Behind-the-scenes look at design for social impact

We talked about design for social impact last fall. If you want to learn more about how the design approach can be applied to problems in the developing world, check out this blog.  It follows Jeff Chapin, a designer (or engineer?) who is taking a sabbatical from IDEO to work on a low-cost latrine with International Development Enterprises (IDE).  Jeff is blogging daily about his experiences working in Cambodia.  A great read if you’re interested in design for the other 90%.

As well, I’m taking a fantastic class this spring in the civil engineering department called Design for Sustainable Communities.  Taught by Ashok Gadgil, the class takes a hands-on approach to designing innovative products to address critical needs in both developed and developing countries. I’m working on a cross-disciplinary team (2 mechanical engineers, 1 environmental engineer, 1 business school student – me!) to re-envision the solar box cooker for the Indian market.  Solar box cookers have been around for many years.  The technology is simple – sun hits box, box cooks food inside.  But in the last 30 years, there has been almost zero innovation to the design or materials — advances have generally focused on increasing energy efficiency, rather than usability.  So there’s a huge potential to create a better, more relevant solution to spur mass adoption.

Other projects that my fellow students are working on include:

  • Solar water heater for Guatemala (technology = solar panels on urban roofs for heating water)
  • Arsenic remediation in Bangladesh (arsenic is colorless and odorless, but can be removed using a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LNBL) technology)
  • Bioclimatic design for “kit” houses in South Pacific

Very inspiring stuff indeed!


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