BoP Designer – Status Update

Hi all,

Sorry for the lack of activity. I haven’t had the time to keep things current. However, I’d love to keep it rolling and expanding and if you’d like to help, I’d be thrilled to have you. Please contact me if you’d like to be a regular or occasional writer, tweeter or if you have great WordPress skills and some effort to lend.

In the meantime, the BoP Designer Daily ( news digest) is automatically refreshed every day to keep you up to date on what’s going on in the world of social innovation and design.  Feel free to retweet stories and share with others.  Also be sure to check out friends and colleagues on the list of other great blogs and websites.



“Jugaad” – Design & Innovation Inspiration from India

I recently learned about the word “jugaad” from my friend Rikta Krishnaswamy at Quicksand Design. The way I understand it, it means to jury rig, or to create makeshift solutions however you need to in order to make something work. The word has a long history in India, where innovations often come about by necessity. The quality of said solutions may not be high, but they may be cheap and accessible, and sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed.

– A vehicle actually called a “jugaad”, it is made from accessible scrap parts and transports people short distances in India (source)

It’s a widely talked-about term online, especially catching the interests of non-Indian innovators, with a healthy back-and-forth about its pros and cons in different contexts by Indians and non-Indians alike. This article in HBR, “Use Jugaad to Innovate Faster, Cheaper, Better”, explores jugaad as a useful inspiration and state of mind for entrepreneurs in any situation. It’s a good read, sparking good thought and pointing to examples of innovations by Embrace with its low-cost baby incubating wrap, YES Bank and mobile payments, SELCO and its lighting offerings, and GE Health. From the post:

The jugaad mindset — and its associated principles and practices — is increasingly relevant for companies worldwide who are seeking to grow in an increasingly complex and resource-constrained business environment. Unlike traditional, structured innovation methods that rely on time-consuming and expensive R&D processes, the more fluid jugaad approach delivers speed, agility, and cost efficiencies. Jugaad is a “bottom up” innovation approach that provides organizations in both emerging and developed economies the key capabilities they need to succeed in a hypercompetitive and fast-moving world: frugality, inclusivity, collaboration, and adaptability.

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Next Stop: Auroville

UnBox Fellowships 2012 - banner graphic

I’m packing today to leave for India on an overnight flight tonight.  I’m lucky enough to be one of a handful of UnBox Fellows on the Sustainable Lifestyles fellowship put on by Quicksand Design Studio and anchored by Chintan Jani of Auroville.  The fellowship will last from Jan 24–Feb 1 and then we’ll take part in the UnBox Festival in Delhi, Feb 2-5 (registration is open to attend).

About the Festival:

“The UnBox Festival celebrates interdisciplinary processes and experiences that shape contemporary thought and action.”  More info + registration at >>

About the fellowship:

“Auroville, an international township in South India, is a hotbed for innovations in sustainable lifestyles and life practices. Fellows will interact with experts who would advise them and give them a hands-on experience in technologies around organic food and farming, sustainable building technologies, renewable energy and waste management. Besides building a broader understanding of sustainable technologies, they would, with the help of some long term Auroville residents, immerse themselves in a few of such sustainable communities discussing the advantages, challenges and pitfalls.”  More info on the fellowship’s home page >>

About Auroville:

I’m excited to visit, observe, participate and learn. Auroville looks like an amazing place, described as “a universal city in the making” on its website.  “Auroville is a place in south India where, for 40 years now, an increasing number of people from all over the world have been quietly and painstakingly working on the construction of a new township, a new way of living, a new way of being. Something is being attempted here for the benefit of all. … Today, the Auroville project is quite well established, having found ways of collaborating with the villages in its bioregion, with the Indian authorities, with many non-governmental organisations and world bodies worldwide.”  There are some 2,000 people from 40 different countries living there today.

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The Beauty of Bio-Gas Digesters

In November, 2011, I took a trip to Nepal to visit an international development NGO called CHOICE Humanitarian.  I met the organization’s former CEO earlier in the year and was struck by the statistics he presented—contrary to many NGOs’ M.O.s, the rural villages that CHOICE works with have an abnormally high success rate after CHOICE’s involvement is over.  Their model of teaching leadership over the course of their development projects trains villagers to take control of their own further development, so when CHOICE leaves, they’re self-motivated and empowered to keep their own improvements going.

After five days volunteering in the office, getting to know CHOICE and how they operate, and exploring Kathmandu, I joined CHOICE’s Kiran Neupane on a trip to visit a few of the villages CHOICE works with.  We were accompanied by a few members of Kathmandu’s Rotary Club which was supporting some of their work and we stayed two nights in villagers’ homes. CHOICE and the villages we visited were preparing to launch a new home-stay-based trekking route the following month and we were a friendly group to give them a trial run.

The people were friendly, open and wonderful as Kiran checked on and showed us the progress in different villages.  CHOICE works on a variety of projects, letting the villagers decide their own priorities, and we saw a few schools and a health outpost tucked into the steeply sloping hills and cascading rice paddies.  But one recurring item really struck me as I saw them installed in many villagers’ households—the bio-gas digester.

What is a bio-gas digester and how does it work?

* Time to check your squeamishness at the door.  We’re about to talk about poop and pee.  We all make it, we all have to do something with it, and here’s a way to harness some good from it. *

how a bio-gas digester works - illustration

(click image to enlarge)

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5 myths of “Design for the BoP” – Catapult Design

This post is by Heather Fleming of Catapult Design.  It was originally published on October 17, 2011 here on Catapult’s blog.  Thanks to Heather and the Catapult team for sharing their great insights.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard the term “social innovation”, “BoP Design” or “social impact design” being thrown around on the web, at a conference, or in an article this past year.   Over the last 3-4 years there’s been an increasing amount of buzz on how we use design to address social issues.  As a design firm working within the design and poverty alleviation space, Catapult receives countless emails from aspiring designers, designers in transition, jaded designers, recent graduates – all who want to learn what it means to design for the BoP, the bottom of the pyramid.

I read every question, many of which are pretty similar.  They resonate with the most popular discussion topics and inquiries in our Open Studio hours.  Based on this, I feel there are a few myths that need to be debunked in order for this industry to continue to grow and prosper.  Here are five of them:

MYTH #1:  “’Design for the BoP’ (is a specific sector).” 

The vast majority of the emails we receive simply state:  “How do I ‘design for the BoP’?”  It seems that by simply labeling our work with “social impact” or “BoP”, we are communicating that the processes and methods we use to design for people who are poor are different.  They’re not.  Before Catapult, I worked in the corporate design world for close to six years. One of my clients was a power tool company and I spent time “in the field” with construction workers, specifically drywall installers, on a re-design effort of drywalling tools.  I observed the installers’ technique, training of new crew members, the language they use for tools and processes, and even had a go at installing drywall myself (with the tool to the left).  After weeks of immersing myself within their world, I achieved some clarity in how the drywall installers sub-culture fit within the larger culture of construction workers, both of which I knew little to nothing about. Approaching different cultures and sub-cultures around the globe is not much different – as outsiders they are worlds we know little to nothing about.

As a general rule, a good designer never assumes and always employs good methodology, whether your customer is a drywall installer from Mexico or a mother of five in Rwanda.  So to address myth #1:  there are no secret design methods you need to learn in order to work in social innovation.

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Who’s doing the best design for impact work in India?

Hi all,

I’ll be traveling to India next week, from about Oct 13th to the 28th—still in the planning stages.  I’ll be dropping in on my friends at Ashoka in Bangalore, and another friend in Mumbai with DASRA, and I’m looking for more people, places and projects to visit—especially designing innovative products, systems and solutions for social benefit.

I’d like to know from you – Who is doing the best design for development & social innovation work in India?  I’d like to know about them before I go, but it’s also a great topic for larger discussion.  Let’s start the list and I’ll follow up with more posts to follow up.  Who do you know of who’s doing great work?

Leave a comment below or reply on Twitter (@BOPdesigner).  If you have any leads you’d prefer not to publish, feel free to email me at thedavefoster (at) gmail (dot) com.