Kate Hanisian and Ramsey Ford cofounded Design Impact in 2009 to establish a partnership between professional designers in the United States and community organizations in western and southern India in need of good design to promote and market social enterprise ideas.
What spurred you to start Design Impact and what was your vision?
Ramsey had an interest in using his professional design experience in a public interest capacity, and in my work in the social sector, I became aware of just how plagued nonprofits are by trying to address huge social issues with incredibly scarce resources. Together, we decided that Design Impact could provide design services to grassroots organizations that work closely with communities affected by poverty.
How did you test your enterprise-as-social-change-agent model?
We moved to Thiruchuli, India, and over two years, took two rough concepts and moved them toward fully developed social enterprises: a smokeless charcoal briquette to reduce indoor air pollution from wood fires, and a fair-trade soap enterprise to employ disadvantaged women. We had teams that included villagers who were experts in user behavior, but who had little formal education and spoke no English, collaborating with CEOs who were incredibly successful in their careers, but had no understanding of what it meant to design solutions for rural Indians. We learned a ton during this time about what worked, what didn’t, and our own personal and professional limitations.
Any plans to expand what Design Impact is doing to another locale?
Cincinnati! Both Ramsey and I are from here and have always wanted to work on innovative projects in Cincinnati’s social sector. We’re in the process of researching the local landscape and figuring out how our model might contribute to ongoing local efforts.
Photograph by Ryan Kurtz