As an advisor on agriculture & food security at strategic advisory firm Dalberg Advisors, Angela Hansen works at the forefront of some of the world’s most pressing issues. On September 27, Hansen shared some of her insights on global sustainable development and the practice of “design thinking” with Fletcher students at the first event in this semester’s Institute for Business in the Global Context’s speaker series. In a hands-on event that featured a few participant exercises, Hansen encouraged students to approach her talk with a “beginner’s mind” and keep their curiosity open to the subject at hand.

At Dalberg, Hansen works across the public, private and philanthropic sectors to help clients in emerging and frontier markets enhance performance, meet objectives and develop new partnerships in the field of global sustainable development. Hansen has prepared strategies for multilateral organizations, leading international NGOs and private sector companies all over the world and has lived and worked in Africa for over a decade.

In a brief Q&A, Hansen gave us a look into her typical work day, revealed her best advice for Fletcher students and explained how “design thinking” can impact global sustainable development.

1) What does your typical work day look like?

There is no typical day. Most of this week, I have been in side-events around the UN General Assembly in New York. I’ve engaged with private companies such as Barclays, Eni, Siemens, Mars and Phillip Morris. I’ve met with non-profits including Business Fights Poverty and CARE, and I’ve spoken with multilateral and bilateral development actors, as well as with a few of my favorite thought leaders such as Roger Martin and Malcom Gladwell. It’s great to be back in New York; this past month I have been in South Africa, Italy, Austria and Denmark for a mix of Dalberg and non-Dalberg commitments.

I also lecture at the University of Cape Town at the Graduate School of Business on the Masters of Philosophy in Inclusive Innovation Program and offer a Design Sprint Bootcamp on the GSB’s Venture Incubation Program.

2) For those unfamiliar with the idea of “design thinking,” how can it be used to achieve global sustainable development goals?

At Dalberg, our Design Impact Group (DIG) uses “Human Centered Design” approaches to engage with people, communities and organizations to design creative solutions that support their needs and aspirations for a better life. We use participatory methods to understand and address the root causes and complex systems that limit economic opportunity and human potential in under-served communities around the world.

As an example, we worked with CGAP – a part of the World Bank – to understand the financial needs of small holder farmers and develop new digital savings products to meet those needs, avoiding some of the risks associated with credit products often developed for this market segment. These products can improve the livelihoods of farming communities; reduce poverty and hunger; and increase health and wellbeing, access to quality education and, ultimately, equality.

3) What should students take away from your talk at Fletcher?

I hope students come away with a richer appreciation of the role of partnerships and collaboration in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Design thinking” can be a lens through which we might see new ways to create and scale effective, resilient partnerships. My aim is to get students thinking about the new ways in which they might partner in support of the Global SDGs in whatever roles they find themselves in throughout their future careers.

4) What advice do you have for students hoping to pursue work similar to yours?

There are a myriad of ways to have impact through strategy, partnership and design. Being part of an advisory firm is one way, but being a consumer of their services is another. Reflecting on your core strengths will help you to understand if my footsteps are a compelling path for you, or if you want to do it your way. Consider these questions:

  • Do you work best alone, or in a team?
  • Do you enjoy learning about many new topics quickly, or going in-depth into a single topic for an extended period of time?
  • Do you want to change the lives of specific people, have a specific tangible result, or work to change a system over time?

5) What has working across a wide range of sectors taught you?

Knowing yourself and your strengths is critical for modifying your approach to fit the situation and the stakeholder context. If you know you’re an ambitious, data-driven problem solver with an urgent need to get to the “right” answer, you may need to check yourself when working in community contexts. Grounding your work in empathy for your customer, client, beneficiary or constituency will go a long way to ensuring you are a contributor to solving the right problem, as opposed to creating new ones.