Pamoja Network and Human-Centred Design

“We spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.” — Dr. Prabhjot Singh, Director of Systems Design at the Earth Institute

In 2009, IDEO — perhaps the world’s largest global design and innovation company launched the unprecedented Human-Centred Design or HCD Toolkit. The objective of the book was to lay out how and why human-centred design can impact the social sector. Since, HCD and design thinking have been used as interchangeable terms which has allowed the principle to permeate into the private sector too. HCD is at the core of our work at Pamoja, but before I showcase how — here’s a brief backdrop to the concept.

What is Human Centred-Design?

Human Centred-Design or HCD in short approaches problem solving not for people but with people. In essence, you collaborate on the strategic thinking, solution design and product or service implementation with those that you wish to positively impact — resulting in the solutions being tailor-made to suit their needs. HCD consists of three phases (

  1. Inspiration — Learning directly from the people you’re designing for by immersing yourself in their lives and work to deeply understand their needs.
  2. Ideation — Analysing and processing what it is you gathered, beginning to identify opportunities for design, and prototyping possible solutions.
  3. Implementation — Bringing the solution to life and ultimately, to market.

The binding characteristic required across this three step phase of impact is emotional intelligence. In order for HCD to work, characteristics such as empathy and humility are critical. We, as social entrepreneurs, must be able to assume the identity of a novice which is best expressed by asking the questions: What, why and how.

How does Pamoja Network embody HCD?

Pamoja Network is a pre-accelerator which connects professionals from the African diaspora to consult African entrepreneurs and SME organisations. Currently through our network we are resourcing individuals on to our pilot project, which is being conducted alongside Elizabeth Okullow (CEO & Co-Founder of Lafamia Greens). Lafamia Greens is a startup agribusiness firm based in Kenya that uses greenhouse production and hydroponic technology to sustainably grow organic indigenous and exotic vegetables.

At Pamoja, we have designed an operating model to facilitate HCD which we will be piloting with Elizabeth and Lafamia Greens:

  1. Obtain project — the Pamoja team learn about Elizabeth and consider the social, political and economic conditions surrounding Lafamia Greens.
  2. Connect consultant team to project — the Pamoja team select and connect an interdisciplinary team of individuals from our network with the most suitable skills to ideate with Elizabeth.
  3. Project Delivery — the consulting team work virtually work alongside Elizabeth over the course of three workshops, as well as, conducting offline activities to build solutions. At the project summit, the consulting team turn over their solution to the Pamoja team to finalise.
  4. Implementation and Impact Report — the Pamoja team review and deliver the consultants finalised artefacts for implementation, offering Elizabeth check-ins with consultants. After 12 months, we document the level of effectiveness and take learning outputs.

The tangible difference Pamoja can support creating is largely contingent on the entrepreneur with which we are designing for. As both the Pamoja Team and its consultants are of the diaspora and not based on the continent, our potential for facilitating impact will require us to do as Dr. Ernesto Sirolli so eloquetly puts it in his TED Talk “Shut up and listen!”

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