The Neonurture

Selected by Timothy Prestero

Every year over 4 million infants in the developing world die within a month of birth. Half of these newborns would survive if given a warm, clean environment in which to grow stronger. In developing countries, not only is there limited access to modern, high-tech incubators, but a lack of infrastructure and replacement parts render such devices worthless. We decided to make an incubator that takes advantage of abundant local resources — car parts and mechanics.

In the NeoNurture, we used sealed-beam headlights as a heating element, a dashboard fan for convective heat circulation, signal lights and a door chime serve as alarms, and a motorcycle battery and car cigarette lighter provided backup power during incubator transport and power outages. The NeoNurture featured in exhibitions and publications worldwide and was listed as number 1 in Time Magazine’s 2010 issue, ‘The 50 Best Inventions of the Year’. Despite this recognition, it never got beyond a prototype. While awards are fantastic, they still felt like a booby prize.

Here’s the problem: every doctor and hospital administrator in the world who has seen ER knows what a medical device should look like. They don’t want effective technology that looks like it’s made from car parts. It sounds crazy, but some hospitals would rather have no equipment than something that looks cheap and crummy. They didn’t want our incubator. And so it never got beyond a prototype.

I got to thinking, if I want to change the world, I have to actually pay attention to how people are going to use a device. Really, there’s no excuse for failure. I have to accept that there are no dumb users, that there are only dumb products. I got into this business designing products. I’ve since learned that if you really want to make a difference in the world, you have to design outcomes. It’s design that matters.

About Timothy Prestero

Timothy Prestero is the founder and CEO of Design that Matters, a nonprofit that collaborates with social entrepreneurs and volunteers to design products for the poor in developing countries. A former Peace Corps volunteer and MIT graduate, Tim has worked in West Africa, Latin America and Asia. He is a Martin Fellow at the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, a Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow, and was named an Ashoka Affiliate in 2004. His awards include the 2007 Social Venture Network Innovation Award, and the 2009 World Technology Award. This year, Design that Matters was named the winner of the National Design Award in Corporate and Institutional Achievement.