1. A New Approach
  2. Insights as the Project Begins
  3. Seeing What Sticks
  4. Prototypes in Action
  5. A Leap of Faith

Designs for a Better World

Program Officer Margot Fahnestock on how a new partnership is helping Zambian teens

Designs for a Better World
Program Officer Margot Fahnestock on how a new partnership is helping Zambian teens
A New Approach

Having funded reproductive health services for nearly 50 years, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is an experienced donor in the field of family planning. But a persistent challenge—especially for mature donors—is how to better connect with the teenagers we are trying to steer clear of unplanned pregnancies.

So, two years ago, as the Foundation’s Global Development and Population Program worked to refresh our strategic plan, we began to explore new approaches that might help us upgrade our efforts in the family planning and reproductive health field.

One of the approaches that appealed to us as donors was the concept known as human-centered design or  "design thinking."

Design thinking is an innovative approach to problem solving that incorporates insights about human preferences and behavior into product design and service delivery. Its main source of fuel is empathy—deciphering what people really want through watching and listening—and its use has played an instrumental role in the invention or redesign of everything from the mouse used in personal computing, to defibrillators, to Pringles potato chips.   

Could it produce a breakthrough in our reproductive health work? We decided to find out, so late last year, we brokered a partnership between one of our longtime partners in the field—the nonprofit reproductive healthcare provider Marie Stopes International—and a pioneer in design thinking for international development—the Silicon Valley-based nonprofit, IDEO.org—to help teenagers in Zambia access reproductive health services.

This is the latest in a series of occasional updates on the project by Hewlett Foundation Program Officer, Margot Fahnestock.


Insights as the Project Begins

Remember what it was like to be a teenager? Meet some of the Zambian teens we met who helped us understand their lives a bit better.

"IDEO.org learned two things about what's important to Zambian teens. The first is that if you want to provide reproductive health services to teenagers you have to go to them; they won't come to you. And the second is that Zambian teenagers, like pretty much all teenagers, really care about appearances and what their friends think of them."

Margot talks about how the project got started.

Seeing What Sticks

The two organizations, IDEO.org and Marie Stopes International, brainstorm with Post-it notes to find a service delivery experience for birth control that would best suit the needs of Zambian teenagers.

"...and then they launched a process known as rapid prototyping, which I tend to think of a bit like bumper cars..."

Some of the ideas that emerged from rapid prototyping aren't actually feasible, but they serve as great examples of how innovative the process can be. These ideas include 1) offer teens advice and products through private health machines, sort of like an ATM for health 2) establish places for "secret agents" to provide health information about services and products (identifiable only by a secret symbol) 3) create identifiers, such as bracelets or pins, for informants and providers to wear.


Prototypes in Action

Out of all of this brainstorming came an extremely effective concept: the Divine Divas. Reframing contraceptive methods as a set of personalities called the "Divine Divas" not only gets us out of the realm of stuffy health pamphlets, but will teach teens about contraception in a way that is better tailored to their interests.

Each Diva represents a different type of contraception and has a distinct personality.

Divine Divas assigns a distinct personality type to each contraceptive method based on features of the method.

The second idea to emerge from IDEO.org and Marie Stopes was to use "pop-up" nail salons as an innovative and effective way to talk to teenagers privately about reproductive health.

Margot talks about how impromptu nail salons in places where teens gather can help teach teens about reproductive health

A Leap of Faith

"...we often encourage teens to have faith, in themselves, in their parents, and in their communities, to see them through difficult decisions...and maybe donors should practice what we preach...we should step out on faith..."

...what's next?

For more information on Marie Stopes International’s work in Zambia, visit their country page.

For more information on IDEO.org's work on this project, visit their website.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. © 2014, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Images © IDEO.org.  Some Rights Reserved.