Social Entrepreneurs Get Help from IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Toolkit

Using ideas honed in the private sector, social entrepreneurs like those at IDEO are finding ways to overcome challenges faced by nonprofit organizations working in the developing world. Their human-centered approach to social innovation has been turned into a guide that’s available for free to anyone interested in creating transformative change where they work and live.

Funded by the International Development Enterprise (IDE), the Human-Centered Design (HCD) Toolkit was created to help social enterprises and NGOs working in impoverished nations by providing practical guidance for achieving success.

Defining Human-Centered Design for Social Entrepreneurs

So what is human-centered design? Starting with the people for whom products, services, processes, and strategies are being developed, the human-centered approach always keeps the human factor in mind in order to produce actionable, transformative change. They use three lenses in the human-centered design approach:

  • Desirability: Examine stakeholder needs to find out what they really require or design.
  • Feasibility: What solutions can be used to overcome challenges that are technically and organizationally feasible?
  • Viability: What approaches will be financially viable?

To give you a bit more insight into how their approach works, here’s the three phases used in the human-centered design:

1)      Hearing the needs of the stakeholders. This involves listening to peoples’ stories, observing the reality faced by the constituents, and seeking a deeper understanding of the needs, barriers, and constraints they face. There are several steps in this phase, including:

  1. Identifying a design challenge
  2. Recognizing existing knowledge
  3. Identifying people with whom to speak
  4. Choosing research methods, such as group interviews, in-context immersion, self-documentation, community-driven discovery, expert interviews
  5. Developing an interview approach
  6. Developing a mindset (beginner’s mind or observe versus interpret)

2)      Creating innovative solutions to meet their needs. During this phase, there is synthesis of research and interpretation as well, in order to narrow, cull, and translate your insights into a set of opportunities. The goal is to make sense of the data, identify patterns, define opportunities, and create solutions.

  1. Develop the approach, such as participatory co-design or empathetic design
  2. Share stories
  3. Identify patterns
  4. Create opportunity areas
  5. Brainstorm new solutions
  6. Make ideals real by prototyping
  7. Gather feedback

3)      Delivering solutions with financial stability in mind. This involves identifying required capabilities, creating a model for financial stability and an innovation pipeline, planning pilots, and measuring impact.

  1. Develop a sustainable revenue model
  2. Identify capabilities required for delivering solutions
  3. Plan a pipeline of solutions
  4. Create an implementation timeline
  5. Plan mini-pilots and iteration
  6. Create a learning plan

The toolkit is an extremely useful resource for any aspiring social entrepreneur used by groups like the Acumen Fund, Heifer International, Micro Drip, and VisionSpring. Check it out and tell us what you think.

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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