The Design Cradle is a South African initiative established to promote Design and Design-led innovation as tools for developing solutions to poor communities’ basic service needs; while at the same time creating income opportunities for families. The organisation was established in 2012 as a Non–Profit Company working with government and underserved communities to find solutions to our country’s service delivery challenges. We see community members, their indigenous knowledge, and the ingenuity and innovation with which they navigate the challenges of their daily lives, as the primary agents who – supported by government resources and facilitation, and academic and private sectors’ technology and innovation – can accelerate development in their communities and ultimately, throughout South Africa. Our role is to establish partnerships between government, communities, academic institutions and the corporate sector that will catalyse development. The aim of our programmes is to develop innovations that will meet communities’ expressed priority needs, in ways that enable women and unemployed youth to participate in the economic opportunities afforded by the design, development, marketing, distribution and scaling of innovations.


The Design Cradle started  when co-founders Kaylene Levack and Lorelle Bell met at the end of 2011 and discovered a shared passion for community-centred development, and the unrealised potential of Design for improving services to poor families in South Africa. Both had extensive experience in community development and culture – Kaylene as an arts curator and Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage practitioner, and Lorelle as a communication specialist in the development, NGO, corporate and Corporate Social Investment sectors. Before teaming up both had been involved in the Design sector in Cape Town and recognised the need for design practice and projects that partnered with government and communities to develop effective solutions to service needs, while also providing income opportunities for community members.

One of The Design Cradle’s first projects is iMobiMaMa, a health project aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality, UN Millennium Development Goals which South Africa has struggled to meet. This project makes existing medical devices available to local communities through community health care workers; enabling pregnant women to have access to the early testing and measurements that can help prevent avoidable deaths. Central to the project is the expansion of income for health care workers through the retail of mother and baby necessities. iMobiMaMa was the recipient of a SAB Foundation social innovation award in 2012. An iMobiMaMa pilot will be conducted in April/May 2013 in collaboration with The Grail Centre Trust, and the University of Cape Town’s Women’s Health Research Unit.


We help to create income opportunities for poor families through design-driven innovation.


Our primary objective is to harness the power of Design for social change in ways that also create opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for poor families in South Africa, and ultimately on the African continent.


Design, or a Design Thinking approach, emphasises an in-depth understanding of the need or problem which requires a solution, as well as of the context in which it will be used. The Design Process is iterative – focusing on early prototyping, testing and reviewing with end-users to achieve effective solutions. Design can therefore help to develop workable solutions that take into consideration the complex and multiple social, economic, political and cultural influences that constrain progress in contemporary South Africa.

There are many South African designers with expertise in using a Design approach, and who are committed to using their skills for positive social and economic impact. Similarly, there are designers originating designs which have the potential for social impact, but, disconnected from potential target communities and public support, these designs and their potential remain unrealised. In communities throughout South Africa and the African continent, there are also many effective, ingenious solutions which are used locally. But these are often not supported with the private and public resources that could see them developed to their potential and used to promote and grow local economies.

What is needed, therefore, is closer collaboration, cooperation and co-support mechanisms between the Design Industry and government, business, academia and communities to determine and develop solutions; with communities, as the ultimate target “clients”, playing a central role in defining problems and approving and benefiting from solutions.

The Design Cradle has been established to communicate, connect and collaborate with communities, government, business, academic institutions and designers, to advance Design and Design-driven Innovation for Social Impact.