The Nursery Project

How I used design-thinking to create a sustainable business in Ghana.


The Challenge: Design and launch a locally owned, sustainable, scalable business that addresses a social challenge in a Ghanaian community, using a human centered design process and Think Impact’s asset-based approach to development.

My Approach: I immersed myself in a rural community for eight weeks, assembled a five person team of skilled locals and led them through an innovation process to create a low-cost, local cocoa nursery.

Our Results: The cocoa nursery this team created reduced the money and labor required for new cocoa plants by 80% This reduction allows more people to afford access to cocoa seedlings and invest their saved money for nutritious meals and other local investments.

The Design Process

Seeking a deep understanding of the local community allowed me to experience a variety of compelling perspectives and challenges. To understand Kwame Dwaa, Ghana, I lived with a local family and spent the first two weeks building empathy through interviews, shadowing, active observation, building character profiles, and mapping transactions.

In collaboration with other ThinkImpact scholars and the local community we integrated our research into large asset maps. After two weeks we facilitated a community wide mapping event, using the same asset map approach. This gave us a holistic view of the local resources, transactions, and motivations. We also utilized this information to identify potential co-workers for our project.

I assembled a design team of skilled individuals and led them in activities that facilitated creative thinking about their available resources and talents. I innovated hands-on activities where members were inspired to discover multiple uses for common materials such as water bottles and bamboo. This helped the team see the potential for radical new businesses.

We identified a shared challenge: access to cocoa farming inputs, and then listed the assets and networks surrounding the issue. When the idea of a local cocoa nursery emerged, we drew a storyboard to visually describe how this issue affects the community and how our solution provides a sustainable answer.

Once the team had agreed on a collective action plan, we set out prototyping our nursery by building a small one near the village center that attracted curiosity and enthusiasm. By building a prototype first, we were able to discover environmental hiccups and forge the best plan of action for a larger nursery. Since most materials were readily available locally our only monetary investment cost was for nails.

With a well-tested product and plenty of feedback, we established a plan covering the construction, individual roles, and marketing strategies for the new nursery. We presented our plan at a community exhibition alongside other innovations from Think Impact scholars.

In collaboration with Self Help International, the cocoa nursery was provided with more inputs to start a large-scale operation. The local founders of the nursery are nearing their first harvest of 6000 cocoa plants that will provide the community with a stable source of income.

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