IDEO Social Innovator Solves Water, Sanitation, and Hearing Challenges

If you really want to solve a hard problem, social innovation is a good way to go. Social innovation is a method for creating transformative change that solves problems like poverty, illness, poor sanitation, malnutrition, economic inequality, and gender inequity. Partnering with local leaders, people working as social entrepreneurs and innovators seek to create processes, strategies, products and services by involving local residents, private companies, and the public sector in unique and novel ways.

IDEO is a leader in this field, with lots of great stories to illustrate the impact this kind of approach can have on a community. Their design thinking methodology brings together “what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.” Here are a few of their more impressive projects to give you an idea of what they do.

Social Innovation for Universal Hearing

Working with the Rockefeller Foundation and a startup hearing aid company called Conversion Sound, IDEO and the team worked to device a way to provide low-cost hearing aids, a more effective distribution strategy, and tiered pricing to help the 400 million people worldwide who suffer from some form of hearing loss. The resulting program includes the following components:

  • Detailed steps for fitting protocol
  • Literacy-agnostic interface for digital handheld testing device to fit hearing aids
  • Complete field kit that’s easy to carry
  • Service guide to train technicians on the protocol, technology, and customer service of the business

Social Innovation for Safe Drinking Water

A collaboration between IDEO, Acumen Fund, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation resulted in a program called The Ripple Effect, which is working to tackle the problem of clean drinking water that affects more than 1.2 billion people around the world. The approach of The Ripple Effect involves several phases:

  • Field research to understand local needs and desires of those throughout the water journey.
  • A three-day workshop to share insights and collaborate on how to provide products, services, and systems for getting clean water to those who need it.
  • The Ripple Effect Award which is given to help new business ideas get off the ground with an eight-week funded pilot phase. During this phase, the team deals with things such as:
    • The customer journey – what it takes for the average person to get clean water
    • Brainstorming ideas, including payment methods, incentives, and community awareness
    • Schedule and responsibilities
    • Prototyping of products, services, and a business model
    • Risk analysis
    • Financial analysis
    • Outcome measurement

Social Innovation for In-Home Sanitation

Close to 1 billion people lack sanitary toilet systems in their homes, most of whom live in urban settings. Working with Unilever, IDEO wanted to find a way to develop a suitable toilet and collection service to provide complete in-home sanitation. In the end, they created a concept they called the “high touch service toilet” which would provide portable toilets to households on a rental basis (for removing the waste).


This post was written by:

Maryruth Belsey Priebe

Maryruth has been seeking the keys to environmental justice - both at home and at work - for over a decade. Growing up adjacent to wild spaces, Maryruth developed a healthy respect (and whimsical appreciation) for things non-human, but her practical mind constantly draws her down to earth to ponder tangible solutions to complex eco-problems.

With interests that range from green living to green business, sustainable building designs to organic gardening practices, ecosystem restoration to environmental health, Maryruth has been exploring and writing about earth-matters for most of her life. Of special interest is the subject of ecopsychology and the role the natural world plays in the long-term health and well-being of humanity. You can learn more about Maryruth's work at

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  1. We should congratulate ‘IDEO’ for their services.They are expert in design, innovative programs in the field of sanitation.We would like to take their services.

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