Designing for Impact

Published by Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, Written by Erik Urosa & Max Broere on 08 Mar 2020
From left to right: Erik Urosa, Markus Schuelde, PowerBox LEGO prototype, Vritti Chowdry, Max Broere

Students share their experience at the Page Prize winner for Sustainability SDG Bootcamp led by INSEAD Professor Jackie Stenson.

Exploring new products and business models through a class context is one of the best aspects of the INSEAD MBA. “SDG Bootcamp," a weekend marathon course based on the United Nation's oft-cited Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adds a lens to the innovation process: what if the customer pain point is lack of basic services like water or electricity?

Few of us knew what to expect – how could we possibly align and make any headway towards these seemingly intractable problems?

The answer for motivated, diverse professionals like ourselves often boils down to competition. A short background profile was used to form teams that would vie for 1st place in a pitch contest, judged on criteria like product innovation, scalability, and impact.

If the SDGs were the framework for the course, design thinking was the process. After a quick overview of the suggested steps (problem framing, ideation, prototyping, and testing), we were thrown into the fray. The main lessons from our experience are included below:

Narrow your focus. From the onset, it was clear that our team was interested in focusing on SDG 7 – Access to clean and affordable electricity, yet we struggled with the first step in our task: Problem framing. Currently, one billion people live without electricity, and two billion are energy insecure with unreliable grids and extended power outages; not a single solution can serve everyone. We therefore decided to focus on a specific customer segment that could have ripple effects in the other SGDs: SME Manufacturing in growth economies. By securing the electricity supply for these small factories, our proposed solution could also contribute to increased productivity and employment.

Diversity enhances creativity. While our team had a common interest in energy, we hailed from four industries across three continents; a variety of experience was instrumental in the ideation and prototyping process. Those with construction experience were shocked at the suggestion of a mobile solution (infrastructure on wheels!) while teammates with finance backgrounds first scoffed at the idea of free product trials. However, after thoughtful discussion, both features were included in our final solution, showing that a different (often less specialized) perspective can facilitate innovation.

Non-digital solutions matter. As the weekend neared its terminus, we had the chance to meet INSEAD Alumni, leaders in SDG-related business (Tamara Singh, Sven Fischer, Ian Suwarganda, Anna Liza Ong), who were acting as judges for the final pitches. Listening to the other groups was eye-opening in its diversity and thoughtfulness; ideas ranged from plastic clean-up services to remote healthcare applications, but they shared something in common: the new product was digital in nature. Our winning design, a mobile electricity back-up solution, was a physical product with parts to be sourced, assembled, and installed. While digital will play an increasingly bigger role in the future, tangible solutions still have an immense role to play in solving substantial issues like hunger, disease, and poverty.

While addressing environmental and social issues has traditionally been in the arena of governments and non-profits, lack of adequate progress has prompted the private sector to step up. The ideas and efforts of our classmates during “SDG Bootcamp” makes it clear that business can serve as a force for good; we’re glad that INSEAD is providing an evolving platform for us to turn these problems into opportunities and are excited to tackle things like energy access after our program.

Category:  Learning

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