design for social impactDesign and innovation have been increasingly recognized as important factors in the success of social enterprise. At IDEO, we believe in the power of design thinking, a human-centered approach to innovation and problem solving. We have seen firsthand that social entrepreneurs can incorporate the principles of design thinking to develop product or service offerings that better connect with the needs of their customers, move more quickly from design to implementation, and communicate the benefits of their offerings in a compelling manner.

Design thinking is applied to more than just products – it can be used to design programs, services, experience, spaces, or just about anything you can think of. Three aspects of design thinking that are especially relevant to social entrepreneurs are empathy, prototyping, and storytelling.

Empathy is about connecting with people and seeing the world from their perspective, not your own. Spending time in the field requires more than driving through a village. It requires talking with and observing people, and in some cases, activities such as spending the night in a village, shadowing women as they go to the market or do their laundry, or plowing a
field alongside farmers.

Prototyping is about getting to answers faster. As IDEO designs a broader range of offerings —many intangible— it’s increasingly important for us to use iterative prototyping as a means of cultivating and evaluating ideas.

During a recent project with KickStart, the team constructed 95 prototypes out of Legos, plastic, paper, foam, and steel. Each prototype revealed a new learning and will enable the team to radically reduce the cost of production of the final irrigation pump. The prototypes were eventually sent to Kenya, where they are currently being tested with small-scale farmers.

• Design thinking can also be used when storytelling. Long reports can be  boring and frequently don’t get read. Instead, IDEO’s teams present information in a variety of compelling ways. For the Ripple Effect project, which we worked on with Acumen Fund, we presented storyboards and a short video to demonstrate our concepts around transportation and storage of drinking water in rural India. By bringing to life the very real daily challenges in this context, the related design principles and concepts were clear in their intent and potential for impact.

As IDEO continues to engage in work related to social impact, we are interested in thinking about how our work might connect with that of social entrepreneurs. We look to the social enterprise community, as well as all interested parties, to think about the following questions:
* How do you think design thinking could benefit social entrepreneurs?
* What are some of the biggest design challenges facing the world today?
* How might we bring design thinking and the innovation process to social enterprises?

Join Jocelyn Wyatt, a former Acumen Fund Fellow who now leads IDEO’s social impact initiative, in the conversation.