Making Change, Your Way: Building New Systems from the Background with Wanona Satcher

Wanona Satcher is the founder and CEO of Mākhers Studio, a green manufacturing and modular design build company. She’s a graduate of Auburn University College of Architecture, Design and Construction, and Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business. She’s written for The Huffington Post, and participated in both the CityLab Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies National Innovation Program.

Wanona was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and that had a profound impact on who she grew into. Not only was she surrounded by family and community members who were entrepreneurial in spirit as well as community-focused, but she was also surrounded by civil rights leaders and the bedrock of the civil rights movement. She grew up knowing that there is always an obligation to do more for others and do it in a way where you meet people where they are. All of this led to her asking: what does it mean to build conscious communities?

In college, Wanona started off as an architecture major before realizing that drawing buildings wasn’t really what she wanted to do. She was more interested in how designing cities and communities allowed for these sparks of serendipity to emerge, and she wanted to be a part of that. She switched to landscape architecture, where she could be more holistic and focus on the ecosystems that emerged.

In 2003, while working on her thesis before graduating, Wanona was tasked with a design for a BB King museum in Indianola, Mississippi. She stayed there for a week, and it was the first time in her life that she saw Black people still picking cotton. She ate dinner at someone’s house who had Black maids and servants, and she went to a restaurant where, while talking to a server about what she did, was told by the young employee that she had never heard of the civil rights movement. She was heartbroken, but reflecting on that moment much later, Wanona realized that, rather than being upset, she could be excited about the potential for changing people’s lives with her work.

While working a government job after college, Wanona created an innovation lab. She was working at the intersection of tech, research, agriculture, music, and more. She began submitting proposals to build community labs where low-income residents could work with high-income residents, create new technologies together, and enable upward mobility. It didn’t become a reality, but ideas from that started gaining traction – particularly the idea of using shipping containers – a sustainable resource – to provide value instead of having them just sit around like normal. After leaving her government job, she created Mākhers Studio with the idea of utilizing small spaces for big impact. This brought together her passion for curating to allow people the opportunity to create their own experiences, while also using sustainable resources.

Wanona believes that we need spaces to bring together people of different backgrounds to create a common language: common ground. She physically does that with Mākhers Studio, and she advocates for empathy and mindfulness to create those emotional connections necessary to make it happen and forward social impact.


What Brett asks:

  • [01:21] Can you start at the beginning and tell us about your early childhood?
  • [07:35] How much of what you experienced as a kid was a part of who you are today?
  • [14:02] How did mindfulness become a part of your parents’ life to pass on to you?
  • [21:30] What emerged for you during high school and college?
  • [31:22] How did dealing with that uninformed teenager shape your career?
  • [36:18] What are these communities that you’re building? What shape are they taking?
  • [47:40] How has mindfulness come and gone in your life?

Lessons for intentional living:

  • Wanona’s parents constantly encouraged her creativity. They modeled mindfulness and allowed her to explore her interests. There’s a lot of possibility available in creating opportunity for others while still allowing them to curate their own interests. Wanona was given the opportunity to embrace her interest in creating and cultivating conscious communities from a very young age, and with the help of supportive parents she shaped that into her reality.
  • Everybody has their own way of making change. For much of Wanona’s life, she believed that she was going to be the one fighting to change the system: attending protests, fighting injustices, exposing issues – but that’s not her way. Wanona realized that, for everyone fighting to take down an unjust system, there needed to be a new one to take its place. And Wanona’s place was not on the front lines fighting the system, but standing in the background building the new one.