Service design can be a tool to develop conservation solutions that are not permanently donor dependent by turning human values (what people want, need or fear) into tangible results.

Bringing service design to conservation provides an additional tool for conservation programs to uncover new ways to ensure that new and existing programs have the best chance at economic sustainability, measurable impact, scale and adaptability across countries and cultures.

Just like service design can decrease the teenage pregnancy rates in Zambia (see the Divine Divas), we can also look at conservation challenge with the same lens and find small incremental changes to the programs we provide to make them more impactful and longer lasting.


Anywhere you have
people making choices,
you can have design.


For centuries, big companies like Apple, Nike and Google, have discovered that small changes in design have big effects on how people behave around the things they create.

In a longitudinal study by the Design Management Institute, it was found that “design-led companies… maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211%” ("The Value Of Design - Design Management Institute"). Or as the Danish government found in their report on ‘The Economic Effects of Design’, “Design pays off. Companies that adopt a comprehensive approach to design make more money and generate more exports than companies that do not use design.” 

Polymath Ventures, in Colombia, used human centered design to uncover creative opportunities to provide financial support to the un-banked low to middle class. Through the design process, they uncovered unique insights about the community members that were considered trustworthy for financial advice. After the human centered design process, Polymath Ventures created Aflore, a financial services company that empowers the un-banked to achieve financial goals by partnering with trusted financial advisors in communities and mobilizes them to distribute loans. As a result, Aflore’s default rate is a staggering 2.1%. (Polymath Ventures, 2018)

Now we can use this same approach to design funding strategies, campaigns, and community programs that can make a big difference for wildlife conservation.

Using design research, we can improve conservation messaging so that it better resonates with target communities, come up with more effective strategies for promoting human-wildlife coexistence, or develop project models that are more likely to be sustained after funding runs out.


Through many years of experience, I have found ways to condense this process to make it as efficient, low cost and effective as possible while adapting it for conservation’s unique set of needs.

Design research is about really digging down into the things that are important to people - both the user and the implementer. It means lots of listening, ranking flash cards, brainstorming, testing models, and seeing whether people's behaviors are the same as they say they are. We use small amounts of resources to test ideas in small ways before investing more time and money on something that may not work as we thought it would.

The result is the creation of a service, a program, a campaign (or even a product) that people will
love, and that is specifically created to have a long term positive impact on the environment and the wild animals living in it.



Preventing Crocodile-Human Conflict
Orinoco Region, Colombia

Overall Challenge:
To control and prevent human-crocodile conflict involving one of the most endangered crocodiles in the world.

Some Questions to Answer:
How can we build on the existing value of the crocodile in a region where the crocodile has been extinct for years, but the legend of its ferociousness has not? How can we prepare the community for coexistence with an animal they currently fear, but is being released in their rivers today?

Further funding for this work required. Please inquire if you’re interested in supporting the long term survival of the Orinoco Crocodile and how you can get involved.

In partnership with
Fundación Palmarito de Casanare


Smelly Elephant Repellent
Murchison Falls, Uganda

Overall Challenge:
How might we build an impactful, long term, and economically sustainable solution for human-elephant conflict?   

The Problem

Media reports from across Africa indicate that human-elephant conflict is rising. Despite considerable effort from conservation institutions, elephant conflict mitigation measures are often ineffective, highly localized, and rely on sustained funding and oversight from donors.

What it is
This project will expand the use of a new scent-based, cost-effective method for reducing elephant crop-raiding, by creating an economically-sustainable service delivery model. The “smelly repellent” is a mixture of low-cost ingredients that are grown across most of Africa. Trials between 2017 and 2019 have produced very positive anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness, backed up by quantitative data (currently being collected) which is expected to show a ~80% reduction in crop raiding on participating farms. This has led to improved harvest yields, improved tolerance of elephants, and better attitudes towards conservation.

Design Research: Phase 1 Complete
An initial design research study uncovered promising service delivery concepts that could 1.) increase local job opportunities in human-elephant conflict zones, 2.) be easily replicable and 3.) be available through an open-source toolkit to roll-out the repellent across human-elephant conflict hotspots worldwide.

The model will give the repellent the capacity to scale beyond the borders of Uganda, and inspire new service models for other human-wildlife conflict mitigation products in the future.

In partnership with WildAid

Let’s chat about how we can work together.
@safarimari_ _