Cross Cultural Design For Eliminating Household Air Pollution

Inyenyeri, Gisenyi, Rwanda, 2014

Inyenyeri is a rural Rwanda-based startup social enterprise that produces renewable energy from densified biomass fuel pellets, distributes clean cookstoves, and prioritizes access for poor families through a rural/urban subsidy model.


Household air pollution from charcoal stoves and three rock cooking fires are the leading cause of death in Rwanda. If Inyenyeri fails to help households replace 100% of their charcoal and three rock stoves with its renewable energy alternative (pictured), then customers receive zero health benefits. Two challenges make it difficult to determine whether 100% replacement has been achieved : 1.) A weak feedback loop between customers and management, and 2.) Rwandan cultural norms against voicing critical feedback.


I facilitated a series of interactive design sessions with Inyenyeri’s Rwandese customer service staff–the closest link that Inyenyeri has with its customers. For many, this was their first time to be away from the rural biomass collection Hubs and inside the management office. I used Liberating Structures facilitation tools and the expertise of a translator to facilitate sessions such as a role playing exercise about customer interactions and a group activity about imagining worst case customer service scenarios.


By creating an outlet for Inyenyeri’s customer service staff to share critical feedback indirectly, I made it possible for them to participate in service design for the first time. Based on the ideas they shared, I worked with a software developer and team of enumerators to create and user test a mobile app for customer followup. Also, I designed an organizational structure that better integrated customer service staff within the management team.

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