Cheryl Heller

Best Ideas of 2011: In Praise of Michael Murphy

Editor’s Note: This week, NextBillion contributors are reflecting on what struck them as the best ideas that came to light in 2011 – ideas with the potential to spark real change in 2012 and beyond.

Of all the ideas I encountered in the past year, including my own, one stays with me and continues to inspire upon reflection. Most of the ideas we see in the world of social enterprise are evolutions in services, products or technologies, some more new than others, some more scalable and important. This idea came in the form of a young man who became his own idea, and in doing so has acquired the potential to change his entire profession and the well being of communities all over the world.

Michael Murphy is an architect who, unsatisfied with the self-directed benefits of traditional architecture and the opportunities lost in its wake, redefined what an architect is, and how great an impact a built environment can have.

He has re-conceived hospital design to better heal the sick people in it, but that’s only part of the story. Through the MASS Design Group, which he co-founded in 2007, he has re-imagined the process of architecture to heal a whole community. He trains and employs only local workers rather than bringing in experts from elsewhere. He uses only local materials rather than importing the expected ones. He uses locally traditional methods of construction, sometimes involving ancient techniques that bring a level of beauty and sense of place more rare in our developed world than a productive day in Congress. He engages the community in an act of creation that provides employment, hope, purpose and art.

Michael is a PopTech Social Innovation Fellow. He applied several times before we saw why he’s remarkable, because it wasn’t easy for him to explain what he does. It’s not mobile anything, or micro anything, and there is no web platform involved. Yet, if we could scale it, its potential is greater than any of those.

Everyone can change – can see more fully the places and people we impact, and create a different path. Yet we all look outside ourselves for answers – just like we look outside ourselves for someone or something to blame. What is most extraordinary about Michael’s idea is that it fully realizes the profound truth that when it comes to leading change, the only true means we have is ourselves.

Michael works with a business partner, Alan Ricks, and a phenomenal team on the ground. I can’t wait to see all that their transformation inspires.

Health Care
product design