Understanding how people, the planet, and profits work cohesively is a recurring theme in the MDes curriculum. To design responsibly means that we must put a greater emphasis on our process and always be conscious of how our solutions impact the environment and the world around us. The MDes 702 Integration Lab B: Social Responsibility course, asked students to develop and effectively communicate designs for sustainable products and services. Aastha, McKayla, and Yijia investigated the residential biomass burning problem in the rural states of northern India — a deep-seated, cultural issue that is contributing to the extremely dangerous levels of air pollution in Delhi, India. Women are the primary users of biomass fuels, cooking with wood or cow dung in their traditional clay stoves, and are often ridiculed for not readily adopting new, cleaner solutions in their kitchens.
To understand the problem space better, these students conducted qualitative research, talking with a small sample of women currently living in poverty-stricken areas of rural India who would be potential users for their ideal solution. They also consulted industry experts who have learned from or have been directly a part of past initiatives where the adoption of clean energy options in developing countries has ultimately failed. Using a series of tools and frameworks they learned in class, these students were able to identify leverage points within the system where proposed solutions would have the greatest potential for change. Key insights were derived from their research and analysis, and as a final output, Aastha, McKayla and Yijia constructed a comprehensive service blueprint. Their result was a Sustainable Advocacy Program named ‘Agnee,’ which means fire in Hindi and symbolizes power and strength. Their solution addresses why many women are averse to adopting cleaner cooking products, which they found to be rooted in issues related to financial independence, gender disparity, and a struggle to reduce time-poverty. Agnee empowers women and gives them enhanced agency and voice within their communities by connecting them with women’s self-help groups who are sustainable role models in their villages. Ultimately, this service would ask women to be a part of the design process and to not just be passive recipients, and it would advance the lives of these rural women and their families.