This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Krista Donaldson is CEO of D-Rev. Photo credit: Krista Donaldson

1. D-Rev was recently named a “Most Innovative Company” by Fast Company. What makes the organization and its work so unique?

D-Rev is a non-profit product company that designs and, with partners, delivers market-driven products that improve the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 per day. What’s unique about D-Rev is that we start from strong values and an obsession with impact. We believe that products can be world-class and affordable at the same time, and we believe in designing for the context of each environment and user, rather than taking a Western product and trying to make it fit where it doesn’t.

We spend a lot of time asking ourselves “Why?” and “How?”  Why can we design artificial limbs sophisticated enough for the Olympic Games, but amputees in India are stuck with prosthetic legs that are so unstable they wear them in the locked position, like a peg leg? Why can we design devices that save babies born months too soon in the West, yet the only treatment for severely jaundiced babies at one of Uganda’s largest hospitals is placing them out in the sun?

We believe that all people deserve products that can improve their health and lives. The desire to spend one’s money on a product or service that brings value and is beautifully designed is universal. We want to revolutionize healthcare in low-income regions by designing products that provide treatment on par with or better than the best products on the market, are context-appropriate, and are radically affordable, costing one-tenth or less of the price of comparable devices.

Finally, we take a globalized approach to design, working with the best partners around the world. We view our local partners not as beneficiaries, but as partners. For example, our partners in India are experts at local distribution channels and supply chains, whereas we bring new technologies (e.g. like the latest LEDs) advanced modeling techniques.

2. You have argued that high-end innovations and technologies should be made accessible and affordable throughout the developing world. Is it possible?

I believe that high quality innovative products can be designed to be affordable and accessible throughout the developing world – so that social impact happens because a customer chooses, purchases, values and uses a product.  Most of the medical devices we see in public hospitals and clinics in low-income parts of the world are donated or heavily subsidized; very few truly meet the needs of the users.  When they break or need repair, they are likely to end up in the corner with a “Broken” sign. We see this time and time again in hospitals around the world. Typically no one in that hospital chose or paid for that device, so there is not much commitment to these donated devices – especially if the product doesn’t meet their needs. I’m also a true believer that beautiful design, functionality and usability doesn’t need to cost extra. Doctors like this design ethic and our approach.

3. What role do women play in the uptake and application of new technologies and innovations?

Women tend to be pragmatists and result-oriented. We see that women are the primary caregivers to the sick and people with disabilities. Among health professionals, we also see a high percentage of women doctors in public hospitals and clinics that serve our target populations.  While obviously the roles of women vary by society, we have observed that women – whether they are doctors, nurses, the patient’s family or even policymakers – tend to focus on end result, not on the latest innovation or product.  The women know that we need healthier babies or we need to help this young amputee get back to school so they only consider and back a product if they believe it will achieve that result. When they see a device like Brilliance or the ReMotion Knee, they grab it because they can envision how this gets them quickly to sending a healthy baby home from the clinic with a new mom, or seeing an amputee earning a paycheck again