IDEO has been working in the field of innovation since 1991. Alongside their business ventures, they have been involved in social innovation projects such as the Human-Centered Design Toolkit funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ripple Effect, a system to improve access to safe drinking water. In the last two years IDEO created IDEO.org, an offshoot nonprofit organization whose sole focus is on designing solutions for social impact around the world.

IDEO.org works with nonprofits, social enterprises and foundations. They use a human-centered approach to design products, services, businesses and systems in communities especially those dealing with poverty. In contrast to the old model of transplanting innovations to different parts of the world with no regard to the culture, the needs and the feasibility within a community, IDEO.org prototypes their solutions for particular local problems. They work on wide-ranging issues such as gender equity, health, and financial services. By going into the communities they serve and carrying out intensive research, they are able to find out what is useful, what is possible and what is profitable for that particular community. Their research often involves living in the community for stretches of time to gain a better understanding of the problem.

In the past IDEO.org worked with TEDx, a TED program designed to give communities an opportunity to dialogue about ideas at a local level. IDEO.org was tasked with creating a prototype that would carry TEDx to people in under-resourced areas with limited access to infrastructure and electricity and overcome the language barrier. The result was TEDx in a Box: an AC or DC powered, color-coded, symbolically labeled system that can be used to capture video most efficiently in remote areas. This is just one of the many innovations that IDEO.org has designed. Others include Redesigning the Student Experience in Denver, Colorado and A Human-Centered Approach to Cookstoves in Tanzania.

Not only is IDEO.org centering all its design projects on the people it designs for, it is also fostering design leaders of the future. Through its 12-month Fellowship Program, they are teaching design thinking to promising innovation leaders who come from the fields of design, business and social sectors. In collaboration with other nonprofit organizations, they also offer short courses likeHuman-Centered Design for Social Innovation, a class I took this year.

IDEO.org is funded by the fees they charge for their services and by philanthropic donations. They rely on fundraising efforts to cover the costs of their Fellowship program and other community enrichment efforts. They work in partnership with organizations including USAID and the Rockefeller Foundation to maximize their potential for impact on global poverty.

IDEO.org’s mission is simply to bring design solutions to people facing poverty challenges. They have found that having a good understanding of the problem, they can then begin to formulate a solution. And because not every solution works for everybody, they individualize their innovations to best suit the communities they work with in order to make the greatest impact for good.

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