Creating solutions from a Human Centered Design Perspective; with Nadia Laabs

Cassi Lowe
Feb 19 · 5 min read
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Nadia’s corporate career experience in product and business development sparked her interest in human centered design. She carried that passion through to her work at The Impact Collective and SafetyNet Technologies. Her work helps create sustainable and equitable solutions for the people who need them.

Read Nadia’s interview below for her advice on staying focused on the people you’re serving, and her vision for the world based on fairness and equality.

Tell me more about your company and the work that you do.

I wear two hats. At The Impact Collective, we’re a consultancy based organization that works with impact organizations or those that are looking to create social and environmental impact. We help other organizations by integrating with them, but also providing sustainable solutions that can help them after we leave so that they don’t depend on us and need us.

With my other hat, at SafetyNet Technologies, we develop technology to help the fishing industry become more sustainable by creating devices that help fishermen attract the fish they need and want to catch and repel those that they shouldn’t or don’t want to catch. Reducing bycatch, which is the unwanted catch, by up to 90%.

How did you come up with the ideas to start these two different businesses?

With The Impact Collective, I was part of a program here in London called On Purpose, which is a one year social enterprise leadership program. You do consulting projects with different impact organizations for that year, six months at a time. I really liked the style of being able to come in with a set time frame and be able to create the change that was needed during that slot, but then helping them become sustainable afterwards as well. So after the program, a bunch of fellows and I set up The Impact Collective as a post On Purpose contingency where we were able to still work on projects together and bring together people from varied backgrounds and skills and expertise. So, if you need accounting or marketing or strategy or project management, we can create these ad hoc structures that are a bit more versatile for what the client’s needs are.

With SafetyNet Technologies, Dan Watson, who was the original founder, started it at university where he was doing some research on how to help fishermen catch more selectively. Some Scottish fishermen had just been fined and arrested for discarding fish in Norwegian waters, but they didn’t have any technology to help mitigate that. So he was looking, as an engineer, on how we can help build technology and came across these papers from the 70s where scientists were chasing fish in tanks with flashlights and seeing what their reactions were. There was an interesting case there, so he started building some prototypes for these scientists around the world to test those hypotheses and came up with some really interesting results of being able to attract and repel different species of fish. They would react to different variations of light. When I met Dan and he told me about this technology, I was eager to help him bring this to market to make a massive impact in the industry, so I joined as a co-founder and business strategist.

What was your background originally before that?

I started off as a mechanical engineer. My first career was at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati where I was working in Research and Development with a focus on Products Research, so how to translate consumer needs into technical specifications. I really liked the human centered design aspect of it, looking at people’s needs, or our society’s needs, and how we can help solve challenges through products or businesses.

The business side really intrigued me because I thought there were so many ways to help different parts of society, which is altering business models a little bit and helping them become more sustainable for really great, impactful ideas.

I had another job at P&G focusing on the bottom of the pyramid and how we can create products and services to help serve those customers. Then, realizing I didn’t know much about business, decided that I should get an MBA focused on social entrepreneurship. I did that for a year at INSEAD and then following that went into the business world of impact and moved to London.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far throughout your career?

At the end of the day, and maybe because I’m a stickler about this now, but it’s definitely coming from that human centered design aspect. Understanding what the needs are that you’re trying to solve for, or create a solution for, and understanding the root of the problem and the whole context of how it might fit.

There’s a lot of really great ideas out there, but they’re not always necessarily able to be implemented because it might not be exactly right for the context; or likewise, sometimes needs aren’t being met because we’re not really listening to consumers or beneficiaries at the end of the day. Start from that base of understanding the people that you’re serving and how you can create solutions versus coming up with solutions first.

What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?

Being social entrepreneurs who want to save the world, sometimes we get so ambitious and eager about doing it, we kind of forget who we’re doing it for. We’re very creative and want to come up with different ideas. Testing them early on and understanding if the route that you’re taking is the right one. That might involve multiple, multiple iterations, but I think get out there early and start talking and testing your products or services with those that you’re serving.

What is your vision for the future? Either for either of your businesses or for the world or for both?

This actually translates into both of my businesses, hence why I’m working on them. I would like to see a world that’s fair, where there’s equality in all kinds of senses, whether it’s between different classes and systems and diverse groups of people, but also in terms of fairness and equality for all living things in the world. From both a social standpoint but also an environmental standpoint.

What action do you want readers to take?

Get involved. If there’s a passion, sometimes it can seem daunting. This is more to aspiring social entrepreneurs, or those that are interested in it. It can feel quite overwhelming, in terms of what’s already out there, but just get involved, start putting time towards those causes or connecting with people that are in the field that you’re interested in. It never hurts to reach out. I think one of my mom’s favorite sayings is that, “You’ll always have a no, but you can get a yes if you ask.” So it doesn’t hurt to ask. If it relates to anything that I might’ve spoken of that’s of interest, feel free to reach out to me as well.

Find Nadia Online

The Impact Collective: http://theimpactcollective.co

SafetyNet Technologies: http://sntech.co.uk

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nadialaabs

Twitter: @NadiaLaabs

Email: nadia@sntech.co.uk or nadia.laabs@theimpactcollective.co

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