More than ever, businesses are expected to rise to the challenges facing the world today. From tackling climate change to reducing inequality, what was once seen as a separate part of a company’s mission to “do social good” is now a business imperative, customers, employees and stakeholders stakeholders expressing their strong desire to have an impact on sustainable development. But how companies can achieve this is less straightforward.
The UN Sustainable Development Agenda has provided public and private sector leaders with a roadmap. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set clear targets focused on achieving transformative change, but they don’t provide us with the means to get there. For the most part, while more and more business leaders are engaging with the SDGs, this does not always translate into impact on the ground. A recent PwC study shows that only 1% of companies surveyed reported quantitative metrics to show their progress towards meeting the SDG targets.
To help companies push sustainability impact onto the agenda, business leaders may need to recalibrate their thinking to unlock new approaches to innovation. The UN itself recommends Design Thinking — a human-centered and collaborative process to find new solutions to difficult challenges.
A powerful tool for problem solving and value creation
That design thinking is a powerful tool for solving problems and creating value is clear. In one of the most complete design studies To date, McKinsey & Company has found that companies that score high on design performance have also exceeded industry benchmark growth by up to two times to one, regardless of the industry in which they operate. were operating.
The McKinsey Design Index (MDI) tracked the design practices of 300 publicly traded companies over a five-year period across multiple countries and industries, measuring four areas of design: analytical leadership, cross-functional talent, continuous iteration, and user experience.
Since the publication of the study, everything indicates that the design thinking movement is rapidly gaining ground. According to Global Design Thinking Market Forecast 2021-2030 report, the design thinking market in the Middle East and Africa is expected to increase revenue from $167.5 million in 2020 to $554.1 million by 2030, at a rate of 13.1%. Growth is largely driven by a demand for future-facing technologies and an awareness of how design thinking can advance organizational goals in complex environments.
There are many examples of organizations that have embraced human-centered design to create a positive and lasting impact for customers and enhance their creativity so they can repeatedly design outstanding products and services that also advance the SDGs.
Ubongo, a leading producer of edutainment for children based in Tanzania, could have created a typical TV show based on cartoons. Instead, they applied design-driven thinking and a human-centered approach to create content focused on their audience’s learning goals and how best to achieve them. This has led to a number of ongoing product innovations. Ubongo Kids Educational TV and YouTube show now deliver high quality educational content to 440 million children across Africa.
Overcoming the Many Barriers to Innovation
According to Jeanne LiedtkeA professor of business administration at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, design thinking is able to deliver these kinds of results because not only does it provide a structured way to reframe problems, imagine solutions, and iterate toward better answers, but it also provides a route around the many obstacles that can get in the way of creative thinking and problem solving, including human biases, fear of failure, and lack of employee buy-in.
For example, design thinking has been used successfully identify and minimize the impact of implicit biases in the workplace by giving leaders insight into aspects of their culture and decision-making practices that may generate biased outcomes, then helping them rethink their environments from the bottom up, starting with people.
A well-known example of this type of intentional redesign to overcome hidden gender biases can be found in the case study of how orchestras in the United States successfully increased the number of professional women in their ranks from 5 % to 50% simply put a screen between the auditioning musicians and the selection committee and ask the candidates to remove their shoes to eliminate the distinctive sound of women’s shoes.
This approach could apply not only to gender equality, but also to internal processes and policies around other SDG thematic targets such as clean energy practices, consumption and production, innovation and infrastructure, and contributing to building sustainable cities and communities.
An example is the recent development Clean cooking systems strategy. Facilitated and driven by the Clean Cooking Alliance (an initiative hosted by the United Nations Foundation), the process followed a pioneering design-driven approach to gain insights and needs that were used to co-create, act and launch a number of initiatives with partners around the world. the global clean kitchen ecosystem.
Moreover, since many SDGs are interconnected, progress towards one goal can lead to gains for many other goals. This means that if we design solutions well for one goal with end users and key stakeholders in mind, we can accelerate progress across all goals.
As the 2030 deadline to achieve the SDGs draws near, there is more urgency than ever to move forward, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic has seen an erosion of the development gains of the 20 last years.
The scale of the challenge ahead should prompt companies to integrate the essential soft skills of design thinking into their operations in a deliberate, structured and dynamic way, which will help reinvent our vehicles of change so that we can navigate with more trust in complexity and accelerate progress towards the SDGs. DM
Richard Perez is the founding director of the first African school dedicated to Design Thinking, the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika at the University of Cape Town which offers the Core Program in Design Thinking.