20081227-the-goals1When starting this blog, I quickly realized that most social enterprises based on designed products fell short of their potential for actually solving the problem. Industrial designers and product designers get caught up in the physical object that will solve the physical problem. Without an understanding of the economics involved, their solutions face challenges in production, distribution and adoption.

KickStart MoneyMaker pump expands crop output
KickStart brings well-designed inventions to Africa, and they have successfully helped over half a million people because they have built a complete solution based on solving the fundamental problem of poverty. The product that they distribute is only one fraction of the solution. Their five-step process includes:

  1. Identify a business that their impoverished customer can start with an affordable upfront investment and achieve profitability within months.
  2. Design a product that meets all of KickStart’s 10 design criteria, #1 of which is that the product must be part of a profitable business model (see Step 1 above).
  3. Establish a supply chain based on private sector participants which will amplify the economic impact to the geography they are helping. KickStart believes in local businesses, starting with conducting most of their design in Kenya and selling through local shops.
  4. Develop the market with sales and marketing. The first step to this was to name their product – MoneyMaker – to instantly communicate its value proposition to their target market. Although it would be tempting to name their products after what they do, which is pump water for irrigation of farmland, it would be much harder to convince a farmer to part with his money for a SuperDuperWaterPump than to show him that he will get his money back quickly by expanding his crop output with a MoneyMaker.
  5. Measure and move along to solve another problem. KickStart has a quality that is extremely rare among social enterprises: an exit strategy. Although they have high sales and marketing costs today to develop the market (this is where most donated dollars go), they have designed their business model such that it will be a permanent, self-sustaining solution. Once their irrigation pumps are as ubiquitous as bicycles, the supply chain they have set up can continue producing and selling MoneyMakers without KickStart’s help and the profits that KickStart receives can be redirected to building the next business solution.

As of January, KickStart counts 614,600 people it has moved out of poverty and estimates MoneyMaker to reach its tipping point in Kenya in 2014.
KickStart MoneyMaker helps families out of poverty
What problem are you trying to solve? If you have designed a new invention for the base of the pyramid (BoP), have you considered the full business model around it? Is your business model a permanent solution or will your target market always be dependent on your company’s involvement to produce, distribute, and discover the invention? Consider studying the KickStart model for your social enterprise.

20081227-the-goals4MIT senior lecturer Amy Smith’s TED talk begins with the best thing a design presentation can share: failures along the path to successful solutions.

Smith wanted to design a locally producible fuel that would eliminate Haitian preference for wood-based fires. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, is 97% deforested but families continue to rely on wood fires in the home for cooking. Smith saw that these families would eventually have to buy imported fuels, which would likely be unaffordable. In addition, wood-burning produces smoke inhalation in the home, which Smith discovered is the #1 cause of death among children under five years old in the developing world.

She reveals that the first version of locally producible charcoal briquettes did not actually burn, nor were they produced from locally available materials!

When you compare her 2006 TED talk to the 2004 DIY charcoal production manual, it’s clear that Smith has also learned to change how she presents the problem she solves. Rather than focus on the environmental issue (deforestation), which local families don’t have the luxury to consider, she opens her talk with the impact on childhood mortality – a much more compelling reason to switch to her fuel.

This is a great example of design-for-DIY: rather than create an invention that you intend to manufacture then sell to the developing world, create a way to teach the local communities to make and possibly sell the solution themselves. Design-for-DIY solves two needs: the original problem, and the economic challenge. Smith’s instruction manual is written such that anybody with access to agricultural waste and an empty oil drum can become an entrepreneur, producing and selling home-safe charcoal to the local community.

Imagine how powerful this could be if someone from the MIT Sloan School of Management teamed up with her?

20081227-the-goals8You may remember the fairy tale of the Three Little Pigs: when threatened by the big bad wolf, each chose to build a shelter to shield himself from the wolf’s huffing and puffing. The house of straw and the house of sticks fell away, but the house of bricks stood strong.

These days, the global “big bad wolf” is earthquakes. Unfortunately, most homes built on fault lines continue to be rebuilt with the same materials and the same construction techniques that crumbled with some seismic huffing and puffing.

20090204-modern-day-fairytaleBuild Change, a nonprofit from San Francisco (quite familiar with earthquakes), is working to change that. The amazing thing is, they impact the developing world without providing funding or materials – only consultation and training. Founder Dr. Elisabeth Hausler (pictured at left) realized after one earthquake with 20,000 casualties: “it’s not the earthquake that kills people, it’s the building collapsing.”

Build Change works with international agencies and local experts to help each region identify best practices that meet its needs, source locally available materials, and test low-cost construction methods. Once they have developed a model, Build Change conducts training and distributes construction manuals so the region can permanently change how it constructs buildings. From project to project, Build Change collects and disseminates a repository of earthquake-resistant building techniques.

Why do some buildings crumble and some buildings remain standing?

Sichuan earthquake: Unconfined precast concrete buildings crumble, while confined masonry buildings remain standing.

The Indonesian island of Sumatra has suffered three of the world’s top 10 largest earthquakes since 1900, and all three of those earthquakes have occurred in the past five years. For perspective, SF’s two famous earthquakes don’t even make the list. Build Change works in Northern (Aceh) and Western Sumatra, and is seeking support to rebuild the area damaged by the May 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan province of China.

Build Change’s methods remind us of another adage which should be remembered in all developing world projects.

Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime. — Author unknown

20081227-the-goals6Every 30 seconds, a child dies of malaria – a totally preventable disease – and more than 80 percent of malaria infections occur in Africa. Each kid gets malaria 2-5 times a year!

We’ve had a hard time finding design objects for MDG #6, the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria. As it turns out, the solution is extremely straightforward: every home in a developing country needs to have an insecticide-treated net (ITN) for mosquito-free sleep.

20090109-practice-safe-sleep1Bednets are the most effective way to prevent malaria, but millions of families in malaria-plagued countries do not have them. These nets, however, are not without room for improvement. Nets can be treated with insecticide, killing mosquitoes on contact and making it less likely that they can penetrate the nets. But the insecticide on traditional nets fades after 3-5 months, and most families won’t deal with the cost or hassle of getting their nets re-treated.

A to Z Textile Mills in Tanzania and Sumitomo Chemical in Japan teamed up to manufacture the Olyset Net, which retains its insecticide for 5 years, guaranteed – helping us make forward progress in slowing down malaria. They have also reduced the cost of a bednet from $7 to $5 and made them tear-proof by improving the weaving technique (pdf). Props especially for local production in Africa, thus reducing shipping costs to distribute the nets in the region that most needs them.

The Tanzania factory has created 3,200 jobs. Each net can safely sleep up to 3 people under it, and distribution is prioritized for children under 5 years old and pregnant women. Most of the nets are provided free of charge, as recommended by the World Health Organization, through aid programmes like Roll Back Malaria and UNICEF.


George W. Bush visited the A to Z Textile Mills factory last year as part of his $1.2 billion, five-year program to reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

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