In October last year, we profiled the organisation D-Rev, who couple design thinking with savvy planning and development to create quality medical equipment that is tailored to impoverished regions. We recently spoke with CEO, Krista Donaldson, to get more insight into their innovative methods.
The thinking behind D-Rev's process is not so much motivated by "what technology do we have that we can offer to market" rather, the team takes an analytical, problem-solving approach, identifying an issue first (i.e. lack of access to affordable knee prosthetics in certain parts of the world) and researching, conceptualising, prototyping and testing possible solutions.
D-Rev's offering right now focuses on mobility (through prosthetics) and newborn health (with a device for treating jaundice) and the organisation places particular emphasis on creating medical equipment that is of use to people in developing countries. Important equipment is often financially out of reach for many hospitals across the world while cheaper options, particularly in the case of prosthetics, are of such inferior quality that they are often not used or they are not adapted to the often extreme climatic conditions in certain developing countries, since they were developed in and for Europe and North America.
What led you to D-Rev?
D-Rev was co-founded in 2007 by Kurt Kuhlmann and Paul Polak. I was recruited in 2009 by long-time D-Rev board member Jim Patell, founder of the d.school’s popular Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability course. I was attracted to D-Rev because of its commitment to a user-centric, market-driven model for product design and delivery.
D-Rev Krista Donaldson (right) talking with a doctor. Courtesy D-Rev
How do you identify which solutions D-Rev will develop?
D-Rev uses a set of tools to identify its project areas. Most importantly, we never start with a solution – we start with a user-identified problem. For example, our Brilliance product is the direct result of a doctor in India identifying low-cost, high-quality neonatal jaundice treatment as a gap in his market with a huge population of newborns that needed treatment. So, D-Rev worked with the entire customer value chain – doctors, nurses, mothers, distributors, manufacturers, and more to design the best device to meet the need.
After you have developed your prototype, what are your next steps in the process?
D-Rev builds prototypes to meet the basic need we're addressing and deliver the core function needed. They are used to get fundamental feedback from our users in field-tests. After getting that critical feedback on our prototypes, D-Rev moves through a set of proprietary tools to establish a market landscape and delivery assessment.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced so far in your field and how have you overcome them?
Two main things come to mind:
First, D-Rev's model is tricky, we are a non-profit company that behaves like a for-profit in our approach to market-driven sales, use of innovative technologies and strategic partnerships. We like to think that we use the best practices of both worlds, but as a result we get some pressure when raising philanthropic money to take an entirely for-profit approach.
Second, we often work in places where there is a lot of uncertainly. We have to be flexible to work when environments around security and governance can change quickly.
What has the community reaction been?
The reaction has been very supportive. I'll focus on the social impact community - D-Rev is really celebrated by its peers for its commitment to impact and transparency. We've gotten a lot of support for our public Impact Dashboards, not only for how we display the information but the guides that accompany them to make sure our community can understand how we arrived at our numbers and learn from our iterative approach to the calculations.
What role do you think design and technology can play in the social/environmental sector in the future?
I believe it is important to think of it in terms of designing systems and not products. If a design never reaches its intended user then we aren’t making any impact. In regards to the environment, for example, there are direct links between environmental preservation and the livelihoods of the people living in affected communities. For example, look at Health in Harmony, an NGO working to provide high-quality healthcare to those living in the Indonesian rainforest so they stop logging the trees for cash to cover healthcare expenses.
For more information about D-Rev, please visit their website.
TIMES Pieces is an ongoing editorial series on RESET.org where we speak with people who are employing TIMES principles (Telecommunications, IT, Mobile, E-Commerce, Service Provider) for social and environmental good. Read more in the series: TIMES Pieces