In the small village of Bindo, Gabon, children were falling ill to water-borne diseases at unusually high rates. Studies from local Albert Schweitzer Hospital (HAS) showed that this was due to Bindo’s lack of access to clean drinking water.
In 2012, the Kellogg School of Management’s Innovate for Impact program led our interdisciplinary team of engineers, MBA candidates, and undergraduates to Bindo. We partnered with HAS to conduct two weeks of design research in the village.
Our team structured our project around the IDEO Human-Centered Design process. In two weeks of onsite design research, we hoped to gain insights that could contribute to a solution for Bindo’s water purification problem.
Our early-stage interviews surprised us, however. The issue we came to address - water purification - was not the issue residents cared about. Instead, they were most concerned about the fact that water was available infrequently, and this availability would change seasonally.
Because of these unexpected insights, our team pivoted our plans for prototyping and user-testing midstream, instead opting to conduct more interviews to round out our research.
While onsite, I was personally responsible for facilitating one-on-one and group user interviews. Interviews would be conducted at the local bar, the nearby factory, or in families’ homes. I provided support through French-English translation as well.
Design thinking was a powerful tool in this project, because it helped our team realize early that the problem we came to analyze was not the same problem residents saw.
As a design student, this project reinforced my appreciation for the value of process. Problems seen by outsiders are often not the same problems experienced by end users.
Following extensive synthesis and evaluation, a report advocating for the acquisition of a gravity-assisted biosand filtration device, along with additional modifications to the pumping module, was provided to local decisionmakers and power brokers.
A robust biosand solution would cost between $100-$200k based on local labor and material acquisition. Based on WHO’s Daily Adjusted Life Years and insights from our research, this would result in 180% ROI in terms of resident lifespan.
Implementation would require investment from a local employer. Our team calculated that this employer would annually gain up to 20 days per employee in increased productivity due to reduced absenteeism from water-borne sickness.