What Work Does Catapult Do?

Our design work helps our partners explore, prototype, and realize great products and services that drive social change. Our education work builds capacity and trains individuals and organizations in design thinking, innovation capacity, and design methods and tools. Our research investigates and disseminates knowledge to catalyze the advancement of quality market-based solutions to poverty. In every instance, we study and immerse ourselves in local contexts to gain insight into how a product or service integrates into daily life. We then conceptualize solutions and create prototypes to test directly alongside users to inform the final design. Finally, we analyze the market systems and business models that enable solutions to thrive and evolve.

How Does Catapult Do It?

The challenges Catapult addresses are real, tangible, and solvable. Our multidisciplinary team has years of experience working in emerging markets. We are accustomed to the unique challenges of designing in resource-constrained environments, and we understand the cultural, social, and financial drivers that must be considered when introducing new solutions into society. Our work begins and ends with the end user. We employ ethnographic research methods to envision, design, and test ideas that meet the strategic needs of our partners and our users. Catapult employs its customized methodologies to ensure that the:

  • right needs are addressed
  • solution is designed with the end-user in mind
  • business strategy is defined
  • impact on the community is measurable

Our design process is broken into five distinct phases that is adapted to fit our client’s specific conditions and constraints.

What is Catapult’s Story?

Catapult was founded to meet the needs of underserved groups and to help jumpstart the social impact design movement. Our co-founders, who were all professional product development consultants, first met in 2005 in Silicon Valley through their volunteer work helping nonprofit organizations around the globe design and engineer products and technologies for their communities. As demand for social impact design services grew, it became clear that there were little if any design resources serving international nonprofits and the budding social enterprise community. In 2008, our co-founders conceived of an entity that would serve this market in a professional capacity with committed teams of designers that specialize in serving their unique needs. Additionally, this new entity would focus on impact by only working with organizations that have the capacity to implement, deliver, and scale much-needed products and services. Hence, Catapult was born and has since worked with over 50 incredible organizations across more than 12 countries. As we grow, we continuously work to improve our service offerings and complement our team with designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

Who Does Catapult Work With?

We work with a diverse set of clients from government agencies to social venture startups. Please visit out clients page to see who we have worked with in the past. Our project experience spans water, sanitation, health, energy, agriculture, mobility, food security, and entrepreneurship sectors in Africa, Asia, North and South America. Want to learn more about us? We’d love to hear from you!

You’re a non-profit—do you charge your clients?

Yes, we charge all of our clients. Rates vary between the different types — we use a sliding scale to determine rate and it is generally subsidized by donations, grants, etc. But we require all clients to pay — their financial investment ensures they give us the time and attention we need to drive a project to completion. We don’t believe in freebies.

How do you find clients?

Word-of-mouth brings most of our clients our way. But we do attend a lot of conferences and networking events in our space. We also read a lot of blogs, articles, and publications related to our work which points us towards what people are doing in different places around the world. We’re pretty good about sending people doing cool things an email to say Hi.

How did you (and how do I) get involved in the social impact design space?

Our founding team all met through their volunteer work with Engineers Without Borders. We all had professional backgrounds in design, engineering, management and business before starting Catapult. Doing the work as volunteers for a few years is how we each came up to speed on the realities, challenges and opportunities of working in impoverished communities. We highly recommend getting your feet wet by volunteering with an org like EWB or working for an organization based in a part of the world you’re interested in. It also helps to do your homework on the industry. We really love “Mastering the Machine: Technology, Aid, and Poverty” (about the history of the social impact design space), “Small is Beautiful” (a foundation in the philosophy behind design for social impact), and “Portfolios of the Poor” (a good snapshot of the typical person you’d be designing for). There are countless good books, blogs, and conferences about this space. Read! Attend! Network! Because the industry is relatively small; it’s an industry for proactive people.

Is there a particular degree I should get to find a job in social impact?

We believe it takes all kinds. As an agency with expertise in products and services, we’re keen on product designers, design strategists, mechanical engineers, MBAs, anthropologists. We hire people who aren’t afraid to build stuff with their hands (technical capacity) but also have appreciation and experience in the social science aspect of the work (empathy capacity). Other design firms have different opportunities (graphic design, branding strategy, etc).

Who else out there is like you guys?

We should keep a running list. There’s a good number of firms. Some of our favorites: Ideas42, Participle, Design that Matters, etc. There are many more! We each focus on different aspects of design and/or have a different approach to our work and/or employ different business models for our organizations.

Why did you decide to go the non-profit route?

Good question. It wasn’t an easy decision. In all honesty, we spent a month building a tradeoff matrix weighing the decision between building a non-profit, a for-profit, or being an umbrella organization of an existing non-profit or for-profit organization. To make a long story short, we filed our 501(c)3 incorporation papers in 2008 so that we could more easily work with non-profit clients in addition to for-profits. As a non-profit, it’s a little easier for our fellow non-profit clients to write us into their grant budgets. Other advantages: 1) we can raise funds through donors and grants to subsidize our rate, and 2) we can still own for-profit entities (say we wanted to build a for-profit company around a product, for example) or create a hybrid organization. Ultimately, we’re an impact driven organization and don’t want to work on projects we don’t believe in. Needless to say, we’re happy with our decision.

What would you use my donation for?

Donations will go towards project work if that’s your passion. Most of our donors give to our general fund, which enables us to build our capacity, train and retain staff, and give the staff the resources (software, office space, tools, money to pay their rent, etc) to get their work done. The general fund also goes towards Catapult’s own initiatives, such as launching our affordable workshop series and providing free, downloadable resources for organizations to try out some of our methodologies.

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