Design Thinking Improves Conscious Capitalism

Posted by: Damian Joseph on October 20, 2009

This morning I headed over to the Acumen Fund’s New York City office to learn about the non-profit group’s progress with Ripple Effect, a joint project with design outfit IDEO that aims to solve clean water problems in poor areas of India and Africa. The project is funded by the Gates Foundation, but the goal is to set up business models that the natives can sustain long after help has left.

They learned quite a few lessons they wanted to share, so I thought I’d pass along a few to you…

Acumen teamed up with Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, an Indian non-profit, to reverse the fortune of a clean water station in India's Thar Desert. The station had been built by an Indian entrepreneur to provide clean water to the village, but locals were still choosing bacteria-ridden pond and ground water. Even those who obtained clean water were recontaminating it with unhygienic storage containers, such as clay pots. The station had become a money pit and was on the verge of being shuttered.

Acumen and IDEO stepped in, armed with a $15,000 grant, and applied human-centered design thinking to the situation. They added four remote outposts that stored and dispersed water so people wouldn't have to walk as far, set up chlorine washes to disinfect storage containers, and led an outreach campaign to educate the community on the dangers of drinking from its usual water supply.

People began buying water from the safer, more convenient water station. What's more, Acumen and IDEO found that locals were willing to pay more money for value-added services, such as daily delivery. Rapid prototyping led to new spicket and container designs that locals were eager to use. The operation became a success, the original entrepreneur was able to recoup his investment, and eventually, Acumen and Jal Bhagirathi turned over the entire setup to the locals.

Check out how much more water was sold this year than last:
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Calling this phase in the Ripple Effect a success, Acumen and Jal Bhagirathi are gearing up to launch similar projects in 10 more villages, simultaneously. The hope in beginning so many at one time is that both groups will learn how to scale the operation larger. If they can learn the hard lessons expanding from 1 to 10, then 10 to 100 should be easier.

This is what Yasmina Zaidman, Acumen's director of knowledge and communications, had to say about the benefit of human-centered design thinking in conscious capitalism:

Reader Comments

Jerry

October 20, 2009 3:50 PM

While I'm excited to see someone spending time helping people without resources, this is better thought of as "design charity." At the end of the day, this design thinking trend that Bruce keeps writing about seems to be giving us better and better toothbrushes... and even toothbrushes for the third world... while gleefully ignoring the type of entrepreneurship and innovation that the practitioners claim they're delivering.

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What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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