Social Enterprise

Why Design for Social Innovation Matters

Have you heard the hype about design? It was popularized by IDEO and is well-known as design thinking or human-centered design. It now seems to be appearing everywhere, given the popularity of Acumen and IDEO.org’s now second-installment of their online Human-Centered Design course; examples like the Nike Foundation, which several years ago instituted a design division to better utilize design to develop their Girl Effect programs in Africa; groups like the Design Gym; and increased interest in design graduate programs (like where I work at MFA Design for Social Innovation); among other anecdotal evidence. After learning about design two years ago from the team at ThinkImpact, using the HCD process in India, and working with designers for the past nine months at MFA DSI, here are some thoughts on why design matters. 

I just call it design–design of everything, from micro-interactions, to products, services, and strategies, to systems. There are similar processes that overlap with the design ethos and tools in many ways–lean startup, Agile SCRUM, ethnography, participatory development, community organizing, among others. In fact, as this article explores, what we call design thinking is as ancient as Homer’s tale of the Iliad: “For what bigger co-creation of the solution to a public service problem could there be than stopping the Olympian gods spreading disease? Surely inventing the Trojan Horse was the world’s most famous episode of the techniques of prototyping, experimenting and testing that we will be hearing more about over the next few days.”

This Core77 article does a good job of explaining how the design process was used to explore the problem of over-fishing. It discusses not only using the design process for evaluating the problem and understanding the users, but also using it to design human interactions, and prototype a solution, whether that be a conversation or a new product, service, or system entirely.

Three main factors characterize why I believe design has great potential for creating solutions for social impact: identity, context, and making. (more…)

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How to Assess a Social Enterprise (Huffington Post)

My article originally posted on Huffington Post Impact. 

A friend transitioning from the corporate world to the social enterprise space recently asked me how to assess a social enterprise. How do we really know when an organization is doing quality work we should rally behind and having a real, positive impact, versus just using the right buzzwords?

The short answer is you can never really know. But there are a few aspects of a social enterprise, beyond their mission and approach, that you can critically examine before deciding to join or support one.

How do they talk about impact?

There are numerous ways to measure impact, and entire firms dedicated to doing so. There is no one “right” method, but the way a social enterprise talks about their impact may be an indicator of their operations and worldview.

Let’s say there’s a social enterprise that uses all the popularly accepted words about sustainable and holistic community development. And then when they talk about their impact they say, “We’ve built 100 schools in five countries in the past 10 years.” Maybe they have a video or slideshow of “people whose lives they’ve changed,” but not much more than general statements, and certainly nothing to prove sustainability or transparency. Maybe it’s just another case of Three Cups of Deceit. Or maybe they’re revolutionary, but how are we to know?

There is nothing wrong with statistics. They’re great. Here is how Educate!, a social enterprise operating in Uganda, talks about their impact:

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Getting Social Impact Advertising Right

You’ve seen this type of advertising so many times now that you’re desensitized to it. There’s a sad song playing in the background as you watch a slideshow of dehumanizing photos, while the narrator simplifies the issues and urges you to “make a difference.” You see it for charities supporting public health, orphanages, and even pets. You saw it in campaigns like KONY 2012. It’s known as “poverty porn.” There have been a number of clever video campaigns mimicking or combatting poverty porn.

But I haven’t come across anything as effective, funny, clever, or powerful as this 2012 ad from the Rainforest Alliance. It’s entertaining and relatable. What I love most though is that it has a strong and easy call to action at the end.

To learn more about storytelling for social impact that is not poverty porn, check out the work of the great team at Regarding Humanity.

We are the problem, and we create the change

What follows are very incomplete thoughts and reflections on some recent readings. I would love to hear your ideas and feedback. 

The world is a system made of systems, all inherently living–what Donella Meadows defines as “a set of things—people, cells, molecules, or whatever—interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.”

As I’ve come to better understand systems thinking and social change at a cursory level, I’m realizing that change starts within each of us. As we are part of systems, we are part of the problem, and therefore we are also part of the change. That change begins when each of us realize that we create both sides of the equation.  (more…)

Adding Life to the Days of Terminally Ill Children in India (Huffington Post)

My article for Huffington Post on Happy Feet Home. Support their launch campaign here.

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When a child is terminally ill in India, they face a difficult road ahead. Their family is burdened with grief and expenses. Children are segregated from peers in their community due to a culture of fear and taboo for the terminally ill. When families from a rural area travel to a metropolitan city for medical support, they often have no place to live, turning to the streets. The lack of holistic medical and emotional support for a terminally ill child and their family exacerbates the grief and loss of hope. Enjoyable moments in the precious remaining time are limited. Two young entrepreneurs are changing this situation for the better by building India’s first children’s hospice center with the aim of ensuring that children and their family’s last days together are filled with dignity and joy.

Mansi Shah and Abhishek Tatiya are hoping to provide holistic medical and emotional support through Happy Feet Home, a daytime center in Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital (Sion Hospital) that will offer counseling, activities, and memorable moments for children and their families in their last days together. “Even if it is four months, let the child have the best four months ever,” Mansi proclaims. “At Happy Feet Home, we’re giving that kind of support and care. It’s a child-friendly space, colorful, vibrant, and full of joy. You step in and feel happy,” adds Abhishek.

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Inspired by letting go

We’re so often “inspired” by the latest social enterprise start-up, flashy idea, and rising stars, but I’m inspired by my friend and StartingBloc Fellow Jessica. Yesterday, I received a touching letter from Jessica letting me know that she is closing her non-profit of four years, Cheti. I’ve known about Jessica’s recent struggles with running Cheti and her incredibly difficult decision to close and let go of something she is so deeply passionate about.

Even more courageous than starting a venture like Cheti, it’s a brave and egoless decision to move on when it’s no longer having the intended impact or sustainability. And it’s thoughtful and important to share the difficult decision, successes, and failures, as Jessica has done with Cheti, and as others have for the Celebrating Failure series in SocialStory.

Being an entrepreneur is difficult. Failure is painful. Letting go is brave. 

Jessica allowed me to share her beautiful note about saying goodbye to Cheti below:

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Reframing “Bottom of the Pyramid”

A report, by Pablo Sanchez of Roots for Sustainability and Fernando Casado Cañeque of Center of Development Alliances, calls for reframing “bottom of the pyramid” (BoP) to consider access to resources and basic amenities, and not just income. They argue that research and work that measures BoP by only economic factors such as income misses an opportunity for more holistic data and analysis by also considering access to goods and amenities and social factors.

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