To better support innovative organizations and entrepreneurs, IDEO.org and the Wasserman Foundation have established an Innovation Fund, a new program that will enable IDEO.org to provide catalytic design services to select organizations with bold ideas and high potential for scale. Through the Innovation Fund, IDEO.org will work with early stage organizations, with bold innovations needing design support to accelerate scale, or later-stage organizations requiring design support, to explore new opportunities for social innovation. IDEO.org will help these organizations tackle design challenges related to products, services, and business model innovation. For example, through the Innovation Fund, IDEO.org might work with a domestic community-based organization to bring lending circles for low-income customers online.
IDEO.org will run an annual competition to select organizations with which to partner through the Innovation Fund. Candidate organizations will be sourced from partner foundations and start-up accelerators, such as the Skoll Foundation and iHub, which will nominate organizations to apply for the opportunity. Eligible organizations can be working domestically or internationally, and they can also be either social enterprises or nonprofit organizations, as long as they are mission-driven and working to improve the lives of those in low-income communities.
Out of the pool of applicants, IDEO.org will select up to four organizations to participate in two-week design deep dives, in which IDEO.org deploys a full-time team of three multi-disciplinary designers to further assesses the organization's fit with the goals of the Innovation Fund, while beginning to help the organization overcome design challenges that are a barrier to its scale and impact.
After the deep dives, IDEO.org will select two organizations to partner with on a more substantive six-to-eight week engagement. During these engagements, a team of designers will help the organization tackle the design challenge that was initially explored during the two-week deep dives. Innovation Fund designers will be tailored to meet the needs of each partner and their design challenge. IDEO.org's team of designers includes a journalist, social entrepreneur, global health specialist, mechanical engineer, information designer, product designer, and industrial designer.
In July 2012, IDEO.org selected 10 partners to source nominations for the first cycle of the Innovation Fund. Those partners nominated over 55 organizations to apply, of which 27 submitted applications on August 17, 2012. IDEO.org is currently reviewing applications.
In September 2012, a Selection Committee comprised of designers from IDEO.org and IDEO and external social enterprise experts, will meet to select a small pool of applicants to interview. IDEO.org will interview organizations and then announce four finalists, who will each participate in the two-week design deep dives in November and December 2012. In January 2013, IDEO.org will announce the two organizations that will partner with IDEO.org for deeper six to eight-week engagements, which will take place in Spring 2013.
From Summer 2013 through 2015, IDEO.org will conduct additional open cycles of the Innovation Fund competition with a similar timeline and deliverables as above. This will enable IDEO.org to provide design deep dives to a total of up to 12 organizations and provide six to eight-week engagements to a total of up to 6 organizations.
The rates of poverty across the world are staggering: more than 43 percent of people in developing countries and 15.1 percent of people in the United States live below the poverty line ($2 a day in developing countries and $23,050 for a family for in the United States, World Bank and US Census Bureau). In order to solve the world's most intractable poverty-related challenges, the world needs both new solutions and increased scalability from those solutions that already exist. IDEO.org believes that design and innovation play a critical role in developing and accelerating solutions capable of significant and lasting impact on poverty. A design approach helps organizations come to a deeper understanding of the people they serve and then develop, rapidly test, and iterate upon solutions that better address these peoples' needs and aspirations.
However, the field of design for social impact is still fairly nascent. There are limited numbers of designers working in the social sector and a limited number of organizations working to improve the ecosystem for bringing design into the social sector. Consequently, many entrepreneurs and organizations whose solutions would otherwise benefit from design are left without access to design resources, either because these resources are not available or not affordable.