Future by Design is a South African-based Design Thinking and Human Centred Design (HCD) firm established as a local alternative to some of the leading international design firms. In our experience the majority of solutions developed by foreign HCD service providers were not sensitive to local infrastructural requirements and thus very few were implemented.

In particular, in trying to solve issues around aid, many Western approaches to focus on uplifting the poor, and have been doing so for decades. Our approach focuses more on the aspirations of individuals, and seeks to build solutions to help them get to where they want to go as opposed to where aid organisations think they should be.

Without having grown up and lived in Africa, it is very difficult for practitioners to understand the nuances of the African situation and the mindset, culture and sensitivities, including the drivers and motivations of people to help themselves. This African condition results in some complex wicked problems for which only an adaptable localised approach can successfully find workable solutions.

The donation based culture of foreign aid has meant that local people tend to respond to fieldwork in a way that they can maximise their own benefits from hand outs and incentives. We use local partners who work with us on the ground throughout the region, enabling the fieldwork to be conducted by locals and not westerners, which results in more authentic behaviour and more dependable results.

We developed a proprietary Afro-Centric HCD toolkit in order to transfer knowledge and skills to African organisations who wish to utilise these methods themselves. Most Western toolkits are inherently sequential and fairly inflexible. Because of the African situation, our toolkit has been developed to be localised and modular, and to be adjustable depending on the situation, so that one stage of the HCD process is not necessarily reliant on the completion of a previous stage.

In order to drive continual embedding of design thinking into organisations, the approach needs to take a stakeholder view of HCD project management that ensures buy-in all along the process. This affords the team the ability to discover solutions which may apply to one problem, but be cross cutting across various industry disciplines and touch points.

We have established a strong partnership network of HCD practitioners in key markets across Africa that ensures sufficient local input in the solutions and a large African ethnographic research footprint for the execution of projects. A successful approach needs to transfer knowledge and skills to client personnel and this is done via Design thinking training workshops for clients in order to upskill their employees and embed this new way of thinking into their teams. This may involve successful “train the trainer” initiatives which means we can second members of our core team into partner organisations to drive adoption of these methods.