Design Thinking for Impact: Acumen Global Fellows

Let’s state the obvious: driving social impact is hard. When you set out to change the world, you’re tackling BIG problems. You’re driven by ambitious goals and it can often feel impossible to achieve them. So, how do you create meaningful, sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest problems?

The key is to equip and empower individuals with the resources and tools necessary to make it happen. Recently, we had the chance to team up with Acumen to do just that. We worked with a team of overwhelmingly talented individuals who are tackling one of the world’s biggest problems—poverty.


What Is the Acumen Global Fellows Program?

The Acumen Global Fellows Program is a yearlong fellowship dedicated to training emerging leaders who are committed to solving problems of poverty. They’re a group of awe-inspiring individuals that have done what most of us dream of—taking an alternate path.

Hailing from esteemed careers in entrepreneurship, management consulting, advertising, and non-profit management, these international professionals made the decision to commit themselves to building their skills and using them to change the way the world tackles poverty.

Enter Design Thinking.

The world has tried plenty of obvious methods for wiping out (or at least decreasing) poverty, but still it persists. Multifaceted problems of this nature, in complex environments (like rural villages half way across the globe), are tough. And to tackle them you need a set of tools that helps you develop innovative, human-centered solutions.

Enter design thinking–one of many tools worth having in your toolbox when coming face to face with complex problems with no clear answer.

We partnered with Acumen to provide the fellows with a design thinking bootcamp. The goal: equip the fellows with a problem-solving toolkit that would help them address the complex problems they’ll each be facing on the ground, all over the world, over the next 10 months.

In 2 days, we walked the fellows through the 5 phases of design thinking—examine, understand, ideate, experiment, and distill—and had them apply it to a real-world case: food equity in New York.

On the first day, the fellows learned how to frame this complex issue in a constructive way and gather the data needed to start identifying solutions. That meant speaking to a panel of community food experts, including Tatiana Orlov, Manager of Community Impact for City Harvest; Simone Herbin, Community Food Advocate; and Dennis Derryck, Founder and President of Corbin Hill Food Project.

It also meant getting out in the real world and conducting field research. The fellows travelled to neighborhoods in New York City to conduct in-person interviews with real people that struggle with affordable and reliable access to healthy foods.

Then, on the second day, the fellows took all of the data they collected and set to turning it into actionable insights. Those insights became the seeds of solutions for addressing food inequity.

The Takeaways

It’s very easy to get stuck on the ‘story’ of design thinking—the language we use to describe the process, whether there are 3 steps or 5 steps, discussing how human-centered design has evolved and where it’s going next. This stuff is important, but it shouldn’t be the end goal.

Using this tool out in the real world, on real problems, with real constraints—getting our hands dirty—that’s where the value is. The rigor in process and tools must be balanced with flexibility and adaptability to the problem we’re trying to solve. As each fellow enters their next chapter in different countries across the world, their application of the design thinking tools will look slightly different—and that’s a good thing.

We’re excited to see the creative solutions they come up with to the problems they face and we’re proud to have had the opportunity to work with them.


Andy Hagerman
[email protected]

Andy Hagerman is one of the co-founders and partners at The Design Gym, a strategy and innovation consultancy helping leaders to grow their business by fully unlocking the power of their most important advantage: their people. We work at the intersection of business strategy, experience design, and change management to engage the people that matter most to your work: your customers, your leaders, and your employees. See something that resonates with a project or challenge you're working on? Shoot him a note at [email protected].

No Comments

What do you think? Leave us a comment

newspaper templates - theme rewards