Ideo.org: The importance of Design Thinking and Social Innovation

Ideo created a non profit organisation called ideo.org in 2011 to solve social issues and improve lives through human-centered design. Idea generated social impact in three ways

  1. Design: They use design thinking and innovation to create solutions in the form of products, services and experiences.
  2. Fuel: The encourage others to solve social problems creatively by sharing their creative processes. http://www.designkit.org provides great insight into Ideo’s mindset and methods and serves as an educative tool for creative problem solvers.
  3. Inspire:  They inspire social innovation by sharing their stories that have positively impacted communities.

“Embracing human-centered design means believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like poverty, gender equality, and clean water, are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that the people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their answer. Human-centered design offers problem solvers of any stripe a chance to design with communities, to deeply understand the people they’re looking to serve, to dream up scores of ideas, and to create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs.” 1

In July 2015, ideo.org collaborated with d.light to develop a solar lantern priced at $5.

The Problem:

In developing countries like Kenya and India not all families have access to electricity. Solar lanterns have been in the market for quite some time however the challenge was to create an affordable, durable and portable solar lantern that would not be out of reach for low-income families. There are many solar lights that are affordable but they use NiCad batteries waging contain toxic substances like Cadmium and Mercury. 2 Rural communities relied on using gas lamps which caused respiratory issues.

The Solution:

Ideo.org partnered with d.light – a global solar energy company that strives to create affordable solar products. They created the d.light A1 lantern that used a non-toxic lithium ion battery and addressed all the shortcomings of a standard solar lantern by being affordable, durable, portable and non-toxic.

A1_ProductShot2x2_de2a3fd643e21a47b40b1639189a6ac9.jpg

(Source: http://www.ideo.org/project/the-only-solar-lantern-youll-ever-need)

The Result:

ideo.org and d.light have collectively used sustainable innovation and design thinking to provide 2 million lives with access to a sustainable source of light in Kenya and India.

The future of social innovation lies in:

Building Partnerships: It is important to work with the right people who want to solve the same problem even though their design processes and methods may vary.

Creating Opportunities: Organisations like Ideo and Tesla believe in sharing technology and innovation with everyone so that creative collaboration can be facilitated to catalyse idea generation. It is a more selfless approach that requires objectives rooted in social good instead of commercial gain.

Supporting Experimentation:  When creative minds come together with the sole objective of solving social problems through human-centered design they experiment and innovate to change lives.


1. ideo.org, (2015) The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design. Canada. pp 9.

2. A Solar Lantern for All. Available at: http://www.ideo.org/project/the-only-solar-lantern-youll-ever-need (Accessed: 20 November 2016).

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