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Human-Centered Designs for Poverty-Related Challenges

Kenya_Africa_health_povertyJocelyn Wyatt is the executive director of IDEO.org, a sister nonprofit to IDEO, a design and innovation firm. Wyatt was recently interviewed by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business on how human-centered designs help lift people out of poverty.

IDEO.org tackles world challenges through design by partnering with nongovernmental organizations, governments, foundations and nonprofits and then going to areas where human-centered designs can solve poverty-related challenges.

Wyatt says in the interview that IDEO.org does a lot of qualitative research by spending time with those who are severely impoverished in order to figure out what they are willing to pay for services that could really improve their lives. The IDEO.org team then brainstorms creative solutions to these problems.

“The way it improves lives is that the solutions we’re creating—instead of being things that are immediately discarded or not sustainable—are solutions that people actually use,” Wyatt says in the interview.

One project that IDEO.org is working on is tackling reproductive health in Zambia and Kenya. They are working with Marie Stopes International, a global nonprofit for sexual and reproductive services, to help adolescent and unmarried girls who are not yet ready to have their first child. Typically, Wyatt says, programs focus more on mothers and birth-spacing and on women stopping having children once they’ve reached the number they want to have.

However, this project has a three-part solution. The first part is a communications campaign, where characters known as the “Divine Divas” educate young girls about different forms of contraceptives. The second part is a peer-to-peer outreach program for girls to share what they know about contraceptives and local clinics. The third part is designing the actual clinic. The purpose of the project is to reduce instances of unplanned pregnancy.

A large part of the human-centered design is learning to have empathy, Wyatt says. The IDEO.org team is trained in connecting to, relating to and asking questions of the girls and making them feel comfortable. IDEO.org also works in a range of different sectors to help alleviate poverty, including agriculture, water, sanitation, health, finances and childhood development.

By shifting the focus to human-centered, practical solutions, organizations can more efficiently and sustainably address issues and bring about change.

Kerri Whelan

Sources: University of Pennsylvania, IDEO 1, Marie Stopes, IDEO 2

Photo: Flickr