This week, Yves Béhar’s award-winning industrial design firm, fuseproject, announced it will provide design services for a new accelerator program that will help develop businesses whose products and services support adolescent girls in Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya. Created by the Nike Foundation, USAID, and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), SPRING will provide finance, mentorship, and technical expertise for 18 ventures selected each year for the next five years.
Fuseproject, the firm behind consumer smash hits like Jawbone and the August Smart Lock, will be working right alongside these ventures from the get-go, helping develop the business strategy, branding, prototypes, and products. (The firm’s consulting fee will be covered by the Nike Foundation, USAID, and DFID.) The business model is a pioneering one: “Governmental nonprofit groups coming together and trying to facilitate market-driven solutions to poverty issues for adolescent girls with a high-end design firm is unique in its own right,” Roo Rogers, fuseproject’s director of business innovation, says. The collaboration with SPRING is “a product of our driving belief that design can go beyond the commercial store shelves of the developed world to spark change in the developing world,” Béhar tells Co.Design.
Adolescent girls in Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya represent the bottom of the economic pyramid in these countries. The businesses SPRING selects the submission deadline is March 16) will identify challenges these girls face and develop design-driven solutions to their problems. They’ll aim to help girls control their own money more effectively, and have better access to education and healthcare. Fuseproject plans to test products and designs in the field with adolescent girls and give them a voice in the design process. “This is a population that rarely has a voice,” Rogers says. SPRING’s goal is to reach 50 million girls by 2030 through businesses, of the 250 million adolescent girls that live in poverty worldwide.
To give an example of what a SPRING venture might look like, Rogers cites a common problem affecting adolescent girls in Africa. “A leading reason girls in these countries miss school is because they get infections from a lack of access to sanitary pads,” Rogers says. “So they use rags, which sometimes leads to illness, which leads to not going to school.” Most businesses in these countries are run by men, who “don’t think about the need for sanitary pads,” Rogers says. A potential SPRING business might locally manufacture pads out of banana plants. Fuseproject’s role in such a venture would include making sure the product was attractive to girls through user testing and establishing effective distribution.
Another venture might task a collective of passion fruit growers to train girls to grow their own passion fruit trees and transform those into a local fruit business. “The fundamental goal of many of these ventures will be to enable girls to have more control over income,” Roger says.
Fuseproject has a long tradition of using design as a catalyst for social change, from projects like One Laptop Per Child, which provided children with educational laptops, to VerBien, which supplies 500,000 eyeglasses to low-income children*, to the NYC Condoms campaign, which provides free condoms all over the five boroughs. The firm’s work with SPRING continues that tradition, designing tools for social good with businesses from the ground up.
There will be challenges. For starters, how do you create a core curriculum that meets the needs of every entrepreneur? “Every entrepreneur will be at a different business stage, with a distinct product or service, and have bespoke needs from the accelerator,” Béhar says. “The result with be a very diverse and heterogeneous entrepreneurial community, and SPRING needs to ensure they succeed as both a group and as individuals.”
The accelerator will also have to figure out how to have a lasting impact, something that eludes many social entrepreneurs. “This means that the curriculum and design need to be made relevant to the wider design and development community in a way that makes its successes easily replicable and its challenges solvable,” Béhar says. “Spring will do this by formally recording our learnings and results, packaging our content and processes, and distributing our thinking globally and openly.”
See more about SPRING here.
*An earlier version of this article said that VerBien has supplied more than half a million eyeglasses to low-income children so far. It’s 500,000 eyeglasses per year. We regret the error.