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DSI Alum Pragya Mishra is Putting Design to Work in Healthcare

Pragya Mishra met her future employer at a DSI career fair, where she sparked a discussion about public health – the subject area of her DSI thesis – with Robert Fabricant, co-founder of Dalberg’s Design Impact Group (DIG). The timing was opportune – Robert was in the process of forming his team, and offered Pragya an internship there the next day, the first person to be hired onto the team. Pragya has been at DIG for three years now, working with major foundations, NGOs, entrepreneurs, and multinationals.

For DIG’s first project, she created a human-centered design framework to tackle the problem of low uptake of healthcare products for a major foundation’s global health program. Too often, the extensive R&D for new products was conducted in isolation. Pragya’s task was to use social impact design tools to shift the focus from a technology-first mindset to understanding user needs. A patient-centered design process offers disruptive insights into what works, as opposed to what the global health community expects will work. As Pragya points out, products developed collaboratively with communities, based on a genuine understanding of people’s situations, tradition and cultural practice, are far more likely to succeed.

Now, she’s working on demand generation for a drug that prevents neo-natal deaths in Nigeria, where umbilical cord infections are high, especially after home births. Chlorhexidine, a broad spectrum antiseptic agent, is active against common organisms causing perinatal infections. Its use for prevention of infection is a possible strategy to improve neonatal survival.  Pragya says: “We know some neonatal sepsis deaths could be prevented. It would be wonderful to know I had something to do with that.”

The project has taken her to Nigeria to work with the communities, engaging stakeholders who otherwise wouldn’t be heard – including mothers, pregnant women, midwives, and traditional birth attendants as well as health care professionals and government officials – in order to understand and work through the complex layers of tradition, religion, community and societal beliefs that are essential for successful implementation. In major global health projects, it can be hard to sustain the voice of the actual user. For Pragya, the value of design in these situations is to shift the perspective of people and organizations who have already invested so much, to think about the end user.

At DIG, Pragya says, “everything I learned at DSI is used”, including design research, systems thinking, visualization, prototyping, and developing strategic recommendations for implementation. In Nigeria, for instance, she’s harnessing participatory design to produce messaging that draws on local proverbs, speaking to women’s own beliefs and values.

Pragya graduated with a degree in graphic design from National Institute of Design, Gujarat, India, where she focused on projects that had social relevance. Before coming to DSI, she worked as a freelance visual designer for various NGOs, wanting to use her design skills for a social purpose rather than just for making money.

So why DSI? For Pragya, “naming it as design for social innovation helped me understand what I wanted to do, and once I came into the program, I found a community of people who understood me.” She’s convinced that, for people who want to work in a social impact setting and understand issues from multiple perspectives, and especially for generalists who don’t want to be forced to fit into a design specialty, this is the place to come. “You’ll learn from professionals who’ve been practicing for years, get an international perspective, and collaborate with people from all over the world. That was my motivation for coming.”

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