Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Human-Centered Design to Help Solve Hunger and Poverty

April 04, 2012

This week, live from Berlin, we’ll be tuning into TEDxChange – The Big Picture, where speakers including Melinda Gates will be sharing positive messages about on-going challenges in social and economic development around the world. One speaker, designer Jeff Chapin of IDEO’s Boston studio, will be sharing a story about a design approach he uses in his work to support improved sanitation services for the world’s poor, called “human centered design” (HCD). HCD is set of design approaches and tools that put the end-users’ needs in the center of design solutions, and ensure that their lived experiences drive innovation.

Today, through support from the Agricultural Development Initiative at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, IDEO’s nonprofit sister organization is launching a new platform, the HCD Connect, that will make Human-Centered Design tools and approaches accessible and easy to share so we all can apply them in our work.

The foundation initially worked with IDEO so that our grantees could learn how to better listen to farmers when they designed solutions in agricultural development. We understood that any technology solution—from an improved seed to a new low-cost water pump—needed to be anchored in the needs and lives of the poor farmers the foundation supports. Without farmer buy-in from the very start, no design solution will be adopted or sustainable.

Our initial work with IDEO resulted in the HCD Toolkit, a free resource for problem-solvers working to design poverty solutions—with human-needs at their core—around the world. The toolkit, a step-by-step guide designed specifically for people, nonprofits, and social enterprises that work with low-income communities, walks users through a human-centered design process and supports them in activities such as leading workshops and implementing ideas. Since 2009, the toolkit has been downloaded more than 74,000 times!

Whether you’re a small farmer in West Bengal, a teacher in rural Alabama, or an NGO employee in Ethiopia, HCD Connect can help you share stories about specific challenges you face every day.

HCD can be applied across sectors; for instance, Nick Pearson, of Jacaranda Health, which focuses on maternal healthcare, used the toolkit to prepare for the launch of Jacaranda’s first Nairobi-based health clinic, coming this month. He describes some of the ways he integrated HCD methods into his work:

“We are strong believers in 'mother-centered design'. We mined the HCD Toolkit for ideas and exercises to help engage our patients and nurses in the design of our maternity services. For example, we role-played patient-nurse interactions, asked mothers to draw their ideal waiting rooms, and prototyped decision support tools for clinicians."

Now, is enabling more development practitioners and designers to get engaged using HCD through HCD Connect. Whether you’re a small farmer in West Bengal, a teacher in rural Alabama, or an NGO employee in Ethiopia, HCD Connect can help you share stories about specific challenges you face every day, find inspiration in “human-centered” solutions that meet the needs of the poor, and learn from others’ insights and experiences.

Experiences with HCD methods, like the one Nick describes, will now be able to scale up and spread to other HCD users, thanks to the HCD Connect platform. It brings together people in the same geographic area to build on their strengths, and it enables problem-solvers in related focus areas—with an initial focus on the agricultural and food security sector—to exchange approaches and hear directly from individuals working on the ground to get solutions out into the world.

We invite anyone who’s working to address challenges in low-income communities to be a part of the HCD Connect community. If you’re currently applying the approaches and methods in the HCD Toolkit to a challenge you’re working on, especially if it’s a challenge related to agricultural development, or if you’ve used them in the past, sign up here to start sharing and connecting with other people.

To learn more about and the Gates Foundation partnership in Agricultural Development and Human Centered Design, visit and the Gates Foundation website page “What We’re Learning”.

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