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Catapult Design: Engineering Humanity

| Monday March 16th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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The concept of for-profit philanthropy does not center solely around revenue-generating entities. Part of the schema is a transformational approach to business whereby funds are re-allocated toward the greater good. This includes non-profit companies whose services are geared specifically toward social innovations that are helping to alleviate some of the biggest issues facing our world.
Catapult Design is a non-profit design consultancy that provides engineering and implementation support to organizations in need of technologies or products capable of igniting social change. To achieve that, they leverage partnerships with for-profit companies that have the capacity to bring their solutions to scale, and then their product development, in-country implementation and evaluation services are sold for a fee negotiated on a client-by-client basis. By creating a sustainable flow of funds through for-profit alliances, grants and donations, they can provide services to those who would otherwise not be able to afford them, and in doing so, engineer the systems and processes to positively impact human-centered activities that help people and nations thrive. Catapult Design is doing more than just drafting blueprints — they’re architecting a better world.


1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
While Catapult is a non-profit company, we do charge for our services and our clients include both for-profit and non-profit organizations. For us, for-profit philanthropy is engaging in some of the most compelling project work that positively benefits humanity without the sacrifice that one typically associates with that line or work. Everyone on our team has spent years, both working in the Silicon Valley product development world, and volunteering with organizations like Engineers Without Borders. Catapult is the combination of that design consulting business model with the clientele and projects associated with humanitarian organizations. We are design firm with a humanitarian mission.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
As a non-profit organization, Catapult’s operations are funded by consulting fees as well as grants and donations. We’re conscientious of the fact that some of the organizations we’d like to work with might not yet have the capacity to pay. As such, our rates for those organizations are subsidized by grants and donations. Each client is carefully vetted for impact potential and their capacity to commit the time we need with them to complete the project.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
We have many customers – our clients, our end-users, our donors, etc. The bottom line for each is conveying the impact of good design. We do this through exemplary case studies, testimonies, and are working on a video series.
One of our favorite examples, also on our website, is the dilemma of a simple water filter. Man has known how to create clean water for generations yet the majority of our world’s population still lacks it. Low-cost solutions are available. The information is accessible. In fact, hundreds of water filtrations systems are installed each year in impoverished communities and many of them fail. Why? We believe current development efforts are too focused on technological feats and not enough on the needs of the end-user and applying the lessons of why these technologies fail.
We try to paint the picture of a world where thousands of designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs focus their efforts on the world’s most basic problems – clean water, electricity, shelter, food-security. That’s the sort catalyst effect we’d like to create.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
There are multitudes of people with books on the topic that could answer this question more thoughtfully than myself. “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” comes to mind.
My basic human nature wants to find a way to contribute to society. If I can do that as part of my day-to-day work for my company – that makes me feel good. I know I’m not alone in this line of thinking. It’s great inspiration for employees.
The second good reason for doing so is because it’s just plain hard. The challenges I faced in my last job designing remote controls is easy compared to designing a wind-turbine for families in rural off-the-grid communities. Sure, the technology exists, but the challenge is in the new set of constraints. How do I make that technology affordable for a family that makes $800 per year? How do I evaluate the user-experience when I have no understanding of their lifestyle? These challenges and constraints are a new source of innovation.
Lastly, it’s just good karma.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
We stress the importance of having a clear business plan behind each endeavor, which is still not a common mindset in philanthropic work. That plan should include the market research, the plan for implementation, and how impact/success is measured.
We recognize that we offer a valuable service. Our service is best leveraged by organizations that have the capacity to create the most impact with that service. Catapult is only ever as good as the clients with whom it chooses to work. If our client isn’t capable of using the product/technology we design to generate lasting impact, then what have we done all this work for? In that sense, we are investors. And, as such, it is in our best interest to apply a sustainable business-oriented lens to each project.
Name: Heather Fleming
Title: Founder and CEO
Company: Catapult Design
Website: http://catapultdesign.org
Contact: heather@catapultdesign.org


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