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Making Design for Social Good Possible

Krista DonaldsonBy Heather J. Wilson, Dell Corporate Social Responsibility

Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. That is who social good engineer Krista Donaldson immediately thinks of when asked who inspired her in her youth. There are others, she says, “but Sally was the real deal to me.”

Donaldson laughs when I bring up the idea that she herself is an inspiration to others—but she does agree that the growing revolution of product design for social impact is inspiring.

First launch

This 42-year-old inventor is the woman behind Design Revolution or D-Rev, a Bay Area organization geared to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people—those living on four dollars or less a day.

Donaldson’s TED talk and the many articles and videos about her and D-Rev show how babies, students, fathers and mothers located in rural villages and remote hospitals are now receiving quality healthcare through her innovative product design and delivery.

In 2012, D-Rev released its first product, Brilliance, a phototherapy lamp for infant jaundice that sells for $500—rather than $3,000, the cost of competing quality products. It’s now in 36 countries, treating over 96,000 babies through the use of high-intensity blue LEDs, instead of the more costly and less efficient fluorescent tubes/bulbs.

Giving priority to problem-solving

So how does a small start-up innovate in such a big way? By listening first to customers, Donaldson says.

“D-Rev listens to customers and we start with problems that are user-identified. When you are focused on solving problems versus creating products, your design process encompasses so much more,” Donaldson explains.

D-Rev sends its designers into the field to conduct interviews with patients, doctors and nurses. By talking with doctors in rural India, D-Rev learned that many babies with jaundice were not being treated effectively because their equipment was too expensive to maintain.

“We visited all these hospitals and discovered the bulbs were too dim,” Donaldson recalls. “Older kids that had jaundice as babies were now being treated for brain damage because their treatment never worked. It’s devastating.”

Focusing on feedback

Donaldson is impassioned when she talks about the people her company meets and the personal stories they hear.

Both Brilliance and D-Rev’s second product, an $80 prosthetic knee—have been designed and redesigned based on feedback from patients and healthcare professionals interacting with the products.

In the case of Brilliance, D-Rev has used feedback from its users—everyone from doctors and patients to the service engineers, sales team and manufacturing leads at Phoenix Medical Systems—to modify and launch its new model, Brilliance Pro. One example: nurses expressed how they usually have only one free hand to adjust the phototherapy lamp, while the other hand holds the baby or medical supplies. D-Rev designed accordingly.  

To get a product to market, D-Rev first goes through series of rapid prototyping, often at Autodesk Workshop at Pier 9 in San Francisco—where minds and machines like 3D printers—come together to build and test products. D-Rev also uses donated Dell technology.

Dedicated to Doing Good

Dell supports D-Rev through the Autodesk Technology Impact Program, which donates money and design software suites to non-profit organizations doing good through design. This support aligns with Dell’s 10×20 Legacy of Good goal: the vision that by 2020 the good that will come from its technology will be 10 times what it takes to create and use it.

“To us, this goal is more than just reducing the energy you need to run the technology or the footprint that technology leaves,” says Dell’s David Lear, executive director of sustainability. “It is about the big benefits technology can enable. Krista and D-Rev embody that idea.”

Donaldson points to her parents for opening her eyes to the way people’s work can have a positive impact on others. Her mom was a social worker and her dad, an ear nose and throat pediatrician. When they’d talk about their jobs, Donaldson says she picked up on something: “Life can be tough out there for people,” she says. “And there are ways to help.”

Nowadays, she is supported by a tight circle of career-minded women who often meet to talk about their successes and challenges.

“There are a lot of women leaders at the center of social innovation,” Donaldson says. “There is a sisterhood among women that lead these kinds of organizations. I am inspired by them. It’s not just about looking for support, but about remembering why we’re doing it.”

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