Design for Empowerment Principles

BeGirl, Diana Sierra’s social enterprise, is focused on empowering girls and women in low-income countries. The lack of affordable and effective sanitary products prevents millions of girls from completing their education. In rural Africa, 40% of schoolgirls miss up to 5 school days a month or 25% of the school year, leading to lower performance and a high dropout rate.

BeGirl has just completed pilots in Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania with over 200 girls. 100% of the girls reported full protection from leaks and expressed that they felt safe and confident. 20% of the girls previously missing school reported 100% attendance since they started using BeGirl pads. 40% of the girls expressed relief on being able to walk long distances without the burning of thick cloth rubbing on their skin.

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Diana recently spoke at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Conference, NYU’s School of Education, Culture & Communication, and the Mount Saint Mary Leadership Conference about what drives her.

"Good design is simple, resourceful, aspirational and responsive; but its even more important that design should be inclusive. I believe that every person has the right to feel ownership of products that fill him or her with pride and a sense of dignity.

I believe deeply that the role of design is to improve people’s lives at all levels, regardless of their circumstances and limitations. That is the firm belief that I hold in every project that I take on as a designer.  I consider these to be the 4 basic principles that are the foundation of of inclusive design and design for empowerment:

 1) Empathy and curiosity:  Connect to the user; you will never be able to solve a problem that you cannot relate to. Be curious and make it matter; do not settle with the information you find at first glance, usually the toughest problems to discover are the ones that hide in plain sight.

 2) Resourcefulness and positivism: When facing a challenge instead of thinking in all the things you need to solve it, think in all the possibilities of what you already have.  Limited resources do not mean limited ideas, is just about having a positive attitude and make the best of what you got.

 3) Respect and collaborate: A solution will never be a solution if the person that you want to help does not see it that way. Make the user part of the process, respect their views, aspirations and needs, only through a collaborative process you can create a solution that delivers ownership, pride and change.

 4) Determination and endurance: Having a clever idea to solve a major problem is only 10% of the equation, 90% of the success of you pulling through is in your endurance and resilience. Don’t give up on what you believe and more importantly, be convinced to the core that what you do matters and is crucial for the world!"

- diana sierra