BINIT VASA – CULTURAL RESEARCH LEAD

The journey of Binit Vasa, a self-proclaimed generalist, was never linear. He grew up in the suburbs of Mumbai, India and as a young man he had always been the black sheep of the family. Having a keen interest in design and communication, rather than business and finance, he diverted from the path taken by the rest of his family.

Journalist: Sif Szetu / Fotograf: Lea Vikström / Filmfotograf: Elise Varrone

He refers to his journey as “The Hustle”, describing the hard work it took to get where he wanted. If someone were to tell him that something was unobtainable, he would always figure out how to do it anyway. Even though he had to fight his way to his desired position he always seemed to maintain an extremely open-minded and positive outlook on the world and its people. This attitude might be what sent him around the globe and into the world of design. As he puts it, the quote that he will be remembered for should be “Yeah, sure, why not?”

“I love saying yes to new experiences, even if I might dislike the idea at first. My whole life has been outside my comfort zone” Binit explains. “Saying yes opens up the world to you and makes you very adaptable to it. This is also how I ended up in Copenhagen – by saying yes”. 

As the trains of Mumbai were always overly crowded during certain times of the day, Binit would make it habit to wait around for several hours to avoid the crowd. A friend of his asked him if he wanted to join a French class with him. Of course, he responded “Yes, sure why not?”. This decision eventually got him to France for the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival in 2012. One of the events he attended there was a talk by Brian Collins, founder of the global design firm COLLINS. This was a turning point for Binit who was immediately captivated by his inspiring storytelling. “Brian Collins changed my world. He helped me understand the power of design and brought meaning and purpose to what I believed in. I didn’t know if it would be architecture, branding or product design, I just knew I wanted to work with design”.  

Saying yes to new things also gave Binit a lot of experience within entrepreneurship.

At 21, he started a company with a couple of friends. It quickly grew and within a few years it was doing business worth half a million USD and had thirty odd employees. The growing success came from hard work and dedication, but also caused Binit to burn out three years in. He chose his mental health over the company and exited at its peak to  take a forty-day long trip to Europe. The journey became a sort of yearly tradition and is ultimately what led him to Copenhagen and SPACE10.

In 2015, he had planned to go to Sweden to attend a concert by Jose Gonzales, but since the concert was close to Malmö, Binit decided to visit Copenhagen instead of Stockholm. Having heard about SPACE10 before his trip, he decided to go visit their office located in the city’s Meatpacking District. His first attempt was a bit of a letdown as the space was closed, but luckily his Danish hosts convinced him to give it another try and visit again the next day. The next day he walked into the offices of the Copenhagen based research and ran into the founder and Director, Carla Camilla Hjort. She agreed to a fifteen-minute chat, but eventually cancelled her meeting and continued the conversation with Binit for another hour. This was the beginning of a strong professional relationship between the two creatives which eventually led him to start as a resident at SPACE10, to explore the future of circularity and social enterprise in India.

SPACE10 is a research and design lab supported by and dedicated to IKEA. Their projects are very diverse and focus on creating a better everyday life for people and the planet. For example, they created a playful research to raise awareness around the Future of food using the iconic IKEA meatball as the leitmotif. The research focuses on exploring sustainable alternatives to meat and presents the results in colourful and visually intriguing way.

The values of SPACE10 seemed to align with Binit’s own, so he found himself at home with everyone who works at the lab. As he explains, “SPACE10 is not built to last but to evolve. And that resonates with me a lot because I like to constantly evolve as a person with new challenges and opportunities to explore diverse subjects. But most importantly, it allows me to remain curious in understanding how the world is changing and how we can find patterns in this chaos”.

Binit points out, that the structures in our society do not include everyone – It is not that a person is unstructured because society disagrees with them, but rather that the structure is simply not for them. Here he gives an example: A work week consists of 5 workdays and 2 resting days, being Saturday and Sunday, but what if you work better on Sundays? Or what if you work better at night? Oppressive structures like these are what Binit is trying to question and break away from. He calls himself a generalist, the opposite of a specialist – A person who is not focussed in pursuing expertise in one subject, but rather has many interests and and who can ‘connect the dots’ between multiple subjects. Having an overview and then bringing in specialists to collaborate on a project is exactly how they work SPACE10 and it reflects in their belief that ‘If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room’.

“For me, the generalist brings the outsider’s point of view. They are seeing the world from the outside in, not the inside out” Sometimes people who are too focused on one thing need to zoom out and see the bigger picture. And generalists do that naturally”

So what will happen in the future? According to Binit, more people will have to be generalists, as many of our traditional professions will be overtaken by technology. The processing of data is increasingly done by computers, but our technology still has its limitations. Creativity, divergence and ethical thinking are crucial things that only human beings are able to generate. Maybe more people like Binit will then lead the way and connect the dots for us.

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