Photos by Justin Halgren Photography
Author Archives: Heather Fleming
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa announced today that Catapult Design, a product and service design firm based in San Francisco, is one of 817 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. Catapult Design’s grant will support the expansion of its design and innovation education program to the Navajo Nation in Arizona.
In 2012 Catapult Design hosted its first design event, Catapult Labs, in San Francisco with the goal of exposing attendees to new design tools and methods that spark and support positive social change. With NEA funds, Catapult will host this event on the Navajo Nation in 2014. The event will bring together designers and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and the Navajo Nation to build networks, activate communities, and spark entrepreneurial social innovation.
In 2010, the unemployment rate on the Navajo Nation – which crosses Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah – spanned 40-70%, compared to 9.6% across the U.S. Despite resource-rich land, the largest tribal landmass in the country, and a viable workforce of 180,500 people, the growth of Navajo small businesses is less than half the growth rate for the U.S.
By engaging local partners, such as the Rural Entrepreneurship Institute in New Mexico, Catapult will assemble Native American youth and budding entrepreneurs who want to turn their ideas into realized solutions for community and economic development on tribal lands.
“It’s an opportunity to cross-pollinate methods and ideas in one of the most entrepreneurially thriving places in the world – Silicon Valley – with one of the most entrepreneurially challenged places in the world – the Navajo Nation. Innovation exists in both places through a completely different lens,” says Heather Fleming, CEO of Catapult Design who is also originally from the Navajo Nation. “We’re eager to help connect and support folks with big ideas for their community.”
Acting Chairman Shigekawa said, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place throughout the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement, or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable opportunities for the public to engage with the arts.”
For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA website at arts.gov.
“Development is being disrupted,” says Raj Kumar, President of DevEx, a site devoted to helping the international development community deliver foreign aid more efficiently and effectively. Beyond the buzz generated by the “social entrepreneurship” and “impact investing” communities, I’ve seen a significant shift coming from traditional aid agencies in the past two years.
In 2010, USAID, the agency responsible for administering US foreign aid, launched the first-of-its-kind Development Innovation Ventures quarterly grant program. Its funding model is inspired by traditional venture capital and the focus is on scalable and entrepreneurial solutions to poverty alleviation. Similarly, in 2012 the World Bank hired a former Silicon Valley Google.org director to lead their new “Innovation Labs.” UNICEF and the Inter-American Development Bank have also launched their own “Innovation Labs” with similar goals of promoting open-dialogue, new methods, and cross-pollination of models that enable innovative activity.
So with all this talk about “innovation,” where are the designers, the technologists, and the entrepreneurs? The folks behind these initiatives are still folks with international and economic development backgrounds, economics and finance. If they’re serious about innovative approaches, it’s time creative problem solvers are added to the equation. Specifically, here are five strengths designers have that the development industry direly needs:
1. We are systems thinkers.
The problems that plague our world are complex, interwoven, and multifaceted. As designers, we solve problems through a combination of analytic and creative thinking. Many of the best designers I know are themselves multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary. In addition to a design degree, they’re also engineers or MBAs or economists. It takes both sides of the brain to generate solutions to social challenges.
2. Fresh eyes.
Einstein’s “We can’t solve the world’s problems by using the same type of thinking we used when we created them,” couldn’t ring more true. Many of the social issues we’re fighting today have existed for decades and consistently been addressing using old mechanisms—policy, aid, and philanthropy. We are long overdue for fresh thinking to old problems.
3. We have a prototyping culture.
We make a lot of mistakes in development—mistakes that sometimes negatively impact people with everything to lose; mistakes that could potentially be avoided if the development sector fostered a culture of iteration and refining ideas before rushing to scale. Instead, I see a lot of money going towards untested ideas or worse yet, “solutions in search of a problem.”
4. We focus on people.
Many decisions made today that affect the poor are made by people completely removed from their issues. A designer’s viewpoint, driven by an understanding of the needs of people or end-users, is completely unique and lacking within the development sector. The key to better policy, better products, and better public services is rooted in understanding of the key players and what motivates them.
5. We create capacity.
We build things. We build products, services, websites—and by doing so we are intrinsically building the capacity of those who make, distribute, sell, or use what we create. On a fundamental level, giving people access to tools that enhance their capacity is what drives economic development. We play a central role in creating those tools that are useful, relevant, and meaningful.
$22.8 billion of our projected fiscal budget is earmarked for poverty-reduction activity in 2013. Traditionally, international development agencies use the amount of the money put towards poverty alleviation as a metric for efficacy. I’m hoping the next few years shift that metric towards understanding underlying problems and funding new solutions that address those problems. In order to do that, we need a new breed of development thinkers. The next generation of designers is inspired by careers that provide meaning and impact. Now is the perfect time for the development sector to start connecting the dots.
To appreciate companies like Living Goods, you have to transport yourself to a world without Walmart, UPS, or a local Walgreens pharmacy. Imagine if in order to purchase an item as simple as soap, you had to spend more money on transport than the cost of the product alone, not to mention the time spent away from productive work. As Chuck Slaughter points out in a recent article in The Economist, “Distribution is often the missing link between design and impact.”
We couldn’t agree more. One of the most common hurdles social entrepreneurs with exciting product ideas face is the lack of formal distribution channels in rural markets. The prospect of creating your own channels, especially without a proven market, is daunting if not impossible.
Since starting in 2007, Living Goods has tackled this challenge in Uganda by training local sales agents to deliver life-changing products such as anti-malaria treatments, fortified foods, solar lamps, clean burning cook stoves, and sanitary pads. The analogy they use is “Avon ladies”, where CEO Chuck Slaughter worked for a few years in order to understand the franchise model.
“Nothing about what we do is a handout,” says Chuck in a recent interview. “It’s really about empowerment. It’s about giving people the tools they need to improve on their own.”
With more than 1,000 profitable agents in Uganda, Living Goods will expand its service to Kenya this year. The opportunity is huge. And with a growing customer base, Living Goods is now in a position to build on their brand through their own product line. In 2012 they began discussions with a few major packaged goods companies about manufacturing fortified foods for infants to combat malnutrition. But big business moves slowly. And Living Goods is eager to address this critical human need and fill this gap in the market. Enter Catapult Design.
Catapult and Living Goods have teamed up to develop a new nutritional product for distribution in Uganda and Kenya. Leveraging expertise from entities such as GAIN and Technoserve, Catapult will work with the Ugandan sales agents, Living Goods customers, and East African manufacturers to prototype a packaged food at a price point appropriate for rural households.
The end goal? Living Goods’ ultimate goal: to show that companies can deliver profits and positive human impact. “A sustainable distribution platform that can meet the needs of the poor — that’s the holy grail,” say Chuck to The New York Times.
Stay tuned for progress on the partnership with Living Goods.
Raise your hand if you’re familiar with the TV show MacGyver. The main character is truly a phenomenal human being. The plot of the 60-minute show is pretty consistent: He’s a secret agent whose specialty is finagling himself out of the most impossible situations. He had an uncanny ability of taking everyday objects from his immediate surroundings and transforming them to solve problems. He could turn a coffin into a get-away jet ski. He could disarm a nuclear warhead using only a safety pin. In one of my favorite episodes he builds a long-distance bomb using a rubber glove, a gas pipe, a light bulb, and shards from a toilet bowl. He’s a universal symbol for resourcefulness, ingenuity, and creativity.
If you deconstruct his actions in every episode, there are four factors that enable his success. I’ve called them the four enablers of creativity:
1. He is a do-er. It’s easy for teams to sidestep creativity when taking on a new endeavor by quibbling over objectives. Ambiguity is uncomfortable. MacGyver uses action to work through the ambiguity. He could sit and have a discussion about his options, or create a tradeoff matrix, but he chooses to learn by doing.
2. His resources are defined. One of the first things we do at the start of a design project is figure out what we know and what we don’t know. We make constraints. It’s a contrast to what we associate with creativity—which is blue-sky, free-thinking, no rules. But the lack of constraints, or lack of a creative process, is in fact a deterrent to producing innovative results.
3. His goal is clear and a deadline is imminent. For MacGyver, the bomb is always ticking down. He has a defined amount of time. Failure is not an option. It’s similar to that feeling you get the night before a deadline, when the creative adrenaline rushes in at 2 a.m. The pressure is necessary to drive action.
4. He doesn’t have to ask for permission. Imagine if MacGyver had to stop with 15 seconds left on the bomb ticker to get clearance to use a set of pliers. Creating an enabling environment—tools on hand, creative ‘places,’ ‘time’ for creativity, diversity in thought—is what helps him get the job done.
There are a number of websites dedicated to debunking this TV character’s ingenuity, but he’s not entirely fiction. There are real-life MacGyvers throughout the developing world exhibiting the same resourcefulness and creativity, as well as entrepreneurship. This past November I bought a Rwandan-made LED lamp (pictured above) for 800 RWF (about $1.25 USD). It’s simple—some re-purposed wood, spent batteries from a radio, an LED, and some wire. There’s not even an on/ off switch, just exposed wires to complete the circuit.
This isn’t a solution that will produce IP, and yet it’s a prominent source of lighting in rural Rwanda, which makes up nearly 95 percent of the country’s population. It’s a great example of how creative individuals within the local context have ‘MacGyvered’ solutions to their needs.
Between 70-95 percent of the creative economy’s economic output in Africa comes from SMEs, the informal sector. They are local craftsman, operating under the radar, using their creative wits to survive. They are among the most resilient people on the planet.
In my previous career I was a product design consultant in Silicon Valley—the land of abundance. I worked on new technologies for American households, all for companies who wanted to build reputations for innovation. The irony is that I see more innovation, and less volatility, coming from what we call “the developing world” or the informal sector, where innovation is born every day from extreme constraints and necessity. (Just like in MacGyver).
In these places, the landscape is littered with broad meaty challenges like the lack of energy access, cross-cultural barriers, and the digital divide. They’re addressing these challenges in new ways and new models that are poised to leapfrog anything we can imagine in Silicon Valley. And I’m not alone in my thinking. This week at the World Economic Forum 2013 Annual Meeting in Davos, Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, shared that Coke’s innovation, which he referred to as “frugal innovation” is coming from emerging markets.
With that in mind, how might business leaders leverage the global creative economy to enable the MacGyvers working within their company and perhaps to support economic development in new economies? If you can’t answer the question, you might find yourself struggling to catch up sooner than you think.
We culled our twitter feed and picked out the best of the best from 2012. Read on for links to new tools, resources, and thought pieces on design and social entrepreneurship.
DESIGN + SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP PIECES
1. Fast Company asks: “Do Designers Exploit the Poor While Trying to Do Good?” http://bit.ly/zKuQzT
2. Niti Bahn identifies what is missing in designing for the next billion: http://bit.ly/KAAAh0 (tools, methods, frameworks)
3. D-Rev’s Krista Donaldson discusses how to create products for people living on less than $4 per day: http://bit.ly/OoWlSY
BONUS READ! Harvard Business Review post on “The Smart Way to Make Profits While Serving the Poor” http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/06/the_smart_way_to_make_profits.html
4. For empathy, check out “Life Without Lights,” a documentary photography project on energy poverty - http://lifewithoutlights.com/
5. For teaching, check out “Wicked Problems: problems worth solving,” a handbook for teaching, learning, & doing disruptive design work - http://bit.ly/zP1NpB
6. For doing, check out this new site providing free recs for proven, low-cost household water treatment tech based on community need - http://communitychoicestool.org/
7. For researching, check out this list of 46 smartphone apps for conducting ethnographic research - http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/apps.html
BONUS READ! For empathy, check out GSMA’s new report that gives a glimpse into the lives of women living on less than $750/year - http://bit.ly/PMbil9
DEVELOPMENT THOUGHT PIECES
8. Esther Duflo & Co reveal their (controversial) research on cookstoves: “Clean Cookstoves Must Be Rethought so They Actually Get Used in Developing World” http://on.natgeo.com/OFQVIw
9. Stanford Social Innovation Review takes a cue from Esther Duflo and posts a piece on the tricky claims social enterprise and non-profits make when advocating for their work: http://bit.ly/PyNQsj
10. One of our most retweeted posts comes from The Guardian. Hugo Slim posts his thoughts on: “The trouble with aid? Why helping people is always complicated” http://gu.com/p/3cef2
We’re heading to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013 in Davos, Switzerland this January 2013. Not only that, we’re joining:
Jeanne Bourgault, President, Internews
Theaster Gates, Director, Arts and Public Life Initiative, The University of Chicago
Caroline Watson, Director and Founder, Hua Dan
Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art New York
for a session on Friday, January 25th exploring societal adversity and creativity. We will also participate in a private session on the “Creative Economy” where we’ll talk about building social-benefit design programs.
Do we really need to say how psyched we are? Expect a blog on a designers perspective of World Economic Forum and “improving the state of the world.”
Last week we kicked off our second program with The Ihangane Project exploring the multifaceted world of access to clean water for a small village two-hours outside of Kigali. The program took us back to Rwanda where team members Karin Carter and Heather Fleming trekked through the hilly, lush terrain in the pouring rain to spend some time in the homes of families living on as little as $2-$3 per day. Rwanda’s rural poor, 96% of the country’s population, has access to water through government issued water pumps spotted throughout the countryside, but the cleanliness of the water is a separate issue.
Working through the Ihangane Project’s local staff and the community health clinic, we ran individual interviews, focus groups, and conducted home visits with both community members and community health workers. Our goal? To build our understanding of the local perspective of “clean” versus “safe” water, how it fits into their lives, and to facilitate discussion on existing market-based and community-driven solutions for clean water in Rwanda. Check out the first images from the program photo diary here.
Our research also included interviews with a range of organizations supplying clean water systems in Rwanda – WaterAid, Water for People, Manna Energy, The Access Project. – and we witnessed a range of differing solutions and strategies as a result. Our team will spend the next few weeks synthesizing and summarizing key findings from our research. Stay tuned for the wrap-up and review of our methodology in the coming weeks!
Over 82% of the 103 million residents in Bihar, India lack access to reliable electricity. Our latest partner, Husk Power Systems, will bring millions of families in Bihar out of the darkness by providing reliable, renewable and affordable electricity. In just four years Husk Power wowed the nation with the installation of 84 mini-power plants that convert rice husks into electricity at a scale that is affordable for families that can spend only $2 a month for power. In total, Husk Power provides electricity to over 200,000 people spread across 300 villages, and employing 350 local people across Bihar.
“What’s replicable isn’t the distribution of electricity. It’s the whole process of how to take an old technology and apply it to local constraints. How to create a system out of the materials and labor that are readily available,” said CEO Gyanesh Pandey in an interview with the New York Times.
This Fall, Husk Power and Catapult team up to increase the scale of Husk’s impact by evaluating and refining the energy production process from a people and safety perspective in a special project funded by Shell Foundation. Catapulter Charlie Sellers is spending the next few months in Bihar working side-by-side with the Husk Power team to observe, conceptualize, and prototype solutions that can be replicated on each of Husk’s power generators.
We’re excited to kick-off this collaboration with Husk Power. Stay tuned for Charlie’s updates from Bihar on our twitter and blog feed.
We are pleased to announce that the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) committed another $12,500 towards Catapult’s fundraising campaign for 2012′s project work. This year we launched our first design event in San Francisco (CatapultLabs), collaborated with partners on building innovation capacity in Indonesian communities, conceptualized and prototyped safe and efficient water transportation solutions in Northern India, and developed energy financing training for the Peace Corps. (Stay tuned for the announcement of two new projects this Fall!)
We are thrilled to have another year of support from ASME, the instigating organization behind the collaborative site Engineering For Change. In addition to sitting on our Board of Directors and advising on how we strengthen the organization, ASME and E4C also provide the opportunity for our leadership to help shape and direct the development of the ‘social impact design’ community through their Engineering for Global Development committee.
Join ASME and support Catapult’s goal to raise the final $35,000 by December 31st!