I started BOP Designer as a vehicle to learn, talk with innovators in the field and to share stories and resources about design and innovation in the developing world. BOPdesigner.com is a website and blog accompanied by a twitter account (@BOPdesigner) and a daily online newspaper, the BoP Designer Daily.

I researched and talked with design firms and individuals working on development issues, especially applying design thinking and working with local communities to develop innovative, effective and locally-adoptable solutions. I shared lists and links to notable design firms, companies, non-profits and people working in this field, schools and educational programs, books and resources that I found. And I shared stories of “design thinking” in practice, home-grown innovations, and other information that might be helpful to other “BOP designers,” whether or not they call themselves designers.

While I am no longer active on the blog, the BOP Designer Daily still aggregates new stories every day.

Top 3 Lessons Learned

1.  There are not many design firms working in the developing world. The few who do are mostly non-profits. Like all non-profits, funding is a continuous challenge but they find ways to start new projects and continue working. Beyond this handful of dedicated design firms, the people working to solve daily challenges in the developing world are local people themselves, businesses, social enterprises, non-profit organizations, development agencies and governments—all of various sizes, abilities and effectiveness.

2.  Local people have the keys to their own challenges. There are tons of ingenious, creative and hard-working people already making their own solutions, though there are plenty of opportunities for outside designers to help, when they have the right perspective. Outsiders can add value by bringing new and different ideas, knowledge and information to the challenge and by organizing people, projects, funding and resources. I also see great potential in teaching and encouraging anyone to think like a designer, problem-solve and innovate with curiosity, creativity and persistence.

A lesson constantly proven over and again is that the chances of success depend greatly upon how much local people are involved, learned from and empowered throughout the process of creating, testing, revising and incorporating solutions into their daily lives. They are the ones who will need to adopt a solution as their own, maintain and improve it over time, long after outsiders leave. The less they are involved, the higher the chances of building another well-intentioned failure.

3.  Throughout aid, development, non-profit and government sectors, there is criticism for bureaucracy, stagnation, competition instead of cooperation, lack of innovation and ineffectiveness. Often this can be traced back to not understanding the people they are trying to serve well enough, trying to treat too many people with generalized solutions that don’t serve anyone particularly well, and spending in inefficient, ineffective ways. Sometimes this criticism leads to even more risk-aversion, which suffocates innovation even further.

Smaller, more innovative social enterprises, non-profits and initiatives can be more in-touch with local people, agile and able to adapt and evolve quickly, but they often face huge difficulties to find funding to do their work in the first place, let alone grow and amplify their impact on larger scales.

I see a huge opportunity for development organizations, governments and others (large and small) to apply Human-Centered Design to increase their effectiveness. Many others like IDEO.org, who published the free Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, believe the same thing too. It is also clear that a lot could be done to improve collaboration instead of competition, maybe even linking small (effective, underfunded) and large (well funded but less effective) entities to complement each other and have more impact together.