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Posted on May 23, 2016

Posted by: Rebecca Marx, Analyst, Capital Advisory Services

If you’ve ever taken a minute to scroll around Enclude’s website, you may have stumbled upon the meaning of the name Enclude: “Our name—Enclude—is a reflection of what we stand for.  A commitment to people, principles and prosperity that ensures a more sustainable and “enclusive” economy for all.” In our respective analyst roles carrying out a “commitment to people” on Enclude’s Inclusive Finance, Channels & Linkages, and Capital Advisory Services teams, my colleagues Mark, Paul and I were each separately introduced to the term “human-centered design” (HCD): Mark when exploring how financial institutions can better meet the needs of un(der)served entrepreneurs and households; Paul when considering how to provide real value to financial services consumers through digital channels. I was personally introduced to the term when working on a project that sought to mobilize capital needed to deliver inclusion that goes beyond just financial inclusion to better long-term financial health and higher standards of living.

Confronted with this recurring term that seemed to matter in our work, Mark, Paul and I sat down for the first time as design teammates on February 12, 2016, bound together with the aim of earning a Statement of Accomplishment in “Design Kit: The Course for Human-Centered Design”, brought to us virtually by Acumen and IDEO.org.  In our first set of prompts, we were asked to discuss “What would you like to learn during the course?” and, frankly, our collective response was that we just wanted to understand what all the HCD talk was about, and whether it is truly a useful new approach. Our skepticism of more rhetoric in the socially responsible business space was reinforced when we explained the reason for our meeting to a seasoned colleague passing by the conference room. He commented, “oh yeah, we were doing human-centered design thirty years ago; we liked to call it ‘business’”, and suggested that “actually talking to the people” for whom you’re designing was nothing novel, but rather should have always been a focus.

With all the buildup around HCD, our team was eager to dive in and start designing, guided by readings, videos and worksheets. The course brought us through three distinct phases:

  • Inspiration Phase: Immerse yourself in the lives of the people you are designing for; Understand their needs and aspirations
  • Ideation Phase
    • Synthesis: Synthesize everything you observed and heard from the people you’re designing for, first identifying learnings, then themes, insights, “how might we” questions, and finally ideas
    • Prototype: Brainstorm new ideas and select the most promising to move forward with; Build prototypes and test the concepts in the community to garner more feedback
  • Implementation Phase: Consider how you would bring your solution to life!

HDC phases

We quickly realized that actively engaging in HCD can be as much about the brainstorming process that IDEO has systemized as the actual act of conducting thorough research. The “ideation” brainstorming workshops were created to rapidly extract and distill as many relevant insights as possible from the field studies we conducted and, in our case, come to identify and answer the question, “How might we help people and businesses recognize the full value and use of food at various stages of freshness?” It didn’t matter whether the ideas that resulted were entirely whacky or overly simplistic. It didn’t matter that we would not realistically be able to get Beyoncé to sing the jingle for our ad campaign to stop food waste. The point was that we exhausted the store of imaginable solutions; we exhausted them quickly; and we finished energized and excited about what was truly actionable.

HCD JesseBy the end of the course, we had conceived of a 26 year old named Jesse living in the Washington, DC neighborhood of Columbia Heights. Jesse’s wasteful shopping and eating habits are shaken by a dedicated stand of less-fresh produce and accompanying ingredients for a delicious recipe in his local supermarket. As the stand rotates its contents on a weekly basis, Jesse becomes more educated on uses of produce at different stages of freshness. One day, Jesse demonstrates that engagement with the food stand and associated cooking competition has resulted in a real transfer of knowledge. When he opens his fridge full of produce he once would have thrown away, he sees the browning bananas, mushy tomatoes, and misshapen peppers as opportunities rather than garbage.

HCD food stand

Jesse’s inception and evolution was guided by the insights gathered from those in the Columbia Heights community as well as feedback from fellow course participants around the world. We also had the opportunity to provide feedback to other teams through the course’s online platform.  Rather than provoking negativity toward projects, the framing of the feedback mechanism simply encouraged teams to reconsider whether “how might we questions” and designs were responsive to the issue at hand, what about the design was unclear, and what was missing. Reflecting on the gaps in other teams’ designs was helpful for pinpointing areas where our own design could be improved.

* * * * *

Given that our pilot food stand was merely hypothetical, we did not have the chance to collect feedback on the actual operation of our conceived food stand. However, this recent escapade in to the world of human-centered design and food justice set me up to be quite impressed by a webinar Transform Finance ran on April 28, 2016. The webinar highlighted People’s Community Market (PCM), a business trying to address the lack of healthy, fresh produce options in West Oakland, CA.  PCM recognizes the opportunity to reduce the amount of produce that is not consumed in West Oakland by virtue of the fact that it’s not aesthetically pleasing, coinciding well with the inspiration for our food stand concept. (A recent documentary called “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story” claims that 40% of everything raised or grown does not get eaten, and that supermarkets dictate strict cosmetic standards of produce they will accept; Imperfect Produce works to deliver “ugly produce” in the Bay area). People’s Community Market, like Jesse’s food stand, is inspired by needs expressed in the community. It is ultimately the product of many interviews and focus groups hosted in West Oakland, the formation of local partnerships, and lessons learned from past experimental ventures in food justice that were not scalable.

What I find most laudable about People’s Community Market is that not only has the operating model been designed with the people of West Oakland at the center, but also the financing structure. To elaborate: “impact investing” opportunities are rarely possible for those who do not qualify as “accredited investors”. For natural persons, this means having an annual income exceeding $200,000 for consecutive years, a net worth exceeding $1 million, or enumerated entities over $5 million (and sometimes investors need to meet the even higher wealth thresholds of “qualified purchasers”). Needless to say, the affluence requirements for most impact investments cut an extremely large portion of West Oakland residents out of the investor pool. PCM’s investment opportunity, on the other hand, has been designed to accept investments as low as $1,000 from California residents as it comes to market as a Direct Public Offering (DPO). With the DPO, People’s Community Market can aggregate financing from those who are both financially and personally invested in West Oakland.

Of PCM’s current 413 shareholders, 16% are accredited while 84% are unaccredited. The shares are advertised with the slogan, “Buy our shares and make a difference in West Oakland”. When asked, “If offered a single insertion of $2 million of venture capital, would you accept it rather than going through the trouble of raising capital through a DPO?” People’s Community Market Founder and CEO, Brahm Ahmadi, said he would still opt for the DPO. While recognizing the downside of the high degree of relationship management involved in aggregating capital from a lot of people, Braham maintained that he believes in the importance of local ownership, and that having community members as shareholders will help keep mission at the center.

Braham’s ambition to keep the operations and the financing of PCP rooted in the community perfectly reflects Enclude’s holistic view of designing both capacity and capital solutions that meet the needs of un(der)served communities as well as the funding profiles of prospective, mission-aligned investors. During a recent company-wide forum, Enclude President and CEO Laurie Spengler said, “We are all lucky to work for a company that is grounded in mission”.  As members of the broader movement toward a more inclusive, sustainable, socially and environmentally responsible economy, we must on an ongoing basis ask the question, “How might we truly ground ourselves in mission?” From ensuring that we listen to the needs of the consumer, to generating excitement for what we are trying to achieve and inspiring creative solutions, to maintaining structures and feedback loops that guard against mission drift. Keeping the tenets of human-centered design at the forefront of our minds and decisions will surely help us execute on our mission of “enclusion”.

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