Motivation's Richard Frost on Understanding Your Users and Social Impact

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While in London, participating in the Enable Makeathon, we were lucky enough to connect and be mentored by Richard Frost. Richard spent 27 years running Motivation, an organization that have distributed there unique wheelchair designs to 120 countries around the world. Now, Richard is involved in social investment and acts as a mentor for many social enterprises. We sat down with him to discuss how important stepping into the shoes of your user is and what it means to make a social impact.

 

What bought you to the world of wheelchairs?

It was all a matter of circumstances. In university, I immediately became friends with David Constantine, who is a wheelchair user after breaking his neck in a diving accident about 1 year before I met him. David went on to take a masters degree in computer aided product design at the Royal College of Art in London (RCA) where he entered a student competition to design ‘a wheelchair for developing countries’. 

He teamed up with fellow student Simon Gue and their design won the competition. The prize? Funding to travel somewhere of their choice to explore if their wheelchair design was of any value in the environment in which it was designed for. I joined the both of them and we set off to our destination, Bangladesh.

When we got to Bangladesh we visited a spinal injuries rehabilitation centre (CRP) and we made a wheelchair in their workshop. The chair was well received and we were asked by the woman running the centre if we could go back and help them start a wheelchair workshop. It sounded like a great adventure so we immediately said yes and went back a year later to start our first project.

 

Describe your experience living 8 months in Bangladesh and how it impacted your design process.

We realised that providing good wheelchairs is just the starting point of what people need. We needed to understand the user and he/she’s environment. So we lived in the grounds of the rehab centre and got fully immersed in its unique world. From that point on we started thinking much more about the service side of things; assessment, prescription and fitting. We started thinking about training and working with peer groups on education, information sharing and what happened once you left the accessible environment of a rehab centre. Our design process became much more holistic as a result. We were no longer designing a product but an entire solution based on individual needs.

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What does social impact mean to you?

That's a big question, but fundamentally for me it means creating a positive change for someone who is experiencing a disadvantage in life related to issues such as disability, poverty, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation etc. By positive change I mean a tangible or practical difference resulting in improved quality of life.

Creating social impact also means using innovation to create change. Using innovation to find new ways of solving problems is what I've spent my working life trying to achieve.

 

Whats next for you?

I am passionate about adopting a social enterprise approach to deliver change, so now I have stepped down from Motivation I am using my time to give mentoring support to other social entrepreneurs, I am trying to encourage and support innovation and creativity, and I am working to help charities and social enterprises find the investment they need to grow their impact and their financial sustainability. All the same challenges we faced in our own journey.

For more information on the Enable Makeathon that Richard is mentoring for check out their website at: http://www.enablemakeathon.org/

 

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