Alumni Profile: Gaïa Orain

Embracing The Uncomfortable

Gaïa Orain is a design strategist at Fair Care Labs, the social innovation arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Core to her design practice is a focus on the intersection of design thinking and social justice. Prior to joining Fair Care Labs, Gaïa freelanced with both corporate and non-profit clients. At Blue Ridge Labs, she worked on Neat Streak, a tool that creates agreements between house cleaners and their employers. She is currently working on an app that aims to aid domestic workers with employee contracts.

What led you to Blue Ridge Labs?

I’d considered working for a large organization, or big companies, because I had a significant tuition bill to pay, but I just didn’t want to make products like getting pizza faster better or how to mine people’s data better or how to make things shinier when I’ve been taught to design for social change. I heard about the summer fellowship through a friend and it sounded really interesting so I interviewed for it, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or stepping into but I said sure why not, I don’t want to move to Silicon Valley. It was a safe space to land after grad school.

What was your biggest takeaway from the fellowship?

Discomfort…because change is hard. Most designers come from a world where we design for ourselves, whether or not if we are aware of it, and really developing tools to empathize with somebody else that you have nothing in common with is easier said than done. And it’s also risky because nothing is guaranteed, and it can be a very vulnerable place, but I think growth comes from that discomfort. It can be scary to be doing unknown things by yourself, but, when you have a community supporting you – offering tools and resources and time – it’s a safe amount of discomfort.

What advice would you give to our current fellows or someone interested in #TechForGood?

Embrace uncomfortable things. It’s hard to do. It’s a learning I had while I was part of Blue Ridge Labs and something that I’ve been working on in my role at Fair Care Labs. It will radically change how you see the world. And I think I saw that with a lot of my peers, too. Check your assumptions. I think we tend to make assumptions really quickly, and I think it’s really important to unlearn that and to approach any situation with an open mind.