Putting Human-Centered Design Into Action as a Skills-Based Volunteer

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

Jack Roberts is a product and process design professional from London who is passionate about reducing social and financial inequality. He had built a successful career in financial inclusion and sustainable finance at a leading global consulting firm, but after 7 years in that role, he was ready for a change. 

He shared, “I wanted to fully dedicate my time to working on projects with social and environmental impact, and shift my focus from institutions to individuals. I took a career break to figure out how to do that, which is how I found MovingWorlds. It was exactly the opportunity I was looking for to build my knowledge, network, and practical experience in the social impact space.” 

Continue reading below to find out how Jack stretched outside his comfort zone to create positive change, and come away positively changed in return. 

Finding a Values-Aligned Project

A key component of MovingWorlds’ offering for professionals is experteering: taking on a real-world social impact project as a pro bono consultant to build on their existing skills while challenging them to grow.

Through our guided matching process, Jack found an ideal match in Safeplan Uganda, a social enterprise working to create a safe and socio-economically secure society where all people – including vulnerable citizens – can live and deliver to their full potential. Specifically, Safeplan works with women and young people to create paths to financial security that directly contribute to the sustainable development of their communities. It does this through 3 core initiatives:

  1. Beekeeping for sustainable livelihoods: BUWOBE, led by Safeplan, is a women-led beekeeping collective in Uganda that trains women and young people in beekeeping and sustainable land management. They connect them with markets to transform honey products into sustainable livelihoods, promoting financial literacy and dignified work for all.
  2. Sustainable Energy for Rural Homes: Safeplan empowers off-grid rural communities by providing energy efficient cooking and lighting solutions. By employing vulnerable women to produce these energy products, Safeplan addresses environmental concerns while fostering sustainable income generation.
  3. Technical & Vocational Training for Young People: Safeplan offers customized vocational training courses in carpentry, tailoring, soap making, stove production, and Information Technology, enabling low-income families to provide their children with opportunities for dignified work and financial stability. 
Women in the Safeplan Uganda BUWOBE beekeeping training program with their apiaries
BUWOBE trainees with their apiaries
Women learning carpentry through a Safeplan Uganda skills training course
Women learning carpentry through a Safeplan Uganda skills training course

Since 2012, Safeplan has worked with pastoralist as well as refugee communities across Uganda, and has positively impacted over 35,000 lives. But Safeplan isn’t stopping there. Its goal is to significantly expand its operations to serve even more communities, and to fund that expansion, the team needed help developing the business plan and strategy documentation that potential funders are looking for, along with support to improve their financial management practices and know-how. 

Refining the Project Scope

When Jack found Safeplan’s project on the MovingWorlds platform, he immediately resonated with its mission of reducing inequalities for vulnerable people and communities. He sent an introduction request to the organization representative, Program Manager Daniel Akena, to set up time for a scoping call to learn more and discuss whether it was a match.

Jack shared, “In that conversation, Daniel explained more about Safeplan’s needs and some background on the software they were using for their financial management. I felt confident in my ability to deliver on the strategy side of things, but was less familiar with the specific accounting tool they had in place. I knew that I wasn’t the best person to handle that portion, but I knew someone who would be: my wife, Ellie. When I raised the idea to Daniel of us working on the project as a team, he was very open to making adjustments to take the project in a direction that suited our skills while also meeting the organization’s needs.”

Taking a Human-Centered and Community-Driven Approach to Sustainable Growth

What makes experteering through MovingWorlds unique is the combination of education and experiential learning – professionals have the opportunity to learn new concepts in the virtual classroom, then put those learnings into practice in the real-world. For Jack, the concepts of human-centered design and network leadership were foundational to the projects’ success. Below, we’ll take you through each step of Jack and Daniel’s work together, and the tools Jack incorporated along the way to ensure the final deliverables created meaningful, lasting change. 

Understanding the Context

In order to help Safeplan Uganda achieve its goals, Jack knew that he first needed to understand the context it was operating in. He shared, “The first thing I did was take a step back to really understand the bigger picture. This involved a lot of secondary research, as well as some of the new tools I had learned like ecosystem analysis and ABCD Asset Mapping.” 

With a better understanding of Safeplan’s operations, ecosystem, and assets, Daniel and Jack were ready to move into the human-centered design process: a creative approach to problem solving that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that solve real problems.

Outline of the tactics used at each stage of the human-centered design process for Jack's experteering project with Safeplan Uganda

Moving Through the Human-Centered Design Process

Phase I: Inspiration

During the inspiration phase of the human-centered design process, Jack conducted informal interviews with Daniel and his team to understand Safeplan from a business and finance perspective. He immersed himself as much as possible as a virtual volunteer, shadowing Daniel’s day-to-day work and formulating a questionnaire to learn more about the feelings and capabilities of the team. Based on those inputs, Jack and Daniel formulated the design challenge of improving Safeplan’s back office operations and team capabilities to increase outreach and impact in communities. This statement then served as a compass to guide their work throughout the rest of the process.

Phase II: Ideation

The Ideation Phase of the human-centered design process involves making sense of what you’ve learned, and brainstorming ideas to solve the problem you’ve defined. Jack brainstormed various finance and strategy outputs, developed design principles, and sought feedback from Daniel. This feedback led to a shift in assumptions, highlighting the need for practical assets like a printable finance manual and strategy document, considering technical challenges in Safeplan offices.

Phase III: Implementation

The Implementation Phase of the human-centered design process involves prototyping and testing your chosen solution to refine it and bring it to life. Jack explained, “We worked together to determine which of our ideas we wanted to prototype, and in what priority order. I started prototyping deliverables (like a business model canvas for a specific project, and a strawman of the strategy document) so that I had a lean version to get feedback on from Daniel and his team, which allowed me to validate along the way before investing too much time and effort fully fleshing something out that didn’t meet their needs.” 

At the end of the project, Jack and Ellie were able to successfully deliver a comprehensive bookkeeping manual, support Daniel in creating a strategy plan, and contribute to the creation of a checklist of things that would be required to successfully complete potential funding assessments. 

Ensuring Long-Term Sustainability

Before officially wrapping up the project, Jack and Ellie compiled the assets they had created into a roadmap with guidance for ongoing use and maintenance to ensure that the Safeplan team had everything they needed to keep the momentum of this project going after the experteering engagement ended.

Roadmap for success and long-term sustainability of the experteering project between Jack and Safeplan Uganda

There’s one aspect of this that Jack is particularly proud of – he shared, “As we were going through the final strategy document, we got to the point where it was time to define specific targets for each project as part of the long-term vision. Daniel and his team didn’t have experience with impact measurement and weren’t sure what goals to set, so I went back to MovingWorlds and helped craft an impact measurement project description for Safeplan on the platform so another experteer could pick up where we left off. They’ve already found an experienced and committed impact measurement expert to match with.”

Helping Safeplan connect to its next experteer is a great example of the power of network leadership in action. Jack reflected, “Before coming to MovingWorlds, I had heard of ‘networking’ and ‘leadership’ as distinct concepts, both of which felt a bit self-promotional to me. But what I learned is that ‘network leadership’ is actually quite the opposite: it’s about centering the mission over the individual or organization, and having the humility to realize that no single person or organization can solve such complex challenges alone.”

Creating Change, Being Changed

Although the project is over, it has continued to create positive ripple effects in both Jack and Daniel’s lives. 

For Daniel, the documentation that Jack and Ellie helped co-create has enabled him to significantly accelerate Safeplan’s fundraising and PR efforts. He shared, ““The strategic plan Jack and Ellie helped us create is something that we have been trying to create on our own for more than 10 years, but weren’t able to because of resource limitations. We are so grateful. The future of Safeplan Uganda is brighter and brighter every day because of this support from MovingWorlds.” The assets they created together enabled Daniel to submit a pitch for a loan from a crowdfunding platform, which Safeplan was ultimately selected for. On top of that, those same assets helped Safeplan win a 2023 Prestige Award – a tremendous milestone recognizing small and medium sized businesses that have proven to be the best in their market over the past 12 months. 

For Jack, the experience directly contributed to achieving his career transition goal. In the final month of the experteering project, he was offered his dream job with Social Finance as a Social Impact Consultant. He reflected, “I genuinely don’t think I would have been successful in this job application without MovingWorlds. In the interviews, I was able to draw on a lot of what I learned through the program and the direct experience working with Safeplan. I couldn’t be happier with my experience. If you’re looking to shift or transition your career to be more socially impactful, I would highly recommend experteering through MovingWorlds – you will get out of it what you put in, and with the right mindset and commitment, you really can make a difference with your skills.”

We’re grateful to Jack for sharing his story with us, and to Daniel and the rest of the Safeplan Uganda team for making this experience possible. If you’re a professional who wants to make a difference with your skills and grow your career in the process, we invite you to register on the TRANSFORM Support Hub!