An article in The New York Times managed to pull together and reinforce lessons from two of our posts in interesting ways.
This is the story of a determined nonprofit’s innovation, and how they managed to develop a success story by expanding their innovative thinking to include for-profit suppliers and distributors in their plan to distribute their new product.
But first, here is a quick recap of the points in our two earlier posts:
- In our post about asking the right question and then applying Design Thinking, we offered a few examples in the news, including one from the public sector in Denmark in which senior citizens were asked for input on meal planning to solve the issue of seniors not eating government-supplied meals.
- In our post on emerging patterns, we outlined Professor Clayton Christensen’s three-pronged approach to innovating. First, apply the disruption theory. We said that Disruption is entering a market at the lowest level with a lesser, more affordable product. Next, ask what customers should I focus on? Compete against non-consumption (such as people who cannot afford that product or service) rather than an established market. Finally, ask, what is the job to be done – that is, what causes us to buy a product or service?
What happened next is a study in persistent innovative thinking.
D-Rev’s team went on to successfully design medical equipment that met the real-life, daily conditions in developing countries. Next stop: distribution. The new product was licensed to for-profit distributors where the CEO saw that the need was greatest. Problem solved, right?
Randy Schwemmin, D-Rev’s director of technical operations, reported that local hospitals in India, for example, would sometimes select higher-cost, lower-quality products as a result of cronyism or corruption.
That reality, reports The New York Times, meant that D-Rev couldn’t stop at just designing and producing the innovative product; “it is redesigning not only high-tech products but also supply chains and procurement systems.”
“‘What D-Rev is doing hasn’t been done before,’ said Kevin Starr, managing director of the Mulago Foundation…. ‘They’re combining ways of designing equipment by focusing on the user and the user’s context, while also thinking about how to get it to people, about strategies for distribution and the market.’”
Having jumped through several major production, distribution, and marketing hoops in ways that break through market inefficiencies, D-Rev now documents its success: 300 units of its product in India, Malawi, Myanmar, the Philippines, Tanzania and Uganda, and treatment for nearly 15,000 babies, preventing 300 deaths or disabilities.
Nonprofit D-Rev’s impact is on the verge of having grantor foundations rethinking their grantmaking. The New York Times reports that “some foundations are already embracing the new emphasis [on market solutions, not just product solutions], and they are pressing organizations like D-Rev for specific figures on impact, such as the number of patients treated."
The lesson? Keep asking those questions
The lesson here could not be clearer: combining asking the right questions with design thinking is key. Throw in a healthy dose of persistence and you have a recipe for success in innovation.