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The terms “social innovation” and “social innovators” have become commonplace expressions in technology and development fields. More people have created new kinds of businesses and solutions to create positive impact in the society instead of just bringing interests to the partners of the company. However, in the last two decades, most resources available to build solutions for international development challenges were provided to institutions in richer countries. Most of the solutions, therefore, were coming from outside the local context or community. There are very few examples that show low-income people as responsible designers for good solutions. Several reasons try to explain why this has happened, but one essential reasoning is the belief that well educated people have more capacity to reach a good solution for any context, even if these people do not belong to the local culture or context. However, the main results of this methodology are anything but understanding and positive. The four main results are: dependence, lack of user needs understanding, (and, as such) little or no sense of ownership, and lack of maintenance.
In order to address these four problems, different approaches to social innovation have started to be tested. One model that tries to explain these different approaches are called Design For, Design With, Design By. If this model is studied deeper, it is possible to recognize that it translates the passage from the donator solutions mindset to the capacity-building solutions mindset. The two main parameters to define to understand the difference between those approaches is “designer” and “user.” Design For expresses the fact the designer has very limited interaction with the user (typically only in the information gathering stage at the beginning and user testing at the end). This is typically what appropriate technology development looks like. Design With, also called co-creation and participatory development, brings together the user and the designer to understand the problem together, create solutions together and make decisions together in order to keep the project going forward. Design By defines the approach where the designer is also the user (and vice versa) or belongs to the same environment as the user. To test the Design By model, our Donor IDIN (www.idin.org) opted to support a local Innovation Center in a favela in Latin America, more specifically in São Paulo that the local organization Caos Focado has been responsible.