April 2014

Low-Key Dogpatch Nonprofit Redesigning the World

Paul McDonald

In a nondescript building on Minnesota and 19th streets, kitty-corner to Esprit Park, D-Rev is helping make the world better through design. D-Rev, which stands for Design Revolution, is a nonprofit “…product development company whose mission is to improve the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 per day.” Although headquartered in trendy Dogpatch, D-Rev’s focus is on such poor countries as India, Haiti, and Nepal. 

Established in 2007, with a scant 10 employees—mostly engineers—and nearly as many volunteers, D-Rev was founded by Paul Polak, who previously created International Development Enterprises, an organization that’s helped millions of overseas rural farmers produce food and emerge from poverty. He’s the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail.

Krista Donaldson serves as D-Rev’s chief executive officer. An energetic and determined 40-year old who spent five years in Kenya with KickStart International, she has a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, and worked with the U.S. government helping to revitalize Iraq’s electricity grid. 

D-Rev is a 501(c), but licenses its products to for-profit manufacturers and distributors, a rare and challenging business model. The company’s first success —an LED light named Brilliance that treats jaundiced babies — has taught Donaldson that just designing a better, more reliable, less costly, product isn’t enough. The design needs to be manufactured at an affordable price for the intended market, and delivered to where it’s needed. Effective negotiations with manufacturers and distribution partners is critical. But D-Rev’s determination has paid off: Brilliance has been used to treat more than 15,000 babies, and prevented 300 or more deaths or disabilities. 

Roughly 40 percent of D-Rev’s budget comes from individual donors. The balance is made up by three main foundations: the Mulago and Greenbaum foundations and Focusing Philanthropy. The company’s budget was about $1.5 million in 2013, up from $880,000 in 2012.

In addition to Brilliance, D-Rev is close to releasing its second product, a prosthetic knee called the ReMotion Knee, that’s targeted to help third-world recipients gain mobility. Other projects in the pipeline include an affordable microscope to detect disease in rural clinics, mobile solar powered units to provide electricity, and affordable methods to pasteurize milk in East Africa. 

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