Can a Bajaji Change a Teen Girl’s Life?

By Aaron Britt, senior editor for and Karen Sommer Shalett, managing editor for Impact Magazine

Human-centered design has a role in solving every problem,” says Pam Scott, a serial design thinker whose career has wended from advertising to customer research to a board seat at to a current chapter that might be dubbed activist philanthropy. A born connector, Scott has spent nearly three decades working at the intersection of design and impact, and much of her power lies at getting the right people in the room and prompting them to ask — and answer — the right questions.

“It’s only from a place of deep empathy and connection, that you can have real impact. That’s our creative starting point,” says Scott of what is at the base of a methodology that marries a handful of cutting-edge techniques resulting in a “new form of human-centered design that not only deeply engages community members in the creative process, but also the NGO that serves that community.”

Scott, one of a growing number of female philanthropists inspired to focus on women and girls, chose to sponsor a project with PSI to address unintended pregnancy in Tanzania. “It’s very unpopular. Acknowledging that unmarried teens can be sexually active is a lightning rod issue, leaving a good number of donors less inclined to support teen pregnancy prevention,” she says. “I wanted to take some risks and I knew the best partner to do that would be PSI.”

“First, I did a six-month third-party data review,” she says, “to build on an insight my colleagues at shared: ‘Teens do not believe that family planning clinics are for them, largely because they aren’t planning a family.’ Everything I studied supported this insight. I also discovered that programs all over the world treated unintended teen pregnancy as a medical challenge. And it’s not. It’s a social challenge with a medical component. Knowing that, I knew we had to understand the social context in which unintended teen pregnancies exist. And the only way I know how to do that is to talk to teens and all of those who satellite around them.”

In Tanzania, 44 percent of girls under 18 are already mothers. Pam Scott, and PSI used human-centered design to learn how to give teen girls a chance for a different future.

Over the summer of 2014, Scott began to design a creative process to take on the challenge. She wanted to involve great thinkers from PSI, other social sector organizations and for-profit institutions to develop fresh approaches. She believed there was an opportunity to disrupt the traditional approach to adolescent reproductive health by making it more teen-friendly and ultimately impactful.

By fall, she had enlisted PSI board member Rebecca Van Dyck, a tribe of designers (led by creative director Patrice Martin) and her husband former Yahoo! CEO Tim Koogle to join her in partnering with PSI Tanzania’s Susan Mukasa and her team on the effort. Together they would conduct a week long design immersion in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.

But Scott thought the team wasn’t complete. “Gandhi’s credited with saying ‘What you do for me but without me you do against me.’ Not only did PSI need to have a strong voice in the creative process but so, too, did the people of Tanzania,” she says. To that end, the project’s first phase would be an insight-gathering trip to Tanzania.

“It’s only from a place of deep empathy and connection that you can have real impact. That’s our creative starting point.”

Pam Scott, Design Strategist/Philanthropist

In January 2015, team members from and PSI traveled around Tanzania meeting teen girls and the influential people — parents, teachers, boyfriends, and town elders, among others — central to their lives. Insights revealed there was a complex web of cultural influences that unintentionally supported the likelihood that girls would become pregnant. Studies showed that these influences were, in fact, at least partly responsible for 44 percent of girls in Tanzania becoming mothers by age 18. Using the research insights as inspiration, Scott and her team agreed on five design strategies that might inspire new thinking:

Leverage youth culture to spark a teen-centric conversation about contraception.
Motivate health care providers to offer products and services in teen-friendly ways.
Create or build on existing opportunities for girls to thrive.
Dispel myths by rebranding modern forms of contraception.
Inspire men and boys to be part of the solution.

Come April, with briefs in hand and a team of 34 people assembled, the design immersion kicked off in the town of Bagamoyo. Participants represented an array of perspectives — doctors, educators, business people, marketers and designers — who came together for the week.

Even though a great number were from Tanzania, the first day team members concentrated on getting to know the people of the village. Split into pairs and triads, they went out on learning journeys. “Everyone buzzed around the village meeting with locals to get a greater appreciation and respect for how teen pregnancy lives within and is influenced by societal norms and culture,” Scott wrote to friends the night before prototyping was to begin.

Now split into five design teams, the next day brought team members to their knees — with paper, markers and scissors to mockup designs of the ideas they’d brainstormed. With tangible models to share, design teams immediately got feedback on their concepts from the people of the village. “Some of the ideas teams loved best died fast,” says Scott. “Others thrived and got better with feedback from the villagers.”

Nepal: Nepal Quake Aftermath

Soon six ideas started to rise to the top. One design team dreamt up a fleet of girl-friendly bajajis (a three-wheel motorcycle taxi) — driven only by young women trained in sexual and reproductive health. Within 24 hours, the design team rented a bajaji, completely transformed it, and recruited and trained a female driver. “Come Thursday morning, they were in business, giving girls rides around town,” says Scott. Contraception messages were posted inside and perhaps most encouraging, the girls who rode in the vehicle said they’d love to make money as a driver of one.

Scott’s design team created some edutainment called Girl Nation Radio and recorded a show in a fully kitted-out studio until the wee hours of the night. When she and her team took it into the field, they were shocked to learn that the six-minute piece resonated beyond girls. “The content was just too juicy not to listen!” says Scott. “Women and men were sucked in by the drama of the mini-novella and didn’t even flinch when some potentially shocking content was shared.”

Human-centered design offers a chance to upend business as usual in the social sector,” said’s Martin. “It’s an approach that gets us farther faster because we learn from the people we’re designing for, quickly get our ideas into their hands, and then iterate based on the feedback they give us.”

Human-centered design can be a pretty radical shift. It asks you to learn first hand, synthesize disparate ideas, and test a solution by making it tangible. It’s an approach that starts from the point of view that you don’t know the answer, but the people you’re designing for probably do. While the immersion process led to several very promising ideas that will be further vetted in the months to come, Scott was equally excited by the fact that, “Everyone who participated in the immersion now has a much deeper understanding of human-centered design and how to create impact by starting from a place of deep empathy.”

To learn more about how this project works, read the article “How to Use Human-Centered Design” on our blog.

Sign up to
Receive Updates

Donate to
Support Our Work