Design Thinking - Social Innovation


Social issues are always complex problems, which have too many strands attached to them. There are too many aspects of a problem, that many a times get ignored by the social innovators. However, solving a social problem requires taking into consideration all the facts and figures, and then working on them. This is the reason why design thinking is being widely used for social innovation. As a result, non-profits have begun to use design thinking extensively these days.

IDEO Example

In 2008, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation asked IDEO to codify the process of design thinking. The foundation wanted the code to be used by grassroots level NGOs to solve problems for small farmers in the developing nations. A team from IDEO worked for months in association with the International Center for Research on Women, Heifer International, and International Development Enterprise to get insights into the process of designing new products. These products, processes, and services were to be integrated with IDEO’s new process.

As a result of this partnership program, the Human Centered Design Toolkit was developed. This methodology allowed organizations to use design thinking process themselves.

Naandi Foundation’s Example

Naandi Foundation

In the city of Hyderabad in India, Naandi Foundation’s community water treatment plant provides safe water. However, villagers still use free water which is not safe for consumption and makes people sick. The villagers use unsafe water not because of affordability issues or accessibility issues, but because of the flaws in the overall design of the system.

The problem is that the womenfolk cannot bring the heavy containers of water back to their homes from the plant. Such problems can be solved by design thinking process. Consider it as an exercise to think of ideas how this problem faced by the villagers can be solved by design thinking methodology.

Case study − Embrace Baby Warmer

Design thinking gives a collaborative, human centered approach to solve some of the most pressing issues of the world. The Embrace Baby Warmer is a solution that a team of students from Stanford University came up with to solve the issue of providing a maintained temperature for six hours to a newborn baby. This has helped more than 22,000 low birth weight babies around the world to stay warm. In Nepal, low birth weight babies often developed fatal hypothermia because of the dysfunctional incubators. The areas which lacked electricity were suffering from this problem.

Using design thinking methodology, the students came up with an innovative solution. The sleeping bag which they developed for newborns is portable and does not need electricity. This way, lives are saved without any dependency on incubators.

Design thinking puts stress on quickly prototyping the solution and tests it so that the designers can take feedback quickly and work on the suggestion at the earliest. There have been many examples of social innovation in the past by the students of Stanford University in countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, etc. and many are still ongoing. Design thinking helps people from all disciplines to try and look out for solutions to the pressing situations and problems of the world around.