My Week’s Discoveries: Healthcare & Design

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the healthcare world for obvious reasons, and have been immersing myself with knowledge from all angles. One of the more fascinating angles is the cross section of healthcare and design. Here’s a couple of my favourite findings:

1) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

It’s been a while since I’ve read a work of fiction and I was highly recommended this book by my Acumen Fund colleagues. I finished this book over the weekend and was so captured by the story, outraged on behalf of the protagonist, delighted by the intensity, and overall overwhelmed at how beautifully written this book was. It’s a story that takes place from Ethiopia to New York, about love, medicine and the intertwining of fate.

We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We’ll leave much unfinished for the next generation

– Cutting for Stone, A. Verghese

2) Butaro Hospital in Rwanda 

When you look at East Africa’s healthcare landscape, Rwanda stands out as a medical success. Health indicators have improved on all counts since the genocide, all primarily due to the success of a universal health insurance, where the poorest 25% of Rwandans get free medical care. One of my favourite things about the Rwandan healthcare landscape is a hospital, Butaro hospital that was designed by MASS Design Group The hospital has no hallways, so patients can’t gather in close spaces, and the air in the wards are changed more than 12 times per hour to prevent patients from being infected by other patients – particularly, with multi-drug-resistant TB.

Image taken from: ArchDaily by Iwan Baan

3) Future of healthcare is Social – Fast Company 

I recently was in Tanzania attending and speaking at a mobile health conference organized by USAID and the MInistry of Health of Tanzania. The theme at hand was the increasing technology and mobile penetration that is changing the health landscape in Africa. There are over 500 mhealth projects deployed around the world with the majority of projects (over 30%) being in Africa. I really enjoyed this article by Fast Company on the increasing social nature that comes along with the increased technology presence in healthcare. Also worth reading is another article by Fast Company, on 5 steps to designing a better healthcare system.

4)  Design for trust – UX Magazine 

Good design isn’t beautiful. Good design builds trust. As an investor, when I evaluate healthcare interventions, I look to see how the service accounts for factors that matter to a person’s dignity: they way they are being treated, training of healthcare staff and accessibility of information. This is especially important when dealing with the poor, who are used to being marginalized, and not receiving proper service. The article is more web-based trust, but relevant nevertheless, when thinking about how you interact with a patient. At the end of the day, when receiving medical news, everyone wants information that is “correct, complete and unbiased.”

7) Designing Handwashing – Core77

An older article, but a goodie in addressing one the most fundamental issues in healthcare: Handwashing. A great read in exploring: Movement Design, Muscle memory, movement scripts and fluidity.

Storytelling & Four Shifting Forces

Back in New York, I attended one of the best Creative Mornings sessions, a captivating talk delivered by Jonathan Harris on the storytelling. I’ve blogged before on deconstructing the power of storytelling, and if you’re looking to understand more about this, Jonathan Harris’ projects are absolutely remarkable. They have ranged from documenting an Eskimo whale hunt to capturing human emotion on the interwebs to interviewing Tibetans on happiness. Here’s his Creative Morning talk and my visual notes from that day:


















So my notes couldn’t quite capture the tail bit of his talk (I basically ran out of space!), but essentially, he highlights key trends that he is observing in our evolving world of tech and storytelling:

1) Rise of Social Engineers: Never before has there been such a small subsection of society ( aka. software developers in tech startups who are having a big effect of millions of human through design of software.

2) Urges & Outcomes: All tech extends some preexisting urge. What is the urge within humans that needs to be enhanced?

3) The Ethics of Code: How can we regulate software? Could there be a self-directed ethnics from the creators of software? This ties in back to point 1 on the responsibilities of a social engineer, given their wide-spread influence.

4) Healers & Dealers: Startups are basically falling into two buckets: healers and dealers. Healers: marketplace companies that connect people. e.g. kickstarter. Dealers: Attention economies that take up your finite resource aka. time by convincing people to spend time on their product/sites. e.g. facebook.


All in all, I was very struck after the end of his talk with this question(s): what kind of presence do you want to have in this world? Am I a healer or a dealer? As our world’s language continues to trend towards a technology-based one, how do we position ourselves to become creators once more, instead of just curators of information?

For now, I suppose I am satisfied with being a Healer in the investment world. The bigger picture of all of this, is wondering, as an investor, what trends in society do I want to help accelerate…

My Week’s Discoveries: Malaysia

So, I’ve been in South East Asia for the past three weeks, namely Malaysia and Singapore. The trip has been long time coming as I haven’t been back to my home country in over five years, and boy – am I ever glad I did. I have never been so inspired, humbled and proud of my fellow countrymen for the incredible work that they are doing in South East Asia. If you have the privilege to be involved with their organizations or have a coffee with these remarkable individuals, I assure you that it will be time well spent. Also, given that today is Independence day in Malaysia, thought it would be timely to share a few of my discoveries with you.

1) Malaysia Social Enterprise Alliance

This is a Malaysian organization for social enterprises and entrepreneurs with solutions to some of the most urgent social problems in Malaysia and globally. One of their more notable endeavors is ChangeWeekend, a 9-10 month program as a facilitative platform that would equip organizations with design thinking and developmental skills. Even more incredible is the driving force behind all of this is a wonderful lady, Ellynita Lamin, who has a heart of gold and is trailblazing her way in this part of the world. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what one of the local newspapers has to say about her work too!

2) Teach for Malaysia 

Teach for Malaysia (TFM) enlists Malaysia’s most promising leaders to improve education in Malaysia. It models after Teach for America, where it is a two-year, fellowship program where fellows are placed in local schools. Besides the fellowship, the team has not only enlisted an incredible amount of support from private and the Ministry of Education, but clear strategy and vision in how fellows can transform Malaysia’s education system from inside out. Change is on the horizon. This initiative is particularly close to home for me as I went through the public education system in Malaysia (yes, just like the adorable kids in the video!) and to get a glimpse of what TFM is up to, check out the video below.

3) Weekend: The Weekend Movement 

This is a community of people that is creating a weekend movement where they come together to build projects, create solutions and bring great ideas to life. So far, their weekends consist of Hack Weekend, Make Weekend and Change Weekend, and I’m sure it doesn’t stop there. The weekends are designed to kickstart innovation and new projects. If you ever are in Malaysia for a weekend that coincides with one of their workshops, definitely don’t hesitate to check it out!

4) Malaysia Design Archive 

This is a beautiful project combining design, history and preservation of culture. The project traces, maps and documents the development of graphic design in Malaysia to protect our visual history. Malaysia’s historical design influences are particularly fascinating as this is a meeting point and cultural crossing of the East and West – from ornate Islamic texts, to Chinese calligraphy and European engravings. As you browse the site, the graphics tell a wonderful story of Malaysia’s cultural transformation. I highly recommend you start here.

5) Other notable mentions:

  • SOLS 24/7: education program in Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, Malaysia and Thailand that has educated over 80,000 youth.
  • Gawad Kalinga: Building communities through tourism, social enterprise, disaster relief, reconstruction and development to end poverty.

Thanks to Ellyne, Shie Haur, Nicole, Tasnim and John for inspiring this post.

Design Gym: Learn design thinking and solve real world problems

How do you solve real world problems with a human-centered lens? How do create a product that is effective and beautiful? Where can you find a community of thinkers that have the skills and process to solve wicked problems? Where do you find an accessible avenue to learn design thinking that is pragmatic and  affordable?

A few months ago, myself and a group of strategists and designers set out to solve this challenges and emerged with a really exciting concept:

The Design Gym, a community of skilled problem solvers through a workshop-driven design thinking curriculum. We partner with organizations to help them approach their problems in a new way by connecting their challenges with our community.

Our inaugural project is a weekend long intensive at the Brooklyn Brainery from July 27th – 29th, 2012. We’re kicking the weekend off on Friday night with beers, networking and an intro to design thinking. Saturday will be a deep dive into the design process, methods and best practices, and finishing off on Sunday with a hands on application of skills solving a real-world problem. Don’t worry if you don’t have a design or strategy background. We’re all here to learn, and see a problem from a different perspective. Sounds like you want to know more? Sign up here, spread the word (we’re on twitter too!) and bring a friend!

If you’re an organization/company/non-profit and are interested in partnering with us, please feel free to email me. I would love to chat with you. If you have any questions, please email me. If you would like to trade stories about the space or learn more about the project or even just to say hi, please email me. I think you get the picture! I will reply! Seriously.

A huge shoutout to my team, who are kick-ass all round. Go stalk them: Andrew Hagerman, Daniel Stillman, Jason Wisdom & Miles Begin.

One Book Per Week: Tumblring My Findings

Since coming to New York, I’ve developed a healthy habit of reading on the subway going to and fro from meetings. My Kindle has made it a lot easier to read in a packed subway car and my expanded networks have provided me a wealth of books to add to my reading list. After a conversation with a good friend who inspired a goal setting quest, I decided to embark on a One Book Per Week Project – where I would read a book a week as a personal self-development goal. It has been two months in, and I am pleased to share that reading is firmly back in life and can officially say that I have read all the books on my shelf. I’ve added some of the books that I read and loved to my Book List but more than that, I would love for my readings and discoveries to be shared in a more public way. Hence, going forward, I will be doing this in two ways:

1) Tumblr

I started a tumblr where I would post quotes and highlights from books that I am currently reading. Majority of my readings are now done on my Kindle and thanks to this awesome tool called:, all the highlights from my Kindle readings will be shared to my tumblr. Quotes Galore aka. my personal quote bank and tracking of books that I am currently reading. Below is a snapshot of I definitely recommend that you check it out!

2) Moleskin Book Visualization 

One of the skills that I have been working on is the Art of Visual Thinking. I am naturally a visual leaner, but the art of translating thought and complex ideas into pictures is a completely different thing. Hence, to help me along with this learning process, I decided to combine it with my One Book Per Week Project. I bought some brand new moleskins and will be summarizing up the books I am reading into one page in my moleskin. This not only enables pushes my ability to retain information, but also allows me to piece together the book in my own way.

My Week’s discoveries: Creativity

I’ve been expanding my reading, watching and learning horizon to different type of projects and must say I’m becoming quite the creative/innovation junkie. It’s amazing what individuals can come up with and thought I’ll share some creative videos/projects that have crossed my path:

1) Future of the book by IDEO

I love reading and am a hoarder of books and ideas. This brilliant UX project by IDEO links together discussions and debates along with the book’s content to enhance your reading experience. An interesting way to increase the popularity of digital books too. Full disclosure: I own a Kindle and it has single handedly changed my reading frequency and patterns.

2) Chemical Reactions

This one I found absolutely hilarious and what better way to make chemistry fun! Real life chemical reactions! I’m bookmarking this idea for the next “how to make complicated and boring things fun” project I work on. I definitely see a clever marketing/branding concept in this.

3) Speed Painting

I’ve began a tentative foray into the art world and came across this artist: Agnes Cecile and became captivated by her work. The video above was a collaboration with an Italian fashion designer. I used to spend alot of time in my childhood, painting using water colour and her work just reaffirms my need to get more in touch with my artistic side.

Sidenote: If you’re looking for creative inspiration, check out portfolios on Behance. It’s like crack.

My Week’s Discoveries: Storytelling Resources

Update (April 17, 2012): Guess what? I found more awesome resources to add to the list!

1) MapStory – A crowdsourced platform where the global community shares stories. 

Mapstory allows anyone and everyone to create, share and collaborate on stories to improve our understanding of global dynamics, worldwide, over the course of history. The cool component about MapStory is the “Story Layer” feature, where you can layer on maps, data, etc. onto other stories or create a stories by combining several different layers.

2) DefineAmerican.comPlatform discussing the immigration debate in America

This platform tackles a specific problem in America – the immigration system. It uses stories to bring in new voices into the immigration conversation. The platform is started by Jose Antonio Vargas, an award winning journalist who came out as an illegal immigrant. HIghly inspiring. In the stories section of the website, the public writes in, sharing their stories and opinion on the immigration debate. Definitely worth sending in your story too, and have your say about the DREAM Act.


Given that I spent most of my time last week researching about storytelling, my (last) week’s discoveries are all storytelling related. Below is a small collection of tools, platforms, posts and resources centered around storytelling.

1) Cowbird – A Witness to Life 

Out of my many start-up ideas, one of them that I loved the most was to have a storytelling platform where people could share fiction and non-fiction accounts of their lives. Then after sharing this idea over coffee with an interaction designer friend of mine, Tony Chu, he informed me of this seriously kick-ass platform called Cowbird. When I checked it out, it was almost exactly what I imagined for; using storytelling as a short short-term goal is to pioneer a new form of participatory journalism, grounded in the simple human stories behind major news events. Cowbird’s long-term goal is to build a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons. I promptly signed up for an account after checking this out. You should too.

2) Story Pirates 

This is a education and media organization targeted towards encouraging kids to write stories. Story Pirates encourages creativity by then bringing these stories to life – through plays, stand up and different forms of performances. They’re most famous for the Idea Storm Program – a writing workshop that is followed by a musical sketch comedy featuring stories by students and performed by professional artist. Super fun.

3) – The starter guide to nonprofit video storytelling

A really comprehensive  resource for nonprofits to ending bad videos. This is put together by CauseVox and ListenIn Pictures, two great organizations that are in the nonprofit space and who were also on the Be Social Change Panel in my previous post. If you’re a nonprofit and looking to spread your message via video – this is a must read. Did I mention it’s free too?

4) Get Storied – Teaching Entrepreneurs how to tell their story 

So apparently storytelling is an actual consulting business, and Get Storied managed to do this. They have a great manifesto and offer advisory services & various storytelling program. Next week is their Reinvention Summit 2: An online conference for storytelling in the digital age. An intriguing concept that allows for scale and low operational costs. also has a great list of storytelling books to check out here. A book that is not on the list or related to that is on my personal to-read list is: Resonate: Visual stories that transform audiences.

5) IDEO Human Centered Design (HCD) Connect

It’s not secret that I love IDEO’s work and last week, the HCD Connect was launched, a platform where the public takes on the world’s challenges by sharing stories, questions and resources. I haven’t gotten around to playing with the platform yet but my immediate impression is that it is pretty similar-ish to OpenIDEO to solve global challenges using crowd intelligence. I’ll let you know my full thoughts once I’ve had the time to play around, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

6) And finally… a plethora of other storytelling resources/articles that was compiled by Rob Wu of CauseVox. Knock yourself out. (Tip: I would start with Blair Miller’s next phase of storytelling)

(De)Constructing the Power of Storytelling

“Of all our truest hopes and desires for our work is that, what we find, we ourselves never knew. It came as a shock. It came as a surprise. It was new. We could never have known what we were going to do before we did it, and in that sense, we discover too. Here is what I’ve got to say to you: there are things in your life you will see; there are stories you will hear; if you don’t write them down, if you don’t make the picture, they won’t get seen, they won’t get told.” – Emmet Gowin

Stories have always been essential to the human condition. I’ve written before  on how stories are a window into how we perceive the world around us. Lately, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the role of stories and their importance in generating engagement, empathy and to deliver insights about people and behaviour. A great event by Be Social Change on the Power of Narrative on Creating Impact that I attended recently really helped complete some of the reflections that I have been mulling over, and thought I’ll share some of my thoughts:

Be Social Change Storytelling event. Panelists on the RHS. Photo taken by: Alex Mora from Xelaarom Photography

1) Practical applications: Co-creation of a story

The are two main categories of stories that are told: our own stories and stories on behalf of someone/something. In both circumstances, elements of a memorable stories usually starts with Authenticity, bridged by Narrative Transport and ending with Combined Relevance (a component that the audience can relate to). Stories can be practically used by product storytellers, community architects and in virtually almost any position that calls for value connection with your audience. The role of a storyteller is not meant to replace the marketer, brand strategist or founder. Instead, they dwell in the realm of synthesizing the overall picture, mold the value proposition and know what entry points in current conversations that they can enter into. They are connectors who look for the puzzle pieces and bring them together in frameworks that inspire appropriate solutions.

To a certain extent, stories are a moral and value compass. Our own stories that we tell help us understand our own world better, and the stories we tell on behalf of others ensure that we have enough insight to an organization/product’s value that we stay on the right path. The reason why I believe it to be a compass is because if you are not moved (to action/direction or emotionally) by your own story, why should someone else be moved by it too?

2) Framing a narrative

A good story holds so much emotional complexity. A really importance point to distinguish (and you’ll be surprised by how many people misunderstand this!) is that stories are NOT an opinion, bullet points, or articles. They are a moment in time, an experience. At the event, Annie Escobar, co-founder of  ListenIn Pictures, a media company that crafts cinematic stories to inspire action (Their mission is to end bad non-profit video!), shared some of the ways that she uses to (re)frame a narrative via the: challenge plot, connection plot, creativity plot or empathy plot. Non-profit tend to gravitate towards the empathy/sympathy plot (highly overrated these days) and I would like to (re)frame this approach by saying that non-profits should tell stories that come from a place of empathy instead of just evoking sympathy.

A great way to deconstruct a narrative is to use Simon Sinek’s Start With Why Golden Circle. Simon explains in his book that we need to start looking at ideas, systems and in this context – stories with a clear and purposeful outlook: “WHY?”

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. A company needs to say and do only what they believe. If what you do, doesn’t prove what you believe, then no one will know your “why” and you will be forced to compete on price, service, quality, features and benefits, the stuff of commodities…” -Simon Sinek, Start With Why

3) A Storyteller’s responsibilities and characteristics

A great storyteller can be powerful influencer… and with great power, comes great responsibility (yes, I totally just quoted spiderman!). Blair Miller, Acumen Fund’s Leadership Manager (including Acumen’s Fellows Program) wrote a great piece a while back emphasizing on a storyteller’s responsibilities as the next phase of storytelling. She highlighted three responsibilities: storytellers must be dynamic, must come from a place of empathy and must uncover ways to be replaceable. I would like to build on her piece that on top of those responsibilities, great storytellers should have these two characteristics:

i) Unrelentingly curious – someone who is inquisitive, loves to learn about others and uncover the ‘other side of the story’. He/she should have the humility to connect with everyone and anyone and know that the story they are telling is one chapter out of tens of dozens.

ii) Provocatively immaginative – someone who has the imagination powerful enough to see a moment/experience and able to (re)frame it into a compelling story. He/She knows when to ask the right questions, when to hold back and when to dig deeper.

Constructing a prezi presentation

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of presenting the VANCOUVER+acumen/Acumen Fund model to an impact investing meetup in Vancouver. It was also the first time I was on a panel of speakers and it was a really humbling experience to be there with other passionate/knowledgable people working in the Vancouver impact investing space. I would like to share my prezi presentation that I gave that day as well as couple of notes that I have picked up along the way from building my fair share of prezi presentations.

1) Build a picture: Prezi is a fantastic tool when you are trying to present a concept as an overall vision. It adds the dimension of space to the presentation which is a blessing in disguise. I find the best prezi presentation is a picture that you build in an audience’s mind. When the presentation is finished, it really should be a complete single picture with a few takeaways. This is the most important differentiation point on why you should pick prezi over keynote: when you want to construct a visual picture as opposed to a linear flow of ideas.

2) Draw out your presentation: When constructing this presentation, I spent a long time beforehand thinking about what I wanted my final picture to be. I knew the message I wanted to deliver: the acumen story in two parts – the business/investment process and moral leadership. How that information is presented is a different story. I chose a mountain and split my presentation to show the first part and then unveil the lower half of the mountain as the second story.

3) Construct your path: I love the zooming ability of prezi, and when used properly, can really add alot of impact to your presentation. My two favourite ways of using this tool is the ability to give a sense of diving into something, or moving from one concept to another (think – movie reel). I personally haven’t been able to find an effective way of using the tool that rotates words (unless its surrounding a circle) as I find that it disrupts the flow path instead of adding (I’ve had feedback where I was overly excited and use it too much – people actually became dizzy with the zooming in and out).

Hence, this tool really should then be used to unveil layers (think – Inception dream layers) in your presentation – however deep you want to dive. Keep the layers consistent working from big –> small, or in my presentation above, I chose to go small –> big. For my presentation the 3 layers I wanted to create was moving from the core of Acumen – creating a world beyond poverty, to the how of their business model, building on that to their complete picture which includes moral leadership, and finally the overall call to action of getting involved with Vancouver for Acumen.

If you’re interested in getting in touch to learn more about VANCOUVER+acumen/Acumen Fund, please feel free to be in touch!

Note: The pictures in my prezi is an Acumen investment: WaterHealth International. You can read more about them here.

*All pictures and images are the property of VANCOUVER+acumen and Acumen Fund. 

Design at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Segmenting the Base

I currently work in the financial sector, specifically asset management – and although the nature of my work doesn’t really focus on the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP), I’ve made it my personal mission apart from work to be absorbing, learning, writing, designing, discussing, reading, and (insert other synonyms of previously listed adjectives here) issues at the BoP… and somewhere in that discovery have found a sweet spot in social enterprises and impact investing.

What I have been drawing on my current position and my research on the side is an interesting perspective from both ends of the specturm: capitalist vs. social. I did want to share today (coming from this double ended perspective) is my practical idealism and thoughts on answering the question of: How can I design/frame/create solution(s) that would help the BoP improve their standard of living. (I was also inspired by this post on OpenIDEO on designing for low-income communities)

This question has been one that has been asked over and over again and I would like to throw my thoughts into the stirring pot particularly in the area of segmenting the BoP.  This would be Part 1 of X and I would like to preface my thoughts by stating that the most important piece in this design is designing the solution around the terms of the BoP – taking into account culture, resources, country mentality/beliefs, business environment and politics. Anything that we design or create to help this segment has to be very very good and on their terms in order to be sustainable ( although now I wonder whether this is even possible – after all capitalism is a broken structure in itself. But I digress!).

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jametiks

I have narrowed it down into three ways to segment the BoP:

1) Living Standard:

Those living at the BoP can be sliced into three main categories: Low Income – $3-$5 a day; Subsistence – $1 – $3 a day; and Extreme poverty – Under $1 a day. Often, this ecosystem is overlooked and are lumped into one. Most aid, social enterprises and businesses only affect the Low Income portion of the segment as they provide affordable services and products that require a financial exchange. If some businesses are really lucky, they get to skim on the surface of the subsistence group with enough scale and good management. Some social or local enterprises manage to hit this second group indirectly through local community or supply chain engagement. As for those in extreme poverty, lack of nutrition, finances and limited education make them the most vulnerable. This is where governmental relief programs and non-profits step in. So how can we design social businesses that target all three groups?

I know some businesses hope to achieve this by scale, but perhaps another way to look at it would be to design into the business structure from the start a waterfall effect of each group helping to elevate the next as they are being given a hand up.

2) Value-Creation

Another way of segmenting the BoP is through value creation: consumers, producers and co-producers. By understanding the roles we play in the pyramid, we can then understand the incentives that drive each group. Income, basic needs, material wants. The first two groups are self-explanatory. However, the third requires more than just business structure. It requires a shift in our perspective and approach and considering the poor as equals in our shared humanity. We are co-producers and the BoP are no longer receivers of what we give them. This third value-creation group is perhaps the most important as numerous businesses have stumbled by failing to understand their role as a co-creator of value. All too often, they see their responsibilities end with the provision of a service or product but really, their role is so much more.

When I was working on the ground with an orphanage in Soweto, South Africa one of the key lessons I took away was to always know where you are creating value and to never try to be everything to everyone. You often find in brainstorm sessions that everyone always has a vision to be the hub, to offer everything – which is what I saw in this orphanage. They wanted to help kids with nutrition, provide money for education, counselling and often you’ll find in development sectors, there will always be something to do and to help in. Before you know it, you’ll be running around trying to catching all the falling pieces and wonder how you even got there in the first place. The key is knowing where we can design value. It might only be in one area – and that’s ok!

3) Need – Classification

The final segmentation is by need, and really draws on the first two to set a base of what is required. Needs classification breaks down into more macro pieces like: education, nutrition, housing, health, technology. Because the BoP’s needs are many, a business who is segmenting by this sector should enter a community by providing outstanding understanding of value…and that value should be a hand up for sustainability and empowerment.

Segmenting by need also means that the business’s ability to design the intersection of social and comercial value matters even more. This is because designing needs, means partnerships with other organizations, governments or businesses who might not have the same vision as we do.


What’s exciting is that at the end of the day, a new future is slowly being designed and sculpted in both developing and industrialized countries exploring the Base of the Pyramid. Now it’s really up to us to make sure we’re designing it right with all the right pieces in mind.