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If one has doubts as to Design Thinking’s ability to solve some of the world’s most intractable and complex problems, then, clearly, one has never met Pablo Hennique.

An SAP employee for three years, Pablo currently has an interesting and productive way of spending his spare time: Employing Design Thinking as a tool to effect meaningful social change.

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Indeed, that’s the goal of the nonprofit he co-founded, The Humanos Institute, with Design Thinking-expert Niels Billou, with its stated mission of “Marrying the mind of business with the heart of humanity.”

The two-year-old organization is still relatively new, but it already has managed to impact lives for the better. To be more specific, it has helped transform the lives of those who live in El Naranjo, a village of 200 people in the dry region of Nicaragua.

There is a problem that afflicts many in the developing world, with El Naranjo being no exception. That problem: the lack of inexpensive and simple ways to access to capital. (To be sure, the credit gap in some Central and Latin America countries is as high as 70 percent.)

After spending roughly a month in El Naranjo conducting dozens of interviews and hundreds of hours of Design Thinking, Pablo and the Humanos team were able to identify a number of key barriers inhibiting the villagers from borrowing and saving, and to implement a solution that addressed each.

That solution was the creation of the aptly named Chicken Program, which involves a group of selected families receiving chickens and training and guidance on how to multiply them sustainably, thereby creating a sustainable, continuous source of income. Aside from being a creative way to provide the villagers with a cheap, affordable loan, the program aims to shift villagers’ mindset from one of farming for subsistence purposes to one of longer-term investment planning.

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Of course, the village of El Naranjo is a long way from Pablo and Niels’ home city of Montreal. But Pablo found a way to bring the mission of Humanos and the power of Design Thinking closer to home, too. It was this past October, during SAP’s Month of Service, that Humanos began working with Syrian refugees.

It’s difficult to imagine the shock one must feel when landing in a foreign country and coming to the realization that this will be your new home. For many refugees, fully integrating into a new society is difficult. This is the other task Huamnos is currently working on: Removing the barriers refugees face integrating into Canadian society.

To date, Pablo, Niels, the Humanos team and even some SAP volunteers have interviewed a number of refugees. The project is currently ongoing. As Pablo put it to me, “The better you understand the people you are trying to help, the better the chances you’ll be able to come up with an effective solution.” In all, he is aiming to interview 25 families. But the project has already resulted in something revealing. The Humanos team has learned that the support many refugees thought they’d receive in Canada and the ease of integration are not what they expected. This, of course, is a tremendous barrier in its own right.

Pablo and Niels are hoping to begin prototyping a solution in mid-2017. They are also planning on taking another trip to Nicaragua with a new group of volunteers, to check-in on and expand the Chicken Program, but also to begin working with a new village on the problem of potable water and sanitation (an estimated 2.5 billion people around the globe do not have access to improved sanitation.)

One of Design Thinking’s strongest qualities is that it empowers a community to come up with their own solutions to the problems that affect them most. It is so much more than a tool for coming up with an innovative solution or idea; it is a means through which some of society’s most pressing and intractable problems can be solved. As Pablo and his Humanos organization have showed us, it is a way of thinking and problem-solving that can impact lives for the better.

If you are interested in getting involved or learning more, please contact Pablo.

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