Design thinking: The next big thing for Kenyan businesses?

Ayushi Chandaria (center) with the winners of the design thinking programme held at USIU on July 20, 2022. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

In the last ten weeks, various students have graduated from a design thinking programme organised by 24-year-old Ayushi Chandaria.

She is a budding entrepreneur and granddaughter of the legendary industrialist Manu Chandaria.

The programme saw 40 participants pitch their business ideas and get mentorship from various successful businessmen including Google Programme Manager John Kimani, Safaricom's Boniface Gitonga, and entertainer Daniel Ndambuki (Mwalimu Churchill), and even Manu Chandaria himself.

In the end, three teams emerged with winning concepts.

Among them were Fasini, a duo team that took second place, while Purple Health Insurance and the African Lens shared first place.

African Lens is an invention of Savannah Kagiri and is a photography-based tech platform that allows photographers at all skill levels to learn, display, as well as earn for their work.

The Fasini team by Arthur Odwor and Joshua Odhiambo presented a peer-to-peer car rental platform that allows people with extra vehicles to make money off renting them. Fasini's focus is to give renters a reliable, secure way to rent cars in their area.

Purple Health Insurance's project involved establishing a micro-insurance platform that allows people within the lowest income brackets access to affordable, refundable and convenient premiums.

Its founders are David Mbehi, Ngatia Muhoya, Irene Maundu and Ricardina Roque.

With knowledge from the design thinking programme, the winners will implement their business ideas through support from Ms Ayushi's networks.

Ayushi described design thinking as a tool that has helped numerous entrepreneurs and engineers come up with successful new products and businesses.

The Stanford alumnus hailed design thinking as a revolutionary way to ensure sustainability and profitability in any business. "Design thinking is about companies putting their customer's desires and needs in the core of the creative process," she said.

She explained that global giants such as Microsoft, Nike, Apple and Tesla, among others apply design thinking in their activities. "It's about moving away from traditional models of innovation, where companies designed products for, and not with the customer."

"Design thinking helps business owners become more valuable, hence more profitable. It's about solving customers' real issues, rather than just selling products for the sake of it," she said.

It emerged that design thinking is the differentiating factor why only a handful of companies get the biggest piece of the earning pie and at the same time spread their influence across the world.

During the ten-week programme, participants also learnt to apply design thinking to their own lives, not just professionally.

"It's not only applicable in business. Even in their personal life issues, people can apply design thinking by identifying obstacles, addressing root causes, reframing solutions and making their lives better in the long-term," she said.

Ayushi described design thinking as focusing on five key steps during the creative process, with the first two being the most important.

Step one is "empathise" which involves learning and where possible experiencing the customer's real problem that requires solutions.

Next is to "define the problem" which according to Ayushi is a tough step which involves diagnosing the root cause, so that the focus is on the real issue and not on its symptoms.

The third step is to "ideate" or "brainstorm" which involves making lists, writing down ideas and generating possible solutions. Step four is to create a plan or build a prototype.

The final step is about testing the idea and seeking feedback from users.