There is something beautiful and serene about Kigali, Rwanda. As one accustomed to the constant and rapid hustle and bustle that is Nairobi, it was a welcome opportunity to be in the quiet. This opportunity was facilitated by the Impact Week Swiss and the German team, and Africa Nazarene University. James Obuhuma and I were out in Kigali for Impact Week at the SOS Children's Village Kigali were we would be introducing Design Thinking together with the German and Swiss teams. All in all, we consisted of 24 Coaches, 6 Senior, and 18 Junior.
Design Thinking, which is a catalyst for innovation, is a concept, that predominantly focuses on peoples needs. This concept, however, is a triage, and also looks at the feasibility and viability of a solution. Let me take us a few steps back and answer the question that is on all our minds (I think)... What exactly is Design Thinking? Well, a more formal definition is that it is a paradigm that involves a collection of strategies and tools that can be used to increase the probability and reliability of user-centric ideas. It is a structured approach that focuses on human desirability/usability such that products/services that are both feasible (possible/logical/applicable), and viable (make business sense/perceived to be profitable) are created. This concept was formalized by Stanford University in the 1990s.
The requirements to make Design Thinking possible begin with a team. Design Thinking is better facilitated by a group of people (isolation in this process is definitely frowned upon) that are willing to work together on a specific task and should be able to challenge, motivate, inspire, and contribute different perspectives. Therefore, the dynamics of the team should allow for people from totally different backgrounds and fields so as to further allow for varied opinions. The belief is that out of multiple and varied opinions come nuggets of inspiration and therefore innovation. It is therefore imperative that the individuals that make the team should be passionate, and interested and open to other disciplines. The best teams for Design Thinking do not have a hierarchical organization, such that all team members are equal participants in the endeavour. The space the team works in should motivate, and nurture respect, creativity, and most importantly, be error-tolerant. From the perspective of a culture that requires excellence and perfection, this is definitely a paradigm shift in how failure is perceived. This perspective further encourages failure, if it happens early in the design of a solution, because it means that there is minimal cost implication associated with the endeavour. This, therefore, leads nicely into the iteration of the process. If one can admit that they initial workings are not perfect and need to be improved or worked on, then iteration seizes to be a chore, and becomes the impotence for growth, creativity, and innovation during the processes of understanding the problem to be solved, finding ideas to solve the problem, and then testing the solutions arrived at.
The processes involved in Design Thinking are; Problem definition, synthesis, ideating for the solution, testing the solution, and then pitching your solution. When defining the user's problem you have to come to a shared language of the terms within your team. To do this you go through the process of analyzing the semantics of the terminology. Once the team has a common understanding of the terminology being used it is easier to work together towards a shared goal and therefore come up with a single statement that phrases the user's problem. The next step in defining the problem is to determine the scope the team will work within. Once this is established it is necessary to interview the user so as to accurately empathies with them. The best way to go about this is to solicit stories from the users by employing brief and open questions. Regardless, the best kind of questions is driven by a genuine desire to understand the user. Once stories have been solicited, it is imperative to amalgamate them such that the common aspects, likes or dislikes, anything interesting and or surprising, contradictory, and finally, any identified needs are clustered together. From this information, a fictitious persona representative of the users is crafted so as to rephrase the problem statement with their point of view in mind. With this done, it is easier to brainstorm ideas on how to solve the problem. To do this, we use the 'How might we ...' method. Once a solution is arrived at, it is necessary to build a prototype so as to be able to test the proffered solution on the potential users. Their input will help us further tweak the solution to the point we find what works for the user. Once this is done, we then move to pitch the design solution.
With tracks in Agriculture, E-Commerce, Smart City, Electricity, Health, and Child Protection, the above process was facilitated for about 90 High-School students from SOS Children's Village, and many Rwandan colleges and universities. Each track having 3 groups each, giving us 18 teams in total, all designing solutions to varied problems within these tracks. The thing that stood out most for me was that there were no two ideas that were the same from any of the tracks, indicating that each team provides its own unique dynamic and therefore its own unique perspective because we are all unique. Another thing that I noticed was that even after getting the same set of instructions from the Senior Coach, each junior coach in each track had their own unique interpretation. Whilst this might have been a problem when running operations in an organization, this is encouraged in the Design Thinking process because this is what facilitates creative and innovative solutions. This led to 18 varied solutions. After each team pitched their solutions, 3 teams were selected to have more appropriately addressed value proposition with regards to customer value and business value, as well as have shown good team spirit and significant social impact. These teams were Team Unit [Agriculture Track], Team [Something] [Health Track], and Team Keso Commerce [E-Commerce Track]. The really fascinating thing about this outcome was that the Team that came first, Team Unit was coached by junior coach James, whilst the third team by Kendi meaning that Kenya took its A game to Kigali. This also boards really well for Team Kenya as we will be holding our first Impact Week that is sponsored and run solely by Kenyans.
In truth, one of the major hurdles faced by all the teams, in general, was that there was definitely a language barrier, seeing as Rwandans used French and not English as their 2nd official language (Kinyarwanda being the 1st). With this in mind, the achievements by all the teams were even more impressive, because it felt that any of the 18 teams could so easily have won. Something else that would have better supported the process, would have been better access to the internet. Especially to better facilitate a common language and therefore a common perspective within the teams. This, therefore, brought to the forefront the importance of coming to a shared understanding of what the problem is and therefore the user's point of view. Africans coming up with solutions for Africa was never so more apparent. This has led to my view that empathy is more easily drawn by someone who is better immersed in the context of the user. Therefore, it is easier for a Kenyan to understand and ideate for their fellow Kenyan, so too, a Rwandese for a fellow Rwandan. Moving forward, therefore, we as Africans need to believe in our inherent capacity to come up with better user-centered solutions for ourselves, because we understand our circumstances better than anyone else can. And so, when discussing the process in future, it is apparent that language, as used in Africa, should be considered, so as to make it easier to relay the process to each affected African team.
Finally, as Team Kenya continues with its preparations for Impact Week Kenya 2017, it is on the back of a superb showing at Impact Week Kigali, indicating that the 2015 and 2016 Teams from Germany, Switzerland, and Australia did an amazing job on imparting the Design Thinking strategies and tools to their Kenyan counterparts, and that in future facilitations in Africa there is a lot that the African teams can proffer. Having said this, another reason as to the strong Kenyan showing is the fact that the Team from Kenya has purposefully been employing the assimilated Design Thinking strategies and tools in multiple aspects of their day-to-day activities, especially at ANU. Faculty members are using this process to better facilitate learning in class, as well as during practical design and development of mandatory projects. We have also employed these techniques for several competitions entered as a University. A good example being the Hult Prize that has the Bill Clinton foundation as one of the major sponsors, which saw ANU emerge 1st in the African region and take 2nd place out of 62 universities from 6 continents during the Hult Prize Competitions in the Dubai Regionals. ANU was represented by New Dawn Reto in the 2017 challenge of "Reawakening Human Potential” through the development of sustainable, scalable start-up enterprises, which should restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022. New Dawn Reto presented the idea of creating bricks using plastics and soil, which saw them emerge 2nd overall. Hult Prize regional finals were held from 3rd to 4th of March, 2017 in 5 cities around the globe including San Francisco, Boston, London, Dubai, and Shanghai. ANU was one of two universities from Kenya that participated in the Dubai regional competitions. In line with the ANU motto, what began with the Impact Week 2015 is now transforming the world. Asante Sana Impact Week, tuendelee hivyo hivyo, na vizuri kuzidia.
Go Team Impact Week Kenya (ANU)!! There is still lots more to do to transform our Kenya and the world.