Design Jam Wrap – Improving Hygiene in Rural Ethiopia

Global Ideas recently partnered with the Fred Hollows Foundation to curate and deliver a Design Jam on improving hygiene in rural Ethiopia.

Below, participant Katherine Colman reflects on her experience as a participant on the day.

Being a medical student, much of our study focuses on medicine as a progression from patient’s symptoms, to diagnosis of disease and then to management. While this may be useful in individual cases in a developed setting like Melbourne, it doesn’t necessarily transfer to disease management in developing settings or on national and global scales.

Global Ideas’ Design Jam opened my eyes to new ways of approaching global health challenges. This process of applying human centred design methodology encouraged me to think about the global health challenge from multiple perspectives, including the physical environment, social and cultural practices, economic and political landscapes, as well as the physiological disease process.

The challenge was to work with the Fred Hollows Foundation to design a solution to the problem: ‘How might we improve sanitation and hygiene in rural Oromia province, Ethiopia, to reduce preventable blindness caused by trachoma?’ I came into the Jam daunted at the enormity of this challenge; all I knew about trachoma was it can be cured with antibiotics. However we were expertly guided through the entire design process, from defining the challenge to pitching our solutions. By first looking to understand the challenge within its context, we developed insights into multiple different facets we could target, from basic hygiene, to disease spread, to education.

A key strength of the Design Jam was the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team. We were encouraged to ideate as many possible solutions to the problem as possible, so having people from differing backgrounds and experiences allowed us to broaden our thinking and approach. Whereas medicine often takes the downstream approach of treating existing disease, suddenly we were considering “how might we transform faeces (which facilitate trachoma transmission) from problem into opportunity?” and “how might we create hygiene without water (as rural Ethiopia is very dry)?”

Overall the Design Jam was a really inspiring day, where I gained unique insights into healthcare challenges affecting thousands of people, as well as a novel approach to innovating new solutions which have the potential to improve thousands of lives.


Design Jams also form the basis for Global Ideas Forum‘s Design Sprints. You can find more information on Global Ideas Forum here.

Interested? Check for upcoming design jams.