Vision 2020: Top 3 Design-Think Challenges for India

AngelHack 2019 Hackathon: 160 sleep-deprived participants over 32 teams in Delhi. Running on rocket-fuel overnight to compete for the most innovative ideas

Sure! You could make a billion-dollar startup. But am always disappointed by the challenges that startup teams choose when am out mentoring, conducting Design workshops, or as part of a jury at a hackathon. C’mon folks, once you launch a startup, you are taking huge risks with careers, your finances, mental peace, and taking on unimaginable stress. At least choose a problem that will have a significant impact on the lives of people. Learn to think this way: you could make a billion-dollar startup and have a positive impact on a real-world issue that impacts the 1.3 billion people of India. So let’s call this Vision 2020 as it is already going to become a terrible pun for the next decade. And let’s set our eyes on the top 3 challenges and opportunities facing India that need you to come up with some brilliant Design-Thinking.

Design-Think 1: Health Creates Wealth

According to IBEF.org the Indian healthcare industry “is expected to reach USD 372 billion by 2022.” If you search the web, you may find articles on the top healthcare startups from India driving huge revenue and impact. Here is one for instance from Ink42 with the list being led by cure.fit, DocsApp and Forus Health. The Design-Think challenges to solve in India are huge and diverse. Focus on the people, their diversity, economic disparity, the poor ratio of patient-to-hospital-bed, and the outbreak of diseases. Look at child-birth, women hygiene, medical tourism, rural medicine, affordable diagnostics, insurance. The list is endless. Here are my top 3 Design-Think guidelines for Health challenges that often seem overlooked in startups:

  • Ethics and Transparancy: How many of you actually feel you can trust your doctor and the call for diagnostics? That the medicines are not spurious or fake? This is a big-ticket design challenge and whoever cracks this is sitting on a gold-mine
  • Privacy: A patient’s crucial and private medical-data is being harvested every time a lab-report or a diagnosis is whatsapped by the patient or the doctor. I am truly appalled at the amount of patient-data that is harvested or leaked by players within the healthcare and insurance industry. Yes we need strong government regulation, like HIPAA in the United States, but we also need startups that help us from getting our privacy invaded when we are at our most vulnerable. Case-in-point: All those doctor-appointment booking apps, I have no idea how my data is being harvested and even sold. And I do not have an opt-out option.
  • AYUSH: India is at the forefront in the world of offering various medicine-systems and not just allopathy. For instance, our government has AYUSH that officially recognizes Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Naturopathy, and Homeopathy. Couple this with medical-tourism as also the need for affordable healthcare, indigenous knowledge, the dilemma and fight against the medicine patent system, and you’ve got opportunities that can scale from India and sweep across the world.

Design-Think Challenge in Health: Neglected Rural Population

So, you want one random, Design-Think challenge? Solve the problem for the neglected rural population of India. According to KPMG, 75% of India’s doctors focus on 30% of the population, the one that resides in urban India. That’s just about 442 million people. That still leaves a population close to a billion people, taken care of by the rest 25% of doctors. The rural population of India also suffers from access to public hospitals, affordable diagnostics, medicines, and a lack of insurance.

Design-Think 02: Unemployment

India has an unemployment rate of 6.2% and it further spiked in Feb 2019 to 7.1%. Accurate, credible, and verifiable data on unemployment in India is hard to come by. However, no one disputes that there are some specific aspects of Unemployment that need deep Design-Thinking:

  • Educated Unemployment: This is a peculiar problem of India. Education is not related to jobs. Some interesting factoids to chew over are in this article by The Hindu.
  • 94% of Engineering Graduates Unfit for Employment: This figure may sound controversial and was initially disputed. A McKinsey report pegged that figure to around 75% around a decade ago. Since then India has had low-quality and sub-standard engineering insitutues mushrooming across the landscape, and the industry is beginning to realize that figure is not off the mark. Take a look at this article by EconomicTimes.
  • Skills-gap Report: Sorted by industry and state, here is a comprehensive executive brief, on the skills-gap in India, published by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and according to this only 47% of people completing their graduation are employable

Here are aspects of the Unemployment challenge, that are mostly overlooked:

  • Emotional Impact: Our ethography raises unique challenges in handling the emotional, psychological, social, and cultural suffering caused by unemployment. These need to be addressed with equal measure.
  • Short Window of Being Employable: An average of 25 years in top-quality education usually yields skills that last about 3 years for gainful employment. Most people face insecurities from the incoming fresh talent, and soon end up in middle-level job rut and stagnation.
  • Social-Security: There is no safety-net for people who do not have jobs or have just lost their jobs. Indeed the government is working on it and talks about a 10-year window for it to be fully operational. That too for about 500 million people. What about the rest? Here, take a look-see

Design-Think Challenge in Unemployment: Frugal Innovation based Entrepreneurship in Rural India

Here’s one Design-Think challenge to stoke your imagination. Rising unemployment leads to migration from villages and rural India to urban cities that are already bursting at their seams. How can opportunities be created in the diverse cultural nuances of rural India, based on methods of frugal innovation, and of rural entrepreneurship, that create jobs and opportunities for people, where they are? Finding meaningful work where you are, is one of the basic tenets of Schumacher Economics and I find that quite compelling for a nation the size of a sub-continent.

Design-Think 03: Ecology

This one should have been number 2, but have kept it here because Ecology is a challenge that many new startups in India are trying to tackle head-on, with innovation and great ideas. Enough is already being said about India’s air-pollution, water pollution, soil-erosion, deforestation, soil-contamination, plastic-pollution, and more. The impact on life expectancy, health, economy, and on the planet is already well-audited and documented.

Design-Think Challenge in Ecology: Noise Pollution

Here’s a vector in Pollution that is seldom considered as a huge challenge among startups. Noise-Pollution. Kickstarter may have a dime-a-dozen noise-cancellation headphones and earphones, but these simply isolate the user from noise. How do you bring down noise pollution. The incessant honking of vehicles, the disturbances at night, the noise of planes, trains, industrial machinery, construction?

Bonus: Here’s another noise pollution challenge that am surprised no one has yet considered implementing. It’s easy and a lot of fun. Just measure the decibels of sounds and noise you will get in a bed at every hotel in India through the night for a restful 8 hours of sleep. The true offering of a hotel, is the quality of your sleep. This needs to be measured through this one important vector.

Look forward to more exciting, imaginative, and innovative solutions from india towards this meaningful challenges. If you’re the type who strongly feels about some of these challenges and wishes to solve them, but have no clue about Design-Thinking and UX Design, consider attending one of the workshops I conduct across India, to kickstart this revolution in Design. It will help you get started in ‘thinking’ in the right way about how to solve problems using the discipline of Design. No prior knowledge or qualification in Design required. Thousands of folks can tell you how much these workshops have helped them in every aspect of their professional and entrepreneurial dimensions, and how they have been able to become more innovative in whatever they do. For more details, log on to DesignRev.in