CSR & Human-Centered Design Methodology Perspective from Our Board Chair: Andrew Topinka

We had a chat with Andrew Topinka, our Board Chair. Under his leadership, the organization is gearing up for its next phase of growth. Andrew has seen first-hand the power of education in creating economic independence and believes that women and girls will shape the future of work. He believes that Imagine Her is providing the essential backbone to unlock change in Uganda.

1. Tell us about yourself, Who is Andrew Topinka? I’m a strategist hooked on bringing empathy to business solutions. Having worked within four continents—and across various industries—I’m energized by integrating multidisciplinary perspectives to help clients explore fresh growth opportunities and takeoff with new offerings. This motivation has revealed itself through my work as a strategy and innovation consultant, where I’ve leveraged human-centered design principles to help my clients launch new products and services tailored to the unique needs of their customers. In addition to this day job, I support Imagine Her as the Board Chair.

2. Before we jump in, for someone who has never heard of Imagine Her, what is your elevator pitch?
Imagine Her is a Ugandan nonprofit that is locally founded and managed that aims to reduce the economic dependency of young women and girls by upskilling and funding them to start social enterprises in their local communities. It’s been growing rapidly over the last few years and with that has some lofty aspirations, most notably to launch new programs and to build a physical incubation space for its program participants. A donation of any amount today can help Imagine Her continue to support young women and girls and will go towards building more resources and programs to achieve their goals.

3. What motivated you to support Imagine Her, and to serve on its board?
I’ve been excited by work in sustainable development and youth equity for some time. Knowing that, two things drew me to Imagine Her: First, the focus on young women and girls’ economic mobility highlighted a clear connection to my passion for youth equity; and second, Imagine Her being a Ugandan-led, Ugandan-managed organization gave me confidence in its programs to be well-tailored to, and more likely to sustain impact in, local communities. I looked to serve on its board because it seemed to be the highest-impact way to support the organization given my skill set. Working as a human-centered design professional, my expertise seemed to lend itself well to emboldening the largest program, the social enterprise incubator. The more I worked with Imagine Her, the more inspired I became by its mission, founder, and program participants. This ultimately led me to the Board Chair role.

4.Our strategic focus moving forward as an organization is to support our communities, especially women and girls to respond to issues pertaining to food security and climate change. Coming from the corporate world, what thoughts do you have on corporate social responsibility and its role in accelerating the efforts of non-profits to respond to these issues?
A well-run nonprofit’s impact is only limited by the resources they have available. CSR enables enormous amounts of resources to flow from the for-profit world and into the nonprofit, thereby surpassing those limitations. Sometimes this can become burdensome, such as in cases where the nonprofit is asked to over-report progress or where funding is significantly restricted, but overall more resources = more impact. In cases like that of climate change, it is even more important. Across the globe, political parties are having trouble aligning on how (and if) to invest on the impacts of climate change. Given this, it’s CSR’s responsibility to continue to fund (and ideally accelerate funding for) programs to combat climate change’s impacts to communities. Without government support, there are less resources to invest in this problem. CSR can step up and step in to change that.

5. Our model as an organization relies on human-centered design (HCD) methodology to fulfill the needs of the communities we work with. In your experience as a HCD professional, how best can we integrate this concept both cheaply and without compromising the quality of the outputs of the products and services developed especially by the last mile communities we work with?
This is a challenging question since fundamentally a HCD outcome should be a concept that is high quality and at a price point that users find acceptable. The balance of complexity (and cost) of a product should always be at a balance with a user’s willingness to pay. If folks are ever feeling ‘stuck’ in a solution that is too expensive, they should try to take a step back and flip the orthodoxies of their current offering design. They may ask themselves things like: does it really need to be as complex as it is right now? Can we make this a service, rather than a product? Can we offer it to someone in monthly payments, rather than a lump-sum? How important is X feature to the experience? Etc. Essentially, challenge one’s own thinking and root those challenges in user insights. Do that enough times and the result should be at the perfect intersection of quality and cost.

6. Andrew, let’s talk a little bit about your role as a Board Chair, what excites you about it, and in your ideal world what kind of board are you envisioning to build and support?
As the Board Chair, I’m responsible for leading the Board of Directors as they execute their objectives across committees. Whether it’s supporting grant applications, managing our U.S. 501c status, or simply building and facilitating relationships, the board is finding more and more ways to add value to IH. Ultimately, our Board exists to support the organization and make sure it is meeting its goals. Right now, the Board is quite hands-on in doing this, but I can see a future where IH grows so significantly that we can take a more passive role focused solely on building relationships, fundraising, and advocating for the mission.