether it’s because of your identity or something else. It could be little things, like feeling you are being excluded from a function, to bigger things, like wondering whether you have been passed over for an opportunity or promotion. It can be especially anxiety-inducing, particularly when you are just starting out in the workplace. 

There’s no easy solutions to those sorts of moments – they are intricately tied with the structural and systemic barriers that people from diverse backgrounds face. Personally, I find what helps in the moment is to take a deep breath, keep a positive mindset and invest your energy on creating change more broadly. You need to build up the resilience to push through those challenging moments, and know through the experiences of others that there will be opportunities and pathways going forward. 

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

Don’t be! Life is too short to be afraid, especially when you have big dreams and ambitions. Why waste your energy worrying about what you can’t do, when you can instead focus on doing what you can do, and make sure to do it in the best possible way? 

Want to follow and support CHUN-YIN SAN?

If you want to work together on solving a complex and messy problem that interfaces with diversity, equity & inclusion issues, drop me a line on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/chunyinsan). The more complex, the more excited I get!

And if you’re ever looking for inspiration about how you can make the world a better place, come along to one of my upcoming TEDxCanberra events. You can keep in touch on Facebook (facebook.com/TEDxCanberra).


About the diversity champion:

(he/him) Chun-Yin is a strategic designer who works at the nexus of public policy, design, foresight practice and science. His design and policy experience has ranged from government agencies to nonprofits and universities, and on topics as diverse as higher education reform, the innovation agenda and manufacturing in the space industry. Chun-Yin is ThinkPlace’s resident specialist in strategic foresight. He has in-depth knowledge of approaches such as scenario development and trends analysis, and is experienced in helping public sector organisations apply foresight methods to sense-make and create pathways to preferred futures. Chun-Yin’s expertise is grounded in his futurescoping work for Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, where he helped to lay the groundwork for the think-tank’s ‘participatory futures’ framework. In 2020, his work on COVID-19 foresighting for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources was shortlisted as a finalist for the APS Public Sector Innovation Awards. 


Image description: Chun-Yin is looking at the camera wearing a charcoal coloured sweater