Can Design Thinking help End Global Poverty?

A few months ago, Lundtan published an article introducing the topic of design thinking. You can find it here, “Design Thinking: What is it and why is it so popular?”. This article is a continuation of the initial post where we explored the possible applications of design thinking in the international development context.

The field of international development has experienced both incredible strides and setbacks in the mission to solve global poverty. The interplay of agents ranging from governments and international organizations to corporate interests and nonprofits, has created a muddled landscape with varying incentives. Despite the best of intentions, international development has failed to bring the desired outcomes that developing countries need to be able to meet the basic needs of their citizens and adequately compete in the global economy. I believe that these projects have not met their targets due to a fundamental design issue, not due to a lack of funding or resources. Former development initiatives have experienced disconnection from the target communities which can lead to a lack of knowledge of basic needs and related challenges that these communities face. I believe that design thinking can significantly improve the global effort to eradicate poverty due to its focus on the end recipient.

Design thinking at its core, is a creative process used by organizations and businesses to solve problems by prioritizing the consumer’s (or end-user’s) needs. By prioritizing the needs of the end user, it is human centered at its core. In the business world, design thinking has served as a viable solution for finding innovative solutions. When bringing together diverse teams to solve a problem, one of the biggest challenges is a lack of structure and organization without limiting thought and ideas. Design thinking solves for this challenge by providing a high-level structure through its 5 stages, which incorporate user research, problem & need definitions, ideation, prototyping, and testing. In the world of international development, where there are many actors and priorities, this structure can add immense value when problem solving for global poverty.

When in application, design thinking requires stakeholders and problem solvers to tackle the root causes of poverty rather than alleviating the symptoms. It asks the fundamental questions such as, “why does poverty exist?”. At its root, poverty at the national level is caused by issues such as resource exploitation, political instability, and unequal power structures. For example, addressing the issue of unequal power structures through increasing access to information and knowledge sharing, hence driving entrepreneurship and education, is a sustainable approach to development guided by design thinking.

Design thinking as a solution for global development issues is a powerful tool that can transform the outcomes of development projects. Over the past century, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent to eradicate poverty in developing countries and yet we still live in a drastically unequal world where billions of people remain impoverished. Clearly, existing development structures suffer from extreme design flaws. Along with the little positive impact these efforts have made, society is now experiencing the negative effects of climate change which calls for swift action by global leaders to execute sustainable solutions. By incorporating design thinking, the international development community will be able to create well-designed and user-oriented solutions to the poverty crisis.

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