“One of science’s miracles, the CT scan, was meant to save thousands of lives including those of children by allowing for a more precise method of scanning for diseases. However this invention turned out to be a child’s worst nightmare. It was this reality that challenged Doug Dietz, an industrial engineer and designer of MRI and CT machines to remodel the scan to make them child friendly.” This served as Mark Kamau’s introduction of the concept of design thinking for our scholars and alumnae at this year’s first leadership academy.

We explored the concept of design thinking in view of designing community service projects that address real community issues as opposed to presumed issues. This new way of solution development challenges change makers to involve the larger majority in the development of solutions. It requires one to be empathetic and start from a point of understanding rather than going into communities from a point of ‘knowing better’. In all its glory, design is a process of acquisition, where the diagnosis of issues is a joint effort and the prescription to the problem is developed by the community for the community.

You may ask what process is used to achieve the most out of design thinking. The thought process was broken down into four simple but critical stages; empathy, problem definition, prototype ideation and testing. Simply put we need to move from asking what – which emphasizes the problem and instead start asking the why – which interrogates the problem to find the right solution.

To get some hands on experience with the design thinking process, our facilitator challenged the scholars and alumnae to design a wallet fit for themselves and another for their neighbor. It was a fun task with extremely interesting outcomes. Before starting the project the girls were provided with a series of questions to challenge their thinking these included asking:

What is the one thing that is likely to cause the collapse of a project? In this case what is the one thing that could result in a poor or unacceptable design?

What really are the needs of my target user or target beneficiaries?

Am I addressing symptoms of the problem or the core problem?

I wonder how many of us actually ask ourselves these important questions before embarking on any project for that matter. It is important to get into terms with all facts regarding your project (especially those that seek to address community issues) before embarking on it.

To sum it all up, we all have a responsibility to do right by those we seek to help and address the right concerns in our communities.