Tag Archives: non-profits

Design Thinking for Non-profits

Solving Social Challenges with Human-centered Approaches

Design Thinking for Non-profits

GUEST POST from Art Inteligencia

In today’s rapidly evolving world, non-profit organizations face numerous complex social challenges that require innovative and effective solutions. Design thinking, a problem-solving approach that focuses on human-centered solutions, is increasingly being embraced by non-profits as a powerful tool to create meaningful change. By leveraging empathy, collaboration, and iterative processes, non-profits can successfully tackle social issues while ensuring that the needs and experiences of the communities they serve are at the forefront. In this thought leadership article, we will explore the application of design thinking in the non-profit sector and provide two case study examples that demonstrate its effectiveness in solving social challenges.

Case Study 1: WaterAid’s Innovative Solution for Accessible Water Supply in Ethiopia

WaterAid, an international non-profit organization working to improve access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene, adopted design thinking principles to address the challenge of scarce and unreliable water supply in a rural region of Ethiopia. Recognizing the importance of involving the local community in the solution development process, WaterAid engaged in empathy-building exercises and conducted interviews with residents to gain insights into their lived experiences.

Through the empathetic understanding gained, WaterAid discovered that the main problem was not the lack of water sources but rather the existing water sources’ unreliability. To address this, they implemented a design thinking approach that involved collaboration with local residents, engineers, and government officials to co-create a sustainable solution. The resulting innovation was a solar-powered water pumping system that leveraged renewable energy to provide a reliable and continuous water supply to the community. This human-centered approach not only solved the immediate challenge but also empowered the community by involving them in the problem-solving process.

Case Study 2: IDEO.org’s Design Thinking Approach for Financial Inclusion in Kenya

IDEO.org, a non-profit design and innovation organization, used design thinking to tackle the issue of financial exclusion faced by smallholder farmers in Kenya. Facing numerous barriers to accessing financial services, these farmers struggled to invest in their businesses and enhance productivity. IDEO.org employed a design thinking framework that placed the end-users, the farmers, at the center of the solution development process.

By conducting in-depth interviews and on-the-ground research, IDEO.org gained valuable insights into the farmers’ needs and challenges. They discovered that financial exclusion was exacerbated by a lack of trust and knowledge among the farming community. IDEO.org then collaborated with farmers, local financial institutions, and technology experts to devise a solution that would address these underlying issues. The result was a mobile-based platform that simplified financial transactions, provided easy-to-understand financial literacy resources, and fostered trust through transparent and personalized interactions.

Through this design thinking approach, smallholder farmers gained access to previously unavailable financial resources and were able to harness their entrepreneurial potential, leading to increased productivity and improved livelihoods.


Design thinking has proven to be a powerful tool for non-profit organizations aiming to address complex social challenges. By centering their solutions around the experiences and needs of the communities they serve, non-profits can create interventions that are effective, sustainable, and empowering. The case studies of WaterAid and IDEO.org demonstrate how design thinking can lead to innovative and impactful solutions that transform lives.

Non-profits should embrace design thinking as an essential part of their problem-solving toolkit, fostering a culture of empathy, collaboration, and learning that enables them to adapt and iterate their approaches continually. By taking a human-centered approach to tackle social challenges, non-profit organizations can create lasting change that truly improves lives and provides the necessary tools for a brighter and more equitable future.

Bottom line: Futurists are not fortune tellers. They use a formal approach to achieve their outcomes, but a methodology and tools like those in FutureHacking™ can empower anyone to be their own futurist.

Image credit: Pexels

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Speeding Innovation to Africa

I came across an interesting crowdfunding site called The 1% Club. What makes it interesting it that is designed to help launch improvement projects in Africa that will make it cleaner, safer, and/or friendlier through a partnership between charity (Dutch National Postcode Lottery) and the general public. Here is a video that describes itself:

The way that it works is that if the general public contributes the first 30% to back an idea (crowdfunding) in 30 days, then the Cheetah Fund will contribute the rest to fully fund the idea and launch it in Africa.

For an example of one of the projects, check out:

The Maternal Portal Project

The Maternal Portal project is a mobile health technology intervention that seeks to reduce maternal deaths, by using localized voice technology to reach out to expectant mothers in their local languages with relevant information pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth. The localized voice messages will educate women on basic malaria prevention, proper nutrition routines, and how, when and where to seek for medical assistance.

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Improving Education for 20 Cents a Student

I love examples of simple, inexpensive solutions that solve important problems. Solutions like the water bottle light, the gravity light, etc., and Mike Freeston was kind enough to send this most recent example that I will share with you today. Thank you Mike!

The video details the work of a Non-Governmental Organization (aka NGO), that was created as a Community Service Center for marginalized families in rural areas an urban slums. It’s called Aarambh, and they wanted to help students who don’t even have the basic facilities, to be more comfortable and productive at school.

Most schools in rural India have two basic problems:

  1. Schools don’t have proper desks, which leads to poor eyesight, bad posture and bad writing.
  2. Students don’t have school bags.

Aarambh came up with a solution which tackled both these problems with a single, thoughtful design.

Aarambh came up with a design for portable desks made using discarded cardboard boxes (aka cartons). This choice for raw materials is both economical, and easily available. The stencil design, when cut and folded, creates a desk suitable for use by students whom must sit on the floor AND it also can serve as a school bag.


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