Design Workshop in Rwanda for Slush GIA together with The Shortcut.

Michihito Mizutani
Dec 2, 2018 · 5 min read
City of Kigali taken from the venue

Slush Global Impact Accelerator visits several emerging countries this year to help local start-ups to develop their business ideas. Slush GIA had already been to Nigeria and Kosovo, and on September it was time for Rwanda. When Slush and The Shortcut contacted me during my summer holiday, I had never imagined myself visiting Rwanda. However, I took up the challenge and a few months later I was standing in an African city, ready to give an insight on design processes.

There are many bike taxis and bicycles.

The design workshop at Impact Hub Kigali

The design workshop was held at Impact Hub Kigali, and the attendees were 10 start-ups. In Rwanda, the agricultural sector takes up one-third of the GDP, so it was quite natural that many of the start-ups were focused on the agriculture. The start-ups are trying to tackle the most common agriculture-related problems in Rwanda, which are:

The venue was on the top floor with a nice view
Staircase to the top floor
The venue

1) water distribution on the fields

2) transportation

3) storing of products from farms.

For example, the Volta Irrigation has been helping small farmers to get water to their farms in a cheaper and more accessible way. They mentioned that on average a farm spends $90 just for irrigation — which is a lot of money for a small farmer. Another example is the start-up Stes Group, which provides IoT solutions in order to improve the productivity of the farms.

Even though there is supply and demand of the crops, the country has had difficulties in developing infrastructure in many areas. This results in suppliers not being able to sell their products in their optimal time box because of the lacking transportation networks, and in the end, the crop turns into waste. The FreshBox team mentioned that about 40% of the harvest is wasted due to this problem, so the start-up tries to provide affordable storage spaces for farmers. The infrastructure-related issues have also been the foundation of Ironji which connects people who make the products, people who need the products, and people who can deliver the products through their online services. If there isn’t good enough infrastructure to transport goods and people, the products need to stay in one place for a long time, which requires space. I found out that there have been similar challenges for over 50 years in Rwanda.

Another interesting finding is that the Fafitek team discovered that a lot of fresh water is lost due to leakages. The team wants to reduce the waste by using IoT technology.

Participants working in groups

Creating visions through user-centric design

I wanted to teach the participants how to do the exercises independently after my visit, and therefore I designed all the hands-on exercises to be easy, quick, and inexpensive. As a task, I chose a walk-through of a common design process:

Empathise > Define the problem > Ideate > Prototype > Test.

I provided a hands-on exercise for each step so that the participants could learn the process by doing.

The workshop participants had good challenges and business ideas on how to improve Rwanda’s economy and people’s life. However, they seemed to miss the tools on how to get started. I was surprised that many participants wrote down the name of a company when I asked them “who is your target user?”. I could deduct that some of the people had not properly investigated to whom they are selling their products and services. By utilizing the Empathy map exercise the participants were given tools for examining this aspect in depth. The SAP Scenes also helped them to create customer experience and touch points through a journey.

Making a customer journey using SAP Scenes

I often describe the design process to be like climbing on a mountain. It is important to draw out the common vision in a collaborative design process, as otherwise, we don’t know on which mountain to climb. To illustrate the common vision, I have been using the Tomorrow Headlines exercise. Making a vision together often results in difficult discussions, but I asked all the participants: “What would be the headline you want to see in a popular newspaper when your business becomes a big success?”. With a mind game like this, the discussion seemed to be more fun as everyone started to dream about success and reflect their future to the headline. It was a long day, but the participants seemed to enjoy making “quick but clickable” prototypes at the end of the workshop.

Paper prototyping

How to share our design know-how

There are a lot of design-related events organised in Helsinki every week. Similar activities could happen in Rwanda as well, but as for now, these start-ups are unsupported by their communities. For example, a design workshop was something completely new for many participants.

To help the Rwandan start-ups, designers in e.g. Helsinki could bring in good insights and know-how over, say, a Skype call. Even though start-ups in Rwanda have different challenges from ours, they could easily learn the structures and practices of how to run a design process. I think sharing makes all of us more competitive in our businesses, so sharing our knowledge to developing countries is a good thing.

I also noticed “consumer-centric business” is new for many start-ups. This is something that design needs to prove as a valid viewpoint over time. I hope that my workshop provided some tools for user-centric design and encouraged people to learn by doing in their business.

You can also find another story about the design workshop in Namibia.

The Shortcut Talks

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