Acumen Blog

6

Tim Brown Responds to Acumen Fund’s Lesson #6 – Great technology alone is not the answer

Acumen Fund is committed to sharing the learnings we have collected over our past 10 years. In this spirit, we have published  a document called “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.” Each week on the Acumen Fund Blog, we will be posting the next lesson in this series of “10 Things,” along with a guest response from a valued member of our community.

6. Great technology alone is not the answer

Think of a product. The iPhone, the syringe, the water filter, the cookstove…

Surrounding any product are multiple layers of experience.  The product itself is just the first layer.  But there are dozens more layers that impact the usefulness and desirability of a product that go beyond its basic technology.

Often times, services surround a product.  It might be the experience of how you got that product in the first place – perhaps it is going to a retailer or undergoing a medical procedure.  There is also the experience of storytelling – understanding brand or the story of the product that enhances its value.

IDEO focuses on all of these layers of experience, and we rely on human-centered design to do this.  In order to put human experience at the center of design requires the designer to think not just about what that product is, but the entire chain of how that product reaches and impacts people.  No matter whether you are serving high-end markets or the BoP, it has become immensely clear that if you focus on enhancing only one layer of experience of a product and let the rest fall by the wayside, users won’t be able to access the solution or the solution won’t sustain itself.

We have seen over and over that the poor have a desire to buy products that entice them and inspire them, just like everybody else. We have also seen the power that effective marketing and storytelling can have on driving uptake and fueling social impact.

In 2008, IDEO partnered with Acumen Fund on Ripple Effect, a project in which we sought to seed innovation in clean drinking water delivery in India and Kenya.  We focused on innovating not only at the level of technology and storage products, but we helped develop prototypes for in companies’ marketing and storytelling, so that users understood the value of safe drinking water and safe ways of accessing it.  During the Ripple Effect pilot projects,  Water Health International (WHI), set up microscopes connected to projectors so that people could bring in their water and actually see the contaminants.  Subsequently, the company saw this strategy drive uptake significantly.

Technological innovation is undoubtedly changing our world; but the institutions that have the most impact will reach people through investing not in technology alone – but investing in all layers of customer experience.

The Ripple Effect in India, by IDEO and Acumen Fund from IDEO on Vimeo.

Tim Brown is CEO of IDEO, an international design and innovation consultancy. He sits on the Acumen Fund Board of Advisors.

Comments

Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]

DE-BUNKING THE BURDEN MYTH: IMPACT DATA GOES LEAN

Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

Questions for Aspiring Leaders

Bavidra Mohan, Acumen’s India Fellows Manager, attended this years Aspen IDEAS festival as a Scholar. The Scholarship program was established to invite guests from around the world to bring a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives to the rich conversations that take place at the IDEAS festival each year. [Read More]

Give Impact Investing Time and Space to Develop

Impact investing has captured the world’s imagination. Just six years after the Rockefeller Foundation coined the term, the sector is booming. An estimated 250 funds are actively raising capital in a market that the Global Impact Investing Network estimates at $25 billion. Giving Pledge members described impact investing as the “hottest topic” at their May 2012 meeting, and Prime Minister David Cameron extolled the potential of the sector at the most recent G8 summit.  Sir Ronald Cohen and HBS Professor William A. Sahlman describe impact investing as the new venture capital, implying that it will, in the next 5 to 10 years, make its way into mainstream financial portfolios, unlocking billions or trillions of dollars in new capital. [Read More]

10 Books We’re Reading This Summer

What are you reading? It is a common question here at Acumen, an organization full of avid readers constantly trading favorite book titles that discuss leadership, impact, development and branding. Here are 10 stellar books we’re reading this summer. These books and others provide a framework of thinking, a spark of new ideas, a platform for debate. So, what are you reading? [Read More]

How Acumen Brought Back my Fire

Eda is an East Africa Regional Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya and is the Founder and Director of Halisi Trust, an organization that seeks to challenge the vices that plague society and encourage transformational development in Kenya’s youth. When Eda applied for the East Africa Fellows Program, she felt disillusioned and stuck. Below, Eda discusses how Acumen’s Regional Fellowship Program brought back her fire. Now, Eda has engaged nearly 6,000 people through outreach events and the Mkenya Halisi movement continues to grow. Acumen is currently accepting applications for the next class of East Africa Fellows. APPLY TODAY! [Read More]

Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]