Innovating a Better World

Innovating a Better World

Nov 23, 2020


By: Jennifer Simpson 

Almost 10 years ago, I came across Jane Chen, a pioneering entrepreneur who designed an innovative incubator to save children in the developing world.

I first came across Jane’s work on a trip to the Stanford where her class project led to this pioneering invention.  At the time, it struck me as an elegant example of design thinking. Human-centered design helps us innovate solutions that work for people because it reminds us to start by empathizing with a situation—really listening to understand where the challenge lies so that the answers we develop get to root causes and truly solve for the heart of the matter.

Human Centered Design Process

Jane’s class had gone to India looking into designing a better incubator, and soon after arrival discovered plenty of unused incubators in the cities while babies were still dying in rural areas.  Recognizing that the limiting factor was not the technology itself but the fact that both cultural custom and national infrastructure meant that when a baby was born far from a hospital in need of neonatal intensive care, it was unlikely at best that that the family or community would separate the baby from its mother, who was often too weak to travel, and that getting from the village to the city would often require a treacherous journey.  This insight led to the development of a low-cost, light-weight sleeping bag that could be made to keep babies at a stable temperature safe and close to their mothers.

I followed Jane’s career over the years and in 2016 had the privilege of calling her to tell her that she was a SheEO venture finalist and have enjoyed watching her scale and continue innovating not only her product, but her business model over the years.

Last year, I had the chance to speak about innovation at the Prime Health Summit about Jane’s work and the many forms of innovation required to make true system-level progress.  This year has called on all of us to get creative, and the year ahead will demand no less of us. We will need to come up with more and more new technical solutions to staying connected at a distance, continue to reimagine business models that can adapt and evolve in the face of lots of external uncertainties, re-examine how we develop policies that support our collective thriving, and re-write our social contract so that we can build a better future for us all.

If you are facing a challenge that doesn’t seem to have a clear solution, I’ve found both the ideo human-centered design toolkit and the starter kit to be great, thought-provoking resources for thinking creatively about how to build a better world.