A "Collaboration Café" for Practical Impact Alliance members and D-Lab fellows

by Anisha Nakagawa



During the week of April 16th 2018, MIT D-Lab brought together members of its industry alliance and two groups of D-Lab fellows.  For attendees, who came from all corners of the globe, the convening was an opportunity to connect with, collaborate, and learn from others who are committed to creating  social impact through business approaches to poverty alleviation

The Collaboration Café, a day-long event during the retreat, brought together Practical impact Alliance members, Scale-Ups Fellows, and Innovation Ecosystem Builder Fellows. The event started with a welcome from MIT D-Lab Founding Director, Amy Smith. In order to break the ice and promote an interactive, collaborative work environment, the event started with an activity of building “human histograms,” for which attendees formed groups according to mutual interests and got to know each other. Amy also introduced MIT D-Lab’s goals and philosophy of design as a form of development that goes beyond the products that are developed and pointed to the power of the co-creative process.

For most of the day, we worked in groups on problem framing and ideating around some of the big challenges faced by many of the fellows in the room. The challenges were suggested by participants in advance of the convening, and included “diversifying successful growth strategies for base-of-the-pyramid market startups,” “creating strategies to address the weak demand of socially beneficial products,” “supporting, educating, and connecting entrepreneurs effectively online,” and more.

Within each group, people from across all the programs had their own experiences with the assigned challenges, albeit slightly different perspectives based on their different contexts. Therefore, the problem framing time in the morning was crucial for developing a shared understanding of the topic and language to describe it. Some groups decided to adapt their area to more closely suit their interests, others shared personal experiences with the challenge as a way to bridge contextual differences. This discussion happened around the framework of “problem wheels” that enumerated the different challenges, opportunities, benefits, or effects.  The morning session culminated in creating “how might we” statements that succinctly expressed which components of the challenge the team was planning to focus.

After a lunch break with time to network and socialize, we jumped into the ideation phase of the design process with the goals of fostering a safe, playful, creative environment. We used different frameworks to encourage out-of-the-box thinking, with the goal of building off others’ ideas. Between each round of brainstorming, a few team members moved between groups following the World Café Facilitation Method to introduce new ideas and perspectives to each table’s challenge.

By the end of the day, teams regrouped to combine and transform all the ideas from over the course of the activities. Each team chose three to four of the top ideas, often formed from a combination of different ideas and perspectives from people all around the room, and shared them with the whole group.

It’s possible that some of these ideas may be brought home and implemented by some of the attendees. More important, the conversations during the scaffolded activities were vehicles for sharing experiences and advice.  The Collaboration Café was a first step to build connections between cohorts, expose groups to MIT D-Lab design methodology, and begin to lay a foundation for potential collaborations throughout the coming year.


Anisha Nakagawa is an undergraduate studying electrical engineering and design at Olin College, and is a monitoring and evaluation intern at MIT D-Lab.

New online course from edX: Lean Research Skills for Conducting Interviews

Photo: Megha Hegde, MIT D-Lab.



Elizabeth Hoffecker (MIT D-Lab) & Zoe Dibb (Girl Effect)

About this course 

Interviews are one of the most common and powerful field research methods, used across a wide variety of disciplines and topics. Whether conducting a research study, an evaluation of an existing product or service, or gathering insights for a business plan, or a design process, interviews are often the method of choice for gaining insights directly from people. The quality of that information, however, depends to a large degree on the skill of the interviewer.

This course introduces effective techniques for conducting interviews and is designed to help you develop and strengthen your skills as an interviewer. It does not assume any existing experience conducting interviews, but will quickly take you past the basics and into best practices that incorporate the Lean Research principles of rigor, relevance, respect, and right-size. The course focuses specifically on conducting interviews in “the field” - contexts in which we may be in an unfamiliar setting or culture, such as when traveling abroad or conducting research in a place we haven’t been before.

What you'll learn

  • The steps and the skills needed to conduct quality interviews
  • How to apply the Lean Research principles to the interviewing process
  • How to identify and correct problematic interviewing techniques and behaviors
  • Strategies for dealing with challenging interviewing situations
  • How to design, prepare for, implement, and document an interview


Enroll now!

Public Program April 20: Financial Inclusion and the Informal Sector

by Libby McDonald, MIT D-Lab

Tema New Town waste pickers with MIT D-Lab and Ashesi University D:Lab students in Ghana.


How do Waste Pickers Save their Money? 
Financial Inclusion and the Informal Sector.

Data Collection Presentation & Panel Discussion - Friday, April 20 2:30-6 pm 

MIT D-Lab: 265 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, 3rd floor/N51-350

Register to attend here!


In January 2018 four students from MIT D-Lab Gender and Development traveled to Accra, Ghana where they teamed-up with five Ashesi University D:Lab students and ran focus groups with waste pickers to understand the financial management tools they use to manage their money. On Friday April 20th they will present their findings. Afterwards, a panel of experts will address videotaped questions posed by Accra waste pickers, providing financial management advice suitable for informal sector workers.

This program was funded in part by MIT Africa Initiative - MISTI.


2:30 - 4:00 PM: Students from D-Lab: Gender and Development and Ashesi University D:Lab students present their findings on data collected and the results of a financial inclusion design workshop with waste pickers from the Accra municipal landfill and the streets of Tema New Town.

4:00 - 4:30 PM: Reception


4:30 - 6:00 PM: A panel of experts address videotaped questions posed by Accra waste pickers. 

- Joyce Lehman: A financial inclusion consultant, Joyce was one of the architects of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation savings groups.

- Dr. William Derban: Co-Founder and Chair of Financial Inclusion Africa and Director for E banking and Strategic Partnerships at Fidelity Bank Ghana Ltd.

- Kim Wilson: Lecturer and researcher on markets and development at the Tufts University Fletcher School.

- Daryl Collins: Co-author of Portfolios of the Poor and Managing Director of BFA.

- Julio Del Valle: Founder of Poupa Certo and MiBolsillo, two digital PFMs in Brazil and Peru focused on low-income and microentrepreneur customers.


Six questions for Maria Yang, D-Lab's first Faculty Academic Director

Earlier this fall, D-Lab welcomed Professor Maria Yang as our first Faculty Academic Director. Dr. Yang's research interest is in the product design process, particularly in the early phases of the design cycle. Dr. Yang will work with the D-Lab leadership team and with Libby Hsu, D-Lab Education Coordinator, to advance D-Lab's academic program of more than 20 MIT course offerings, as well as student fieldwork and research opportunities. We recently caught up with Maria to get her perspective on D-Lab and her new role:

How would you describe your new role at D-Lab?

"D-Lab has a history of delivering transformational educational experiences in technology and development for students across the institute and the world. I see my role as fostering this D-Lab tradition to keep it thriving, and to work with the incredibly dedicated D-Lab team to think about the vision for education at D-Lab  in the future."

What is your impression of D-Lab’s academic program? What do you hear from students about the program?

"My teaching passion is in project-based, hands on classes because it offers lasting learning experiences for students. D-Lab has been a groundbreaker in this approach, and a constant theme that I've heard from students in D-Lab is how these experiences have been game changers for them. Students tell us that they've gained a richer perspective of what it means to be a "global citizen," and alum say that these experiences have fundamentally changed their outlooks in their professional careers and personal lives."

Why D-Lab?

"MIT offers an impressive array of opportunities for students enthusiastic about international opportunities. D-Lab is unique in this ecosystem because of its commitment to combining a global perspective with hands on learning in so many aspects of development, from design to energy to water and beyond. Moreover, D-Lab connects these educational efforts with collaborative research initiatives in international development which provides students with a broader perspective."

How do you hope to advance/promote/enrich the D-Lab program?

"Not sure yet! I'm still in information gathering mode - an important part of the design process."

You are faculty sponsor for the D-Lab class Design for Scale - tell us about your experience with this class, the co-instructors?

"Design for Scale helps students think about how to make the one-off prototypes that are the typical result of a design course into something that can be produced in larger quantities. Students learn about product design and manufacturing, and the class does so in a way that is urgent because of its collaborations with partners in various parts of the world who are real clients for the student projects. This is in keeping with the D-Lab theme of 'real projects for real people.' Design for Scale is fortunate because it has a jaw-dropping teaching lineup that would be a powerhouse for any design or engineering class anywhere. It includes Harald Quintus-Bosz, founder of Cooper Perkins; Kate Bergeron, VP of Hardware Engineering at Apple; and Sorin Grama, founder of Promethean Systems. It's sort of like having Marvel's Avengers teach your design course!"

How do you think your own research interests may intersect with D-Lab’s mission?

"My research interest is in early stage design process, from consumer products to complex systems. I've previously worked on several research projects thinking about design for international development through the lens of human-centered design. These projects have not only been closely aligned with D-Lab, but have been in collaboration with D-Labbers, including Jesse Austin-Breneman who is now faculty member at University of Michigan and Eric Reynolds who is now a PhD student at Stanford."

Read more about Professor Yang on the MIT Mechanical Engineering site, and on MIT News!

D-Lab and the MIT Water Club welcome MIT Water Innovator-in-Residence Sahar Abdelhakim


MIT Water Innovator-in-Residence Sahar Abdelhakim gets to know the MIT campus!


“I am currently working on developing a low-cost eco-friendly water purifier and I believe that opportunity to use MIT D-Lab resources will help me in achieving my goal in making water purifier accessible to low income people."

MIT Water Innovator-in-Residence Program

MIT D-Lab and the MIT Water Club welcome MIT Water Innovator-in-Residence Sahar Abdelhakim! The Innovator-in-Residence program is an opportunity at MIT supported by MIT D-Lab and the MIT Water Club. Sahar will be at MIT  for two weeks to engage in knowledge exchange with MIT students and staff, use D-Lab’s workshop and resources to work on a personal project, and participate in the MIT Water Summit

About Sahar and her work

Sahar is a native of Alexandria, Egypt and  currently live in Bangalore, India. She was an attendee of the International Development Design Summit (IDDS) "Aarogyam" in Chennai, India, 2015 and as a result, is a member of the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN).

Below, Sahar talks about her background, current work, and plans for her residency at MIT:

"I am a marine biologist and I started working on water purification project when I saw my relatives who are living in a small Egyptian village were suffering from heavy metals in drinking water. They couldn’t afford buying expensive water filters and hence I built simple water purifier for them. Later on, I started working on developing advanced version and to make it sustainable. I got to know about maker spaces and my journey as a maker started off while working with the innovation hubs in Egypt (ICE Alexandria and ICE Cairo) to find solution for various problems. It lead me to make low cost formula of DIY conductive ink, making Graphene and Graphene sheets in home for water desalination, and also found ample time to work on my water purification project to develop the technology and design. I worked on Jabalaya Project - a project for empowering local communities in Egyptian desert.

"Later on I got involved with a research project in producing high quality pearls within short period of time and at the same time to clean water bodies which will improve the habitat and life expectancy of aquatic organisms. I have also worked on many projects related to water treatment in different places including Egypt, Tokyo, Uganda, Kenya and India (Southern and north regions). After living in India for almost year I’ve founded SAFFY in 2017 – an Indian company which is into designing and developing sustainable and affordable bio water purifiers. I started Saffy as I’m passionate about water treatment sector. Saffy will provide water purification products without changing natural properties.

"While at D-Lab, I would like to work on my sustainable low cost water purifier project design and get feedback from experts at MIT. One of the striking features of the innovation is that, it’s also easy to carry, compact and is made from eco friendly materials like ceramic, glass, bamboo materials etc. It will allow people in getting clean water wherever they are by making it an inseparable part of their lives. It helps in reducing plastic consumption by providing bottle like design which is suitable for travelers as well as for domestic users on a daily basis. The product is in prototyping stage and the main resource I need from D-Lab is support from expertise to develop my product and feedback which can help me in achieving my goal in eradicating lack of purified drinking water.

"As a young women entrepreneur who would like to impact lives of poor people, MIT Water Summit will help me to network with likeminded people who are passionate in solving issues in the sector of water. I am currently working on developing a low-cost eco-friendly water purifier and I believe that opportunity to use MIT D-Lab resources will help me in achieving my goal in making water purifier accessible to low income people. I am learning by traveling and interacting with people from different places. The summit will be a great opportunity for me to connect, exchange knowledge and learn from experts in diverse MIT community."

D-Lab Lunch-n-Learn with Sahar Thursday, November 9, 12-1 pm

Please join us for a D-Lab Lunch-n-Learn on Thursday, November 9 from 12 to 1 pm to learn more about Sahar's work! RSVP here. The Lunch-n-Learn will take place at MIT D-Lab, MIT N51 (265 Massachusetts Avenue) Room 305.

Apply to be a Design Facilitator for a WASH design summit in Ethiopia Jan 22-Feb 2, 2018!

Photo: USAID Photo Gallery. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard.


Seeking six design facilitators for a WASH themed co-design summit in Ethiopia this January co-hosted by PSI/Ethiopia and MIT-D-Lab. Applications due by Wednesday October 11 at noon EDT. Apply online here by October 11!

The Context

Africa’s oldest independent country, Ethiopia is known as the source of coffee and mankind.  With one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia still faces challenges as health markets are failing to reach those that need life-saving health products and services, especially in the WASH sector.  Ethiopia achieved its Millennium Development Goal target of 57 percent access to safe drinking water, halving the number of people without access to safe water since 1990. Yet access to improved sanitation remains stubbornly low at only 28 percent nationwide up from three percent in 1990.  Despite these strides, safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) coverage remains insufficient. Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services and poor hygiene practices negatively impact health and nutrition; diarrheal disease is one of the leading causes of under-five mortality in Ethiopia.

To address a part of this grand WASH challenge in Ethiopia, PSI/Ethiopia launched a market development project in 2017 to increase use of improved water and sanitation products. The USAID-funded Transform WASH program addresses key barriers to uptake and sustain use of WASH products and services.  It is achieving this by strengthening demand for WASH products and services, especially sanitation, by designing communications, products and services that meet consumer needs. It also influences the WASH supply chain by providing evidence on tested concepts and solutions for products and services that result in a strengthened value chain and the adoption of profitable business models for WASH (including toilets, hand washing, water storage, water treatment, and fecal sludge management), that reach low-income consumers. In addition, the program is strengthening the enabling environment through co-creation, collaboration, and co-learning with the Government of Ethiopia, private sector, consumers, financial institutions, and development partners to remove barriers to a thriving WASH marketplace and to improve client-oriented behavior.

The WASH Co-Design Summit

As a part of the larger Transform WASH program, PSI/Ethiopia is partnering with MIT D-Lab to host a 10-day WASH themed Co-Design Summit from January 22-Feburary 2, 2018 to catalyze connections and solutions to common WASH challenges. The summit will convene 30 participants – 24 Ethiopian participants from across the WASH sector (users, health workers, government representatives, local entrepreneurs, and WASH experts) and six MIT D-Lab students – to practice the co-creative design process and prototype low-cost solutions together.

During the summit, participants will live and work with each other around Hawassa, Ethiopia. They will participate in hands-on learning sessions led by PSI/Ethiopia and MIT D-Lab as well will work in one of six project teams.  The projects will focus on one of the following topics*:

  • Improving water accessibility for cleaning and washing
  • Understanding gender difference in how toilets are used or not used
  • Creating products for segmented markets (children, elders, women, disabled, etc.)
  • Designing interactive educational tools (for kids, for HEWs, for entrepreneurs, etc.)
  • Improving smell and cleanliness of toilets and latrines
  • Creating solutions to handwashing challenges
  • Making products more transportable
  • Improving modularized units of products (for selling and distributing)
  • Improving affordability of toilets through material substitutions
  • Improving superstructure and toilet design
  • Designing toilet paper alternatives  

*All projects are subject to pivot based on information gathered both before the summit and during the summit.

The Design Facilitator Role

The Design Facilitator will play a critical role in leading and supporting each project team through the co-design process (there will be one design facilitator per project team) and creating a simple project brief after the summit.  The design facilitator will instruct or co-instruct some sessions for the hands-on sessions (including build-its sessions). 

Before the summit, the design facilitator will be required to attend a series of online calls to train together and prepare for the summit, read background documents about the context, and watch a few key videos on the work of PSI in Ethiopia so far. 

During the summit, the design facilitator will help guide each project team through the design process and support any physical or mental needs the team may have. Design facilitators will not be responsible to create a solution, but they will responsible to help keep the team unified and ensure they co-create a solution together.  

After the summit, the design facilitator will create a one-page project brief that includes a summary of the team’s journey, key insights gathered on the project topic, and recommendations for next steps.  

Eligibility Criteria

All design facilitator applicants must:

  • Be available 
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have experience facilitating a diverse group of people
  • Have experience working or volunteering in the WASH sector
  • Have practical and basic building skills
  • Be respectful, optimistic, curious, and promote inclusive collaboration
  • Work well independently as well as in teams

Selection Criteria

We will review all applications and select design facilitators based on:

  • Facilitation experience
  • WASH sector experience
  • Experience in development setting
  • Experience and enthusiasm for co-creating solutions through participatory design
  • Alignment of personal mindsets with design summit mindsets (respect, optimism, curiosity, and inclusive collaboration)

Experience as an IDDS design facilitator or previous work in Ethiopia is preferred, but not a requirement.

Notification Process

All applications will be reviewed and will be selected by the MIT D-Lab co-lead instructors for the summit, Libby Hsu and Sher Vogel.  All applicants will be notified if they are accepted, wait-listed, or not accepted by Wednesday, October 18. 


Pending funding approval in late October, PSI/Ethiopia and MIT D-Lab will cover the costs of design facilitator round-trip flight, housing, and food during the design summit.  In addition, each facilitator will receive a stipend of 2000 USD after submitting project briefs.  

Further Questions? Feel free to contact MIT D-Lab Trainings and Convenings Manager, Sher Vogel

Apply online here by October 11!

MIT D-Lab 15th Anniversary Symposium & Community Day - Oct 20 & 21!


MIT D-Lab is turning 15!  Time flies when you're changing the paradigm of international development . . . Join us at MIT for a day-long Symposium on Friday, October 20!



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