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Local Heroes - capacity building in developing countries

Shaping a new impact strategy and a sustainable business model for a non-profit organisation



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User Research


Service Discovery



July-Sept 2019   

3 months



How might we develop a new strategy and a sustainable business model for a non-profit organisation that wants to disappear and become obsolete?


A capacity building programme that engage and support proactive citizens in developing impactful solutions for their own local communities;

Use cases to set the pilot project with 10 young adults living in both urban and rural Uganda

“In the short period Emilia worked at Quest, she helped us to find the ideal business and service model for Local Heroes, a non-profit organisation. Next to being a tremendous researcher, Emilia has proven to be very creative, dedicated and fun to work with. When you work with Emilia, you know she'll get things done. Thoroughly. The fact that the people of Local Heroes asked her to remain an important part of the team says it all. I'm very curious to see how her career will evolve. I certainly hope to collaborate more in the future."

Michael Boschmans, Co-founder & Innovation Director at Quest Impact Design Studio

“I am excited to be part of this programme and I believe it's going to run soo smoothly. I am very much interested to work it through and benefit each and everyone in Uganda"


university student and waitress, Kampala, Uganda 


"Local Heroes" is a Belgian non-profit organisation that empowers communities in developing countries to become self-sustainable and thrive. When I worked for them, the founders were determined to innovate the impact strategy and asked Quest - a design consultancy where I was doing a summer internship - to challenge their mission and define which problems they should focus on, in order to create the most impact on communities and make them independent from outside support. Based on their partnerships and ongoing projects, they identified Uganda as the pilot context and asked us to deliver the preliminary research and service discovery phase to re-orient their strategy and define a new business model.


As a service design intern at Quest, I was responsible for setting up and delivering an extensive research project for the non-profit organisation, together with another intern. The client did not have enough resources to allow on-site research in Uganda therefore, I was challenged to think of alternative and remote forms of research and collaboration. 

I set a 3-months process articulated by three macro activities:

  1. Understanding the wider context through desk research and experts interviews

  2. Cultural probes to explore users needs, engage with and bring voice to beneficiaries

  3. Co-creation sessions with the client to shape and define a new impact strategy and business model

1. Understanding the context


The first part of the research aimed to develop a good understanding of the context in which Local Heroes operates ( in Uganda) at a social, economic and cultural level. I analysed a diverse range of reports, papers and existing non-profit organisations. I also prepared and ran 6 in-depth interviews with a professional working for a Ugandan government agency and experts in international development initiatives in Africa. I also interviewed the founders of Local Heroes (the client) in order to deeply understand their propose and mindset.


The result of this first stage is a concise internal report that you can find here. It allowed the client to gather the outcomes of our first round of research: a macro-perspective of the context, key findings, opportunities and competitive analysis.

2. Cultural probes

The first round of research highlighted a diverse range of issues and problems faced by local communities in Uganda, therefore infinitive paths and potential areas of focus for the client. It was essential at this point to shift from a macro level to a micro level, bringing users at the center and engaging directly with local people in order to understand what issues they were facing and how they would like to tackle those. Cultural probes ended up being the best tool to achieve this goal. Cultural probes are a qualitative research tool, where open ended activities are given to a group of participants to learn more about their daily lives and environment. I designed and delivered 10 probe kits to 10 different young adults in both rural and urban Uganda. This was my occasion to create informal relationships with users and immerse myself into their daily lives, understand their problems as well as their dreams. I quickly realised that the problems in Uganda aren’t simple at all. But, if the cultural probes taught me one thing, it is that there are many proactive Ugandans who know what problems their communities are facing and have ideas on how to solve them. What they will benefit from is entrepreneurial skills and initial financial support to start developing them.

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It was important to design probes properly because they had to engage and motivate participation. We created a probe kit, which involved surprised activities and allowed participants to take pictures and videos, to keep the motivation up. We made the activities as accessible and contextual as possible, using flexible communication channels such as Whatsapp, Imo and Skype, based on people availability.

Whatsapp ended up being a great tool for connecting with young adults and collecting cultural probes' outcomes. It allowed me to engage with them as a peer and to established sincere and pure relationship with them.


3. Co-creation sessions with the client

The project ended with a 3-days workshop with the client. Building on insights gathered through cultural probes and interviews, I developed and facilitated a diverse range of activities including divergent ideation methods, concept development and business modelling. 

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Outcomes and next steps:

After the workshop we delivered a refined strategy with a detailed roadmap.

Local Heroes is currently developing the incubator program to empower locals to explore problems to solve and to turn their solutions into sustainable businesses that strengthen their communities.

The organisation is about to start the first pilot programme and I am so excited to say that cultural probes' participants will play a key role in it! Some of them will become the first real Local Heroes and will receive support to turn their dream project into reality. Their ideas span from opening an internet cafe with classes for children in poverty, opening a coding school, to distributing solar panels to generate energy in remote regions.

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