Week 5

To start this blog post today I thought I would begin with giving a huge shoutout to my big brother and my mom for reading my posts every week. Someday if I write a biography, I will be sure to mention you! Anyway, let us get down to business, this week we continued the discussion on the concept of design and introduced a new idea: philosophy of engagement.

I do not know if you caught it but last week, but I mentioned that I was going to do some soul searching on how cyclic processes are apparent in my life. After this week’s talk, I realized I have my own process of design. For me, design is much like the function f(x)= sin(x). The sin function is cyclic in nature and you could say it has its ups and downs. Jokes aside, a design is grounded in the idea of spectacular failure and success. Suppose I was to design a medical device. First, I would do background research then I would ask a simple how might I statement. For example: How might I make intravenous drugs more comfortable for a patient? Through this process, I would go through several designs and think hard about what my constraints are. The ideation process occurs here. I further explore my ideas using sketches and electronic design platforms. If one seems particularly good, I might prototype it and test it out. See the diagram below:

An interesting concept came up in our Ukweli team meeting this week. Our Mentor Khanjan Mehta posed two challenging questions: the first was how do we establish credibility in our venture. The second is how do we validate our technology, business model, and overall project concept. These questions go hand in hand in the process of venture creation. To establish credibility, one easy way would be to identify key partners supporting our efforts. In addition, we could also publish peer-reviewed journal articles on the venture’s efforts, or get endorsements from key stakeholders in the community. On a similar thread, how does one validate their project? We as project or venture creators have both an ethical obligation and sometimes legal obligation to validate the different aspects of our venture. The key here is to do the leg work internally. Let’s look at three general categories: project concept, technology, and business model. To validate the project concept, one needs to do intensive research into the need for a specific good, service, etc. For Ukweli, extensive research found 40% of pregnant women in Sierra Leone contract Urinary Tract Infections and the Community Health Worker system aims to address challenges in last mile distribution. We have identified the problem and a potential avenue to address it. Moreover, the research found that there was a clear lack of accessible low-cost screening technologies in Sierra Leone. On the next idea, technology, we must look specifically at the quality control, error margins, and affordability aspects. To simply validate the technology could mean doing quality control testing. However, validating to see if the technology is culturally appropriate must include the other aspects as previously mentioned. Finally, how could venture creators such as my team validate the business model? The business model relies heavily on background research, cultural context, and determining key assumptions. The business model for Ukweli could not have been completed without us going to Sierra Leone and thoroughly understanding the healthcare system, each stakeholder and their value proposition, and cultural aspects that affect operations.

In the last portion of this blog post, I wanted to talk about my philosophy of engagement with community members, partners, and markets. I truly believe that if one wants to make an impact in the developing world there are no handouts. Our team mentor always says: “Don’t give a handout, offer a hand up.” This means rather than engaging in pure aid, try creating self-sustaining ventures that empower community members to have more opportunities. I realize this is broad. What I mean is that aid is like a band-aid it works if there is a disaster- helps in the short term, not sustainable in the long term. Empowerment, on the other hand, gives the community members the chance to live more equitable and prospers lives.

That’s all the insights I have for this week, I am looking forward to reading up on why ventures fail for next week. Hopefully, there is no snow. Till next time.

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