Kimberly Davies

Tired of Bad Products? : Grameen Foundation is too, let’s do something about it

Innovation. Building the product around the customer. Human-centered design.

All of these phrases are becoming more common in the development space. For many, these are new ideas people are seeking to understand and learn more about. For others, these have been words to live and breathe by for some time. So what is new?

For the next year, Grameen Foundation, in partnership with the Citi Foundation, will focus on sharing what we have learned from our own human-centered product design methodologies. We will be creating a dialogue about the importance of understanding client habits and behaviors, using available data to generate client insights, and then using these insights to design products that meet down-market client needs as well as the needs of financial services providers.

Some of the over-arching questions we hope to answer include:

Why do some financial products get rapidly adopted by clients and scaled, whereas others fail?

Why do a fraction of those who sign up for mobile money actually use it?

Although many factors are at play, we think limited and poorly tailored product offerings are a significant piece of the problem. Grameen Foundation has been applying its AppLab Incubator approach to human-centered product design and innovation for the past few years, and we look forward to opening a dialogue with practitioners, financial services providers, and designers in the coming year. We will be exploring three themes over the course of the year:

– Theme 1: DESIGNING FOR THE CLIENT – Reviewing the basics of human centered design, why using this approach is important for successful design, and adaptations when working with the poor. With that said, this theme explores how to balance human centered design without a myopic view on solely the “human,” but the entire ecosystem as well.

– Theme 2: DESIGNING FOR THE ORGANIZATION – Identifying and learning from organizations that do innovation well, and how they bring their products to market. Discussing why some good ideas get killed in an organization, and how organizations can structure themselves to promote creation of good ideas and support innovation.

– Theme 3: DESIGNING FOR SCALE – Reviewing products that went to market, products that didn’t, and why? Discussing key environmental innovation skills, and how environments can shape design.

If you aren’t familiar with HCD practices we encourage you to stay tuned! We hope our tips can help you be successful in your own programs. If you’re an HCD veteran, we encourage you to stay tuned as well! We’d like to share new information with you about how to tailor HCD practices when working with the rural poor, and hear from you as well.

We feel the combination of our knowledge and experience working with the poor, in-region presence, focus on reaching scale, and successful product design approach puts us in a great position to lead this effort. We’d like to learn from you and your strengths as well. Over the next year, we are going to share a number of blogs, toolkits, videos, online discussions, events throughout difference parts of the world, and more. We’d like you to join the discussion as we share our experiences.

Our push will culminate with an invitation-only event in Nairobi in early 2014. If you’d like to learn more and get engaged, please email me at

Environment, Technology
product design