In Memoriam: Robert Sedlack

We dedicate this blog post to honor the life and design contributions of an Ideas that Matter grant recipient, Robert Sedlack, who passed away earlier this month. Robert was an award-winning designer, respected professor and leader in the design community. His academic research was focused on the life-changing impact that design can have when applied appropriately and collaboratively to social betterment problems. Robert used the research results, in combination with his personal passion and design professionalism, to achieve social and cultural advancement on the world stage.

Sappi’s connection to Robert was that he was a recipient of two Ideas that Matter grants—one in 2012 and the other in 2014. Working with teams that include Pellegrino Collaborative, students at the University of Notre Dame and the Kgosi Neighborhood Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa he developed and delivered two successful projects on behalf of Together+, an organization committed to strengthening communities by helping them identify and apply design-driven solutions to social challenges. In 2012, Robert’s first Ideas that Matter grant supported the launch of Together+, through campaign materials to educate young South Africans about xenophobia, provide informational resources to refugees and migrants about their legal rights under the South African constitution and how to access services such as healthcare. Blooming Together, a children’s book that tells the story of four flowers that begin as seeds blown by the violent storms of Africa to a garden in Johannesburg, was one of the resulting, memorable and beautifully-designed projects from his first Ideas that Matter grant. Growing Together, a children’s book and suite of teaching materials, was Robert’s second project to be awarded an Ideas that Matter grant in 2014. Growing Together offers an opportunity for school teachers, parents and others to talk about HIV with young children through an engaging story about Khulani, a young caterpillar with HIV struggling to find acceptance. Both projects have been invaluable for the communities and individuals served by Together+. Growing Together is currently being used by educators to teach more than 1,600 students in South Africa about living with HIV, with additional schools continuing to adopt the program at a rapid pace. Although Sappi has no role in choosing Ideas that Matter grant recipients—judges from the design community determine all winners and grant dollars—we were especially moved by Roberts’ projects because they support the South African community where Sappi Limited, Sappi North America’s parent company, is headquartered. A leader, father, husband, mentor and educator, Robert’s passing is a loss to all in the design community and to his friends, students and family. So, perhaps the best way to honor Robert’s legacy is to continue the work he started using design to create social change through the Sappi Ideas that Matter grant program. You can enter to win a grant until July 17, 2015. Does that make sense?

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