Autodesk University 2014: Adding value through impact design

Posted on 28 Jan 2015 by Jonny Williamson

In the fourth of a five-part weekly series, The Manufacturer talks exclusively with executive director of the Autodesk Foundation, Joe Speicher and senior R&D engineer at D-Rev, Michael Hong about the mutual benefits of strategic philanthropy.

The Manufacturer (TM): What has been the genesis of the Autodesk Foundation?

 Joe Speicher, executive director, Autodesk Foundation.
Joe Speicher, executive director, Autodesk Foundation.

Joe Speicher (JS): Autodesk has been involved in corporate philanthropy since inception more than 30 years ago. Launched in 2014, the Foundation is the newest iteration and it essentially aligns our charitable giving with our core business, so supporting designers who are involved in social or environmental impactful things.

This is a unique opportunity for us to start a philanthropic entity and we are completely engaged in a learning agenda, i.e. how can we add value to this space? There are an increasing number of designers who are focusing their efforts on the social and environmental impacts of their design decisions, so that’s who we want to get behind.

With a mandate to support design in the social and environmental sectors writ large and to get more people into this space we have currently committed funding to around a dozen organisations, which include D-Rev.

TM: What benefits and opportunities does Autodesk bring to this space?

JS: For a lot of philanthropists, their value addition is typically just funding; Autodesk has three other tools in its arsenal to deploy, software, in-house expertise and our extensive network of Autodesk customers, clients and channel partners.

TM: How has D-Rev benefited from Autodesk’s involvement?

Michael Hong, senior R&D engineer, D-Rev
Michael Hong, senior R&D engineer, D-Rev.

Michael Hong (MH): D-Rev is a non-profit with a mission to improve the health and incomes of those people living on less than $4 a day. Currently it is focusing on medical devices in mobility with our prosthetic ReMotion Knee, and newborn health with the Brilliance device, a phototherapy lamp to treat severe jaundice.

D-Rev uses donations and grants to fund R&D efforts in order to create sustainable products. It’s a great opportunity for us to work with the Autodesk Foundation because we are under-resourced with only 12 people in our organisation. We are getting to use a lot of Autodesk’s software, expertise and the Workshop at Pier 9 [Autodesk’s high-tech prototyping, 3D printing and CNC centre in San Francisco].


D-Rev's prosthetic ReMotion Knee.TM: What values drive D-Rev?

MH: Being market-driven, we know that there lot of issues with government and supply chain, so we want the product to sell itself and for people to have the choice; being world-class, which means adhering to international standards and not just making an inferior product cheaply; and being user-obsessed, creating affordable products that are able to reach the people who need them.

TM: How does a company go about becoming a grantee and what criteria does the Autodesk Foundation have?

Autodesk Pier 9 Exterior
Autodesk’s high-tech prototyping, 3D printing and CNC workshop at Pier 9, San Francisco.

JS: There is a formal application process, though to date we have sourced most of our opportunities through our network. The application is relatively short, single application process related to design and the core competencies of the organisation. Then if it meets our criteria then we go through the due diligence process, which is also relatively simple.

Our criteria has design at the core alongside considerations such as the organisation’s management team, scalability, ability to be measurement driven and whether or not it addresses what we would consider to be an epic challenge.

TM: How much input does the Autodesk Foundation have in the activities of its grantees?

JS: It’s very rare to see success when the funder is directive about what they want to see and so our assessment process and due diligence is set up to assess whether these organisations align with what we want to do, and if so we want to support them wholeheartedly.

TM: Aside from the obvious CSR boost, how does Autodesk benefit from the Foundation?

Inside the 3D print lab at Autodesk’s Pier 9 workshop at Pier 9.
Inside the 3D print lab at Autodesk’s Pier 9 workshop at Pier 9.

JS: For any relationship to be successful, both parties need to gain mutually in some way. I think that a lot of innovative companies are realising that there is value to be had in strategic philanthropy, i.e. aligning their charitable giving with their business, for two reasons; one is they can provide more value and the second is they can gain value, such as learning a lot about new markets, business models, market strategies and product feedback.

TM: What does Autodesk have in place to drive the Foundation forward in the coming year?

JS: Continuing to support our current organisations and we’ll probably add another 10 over the next six months, alongside finding areas where we can add even further value, going deeper with organisations that we’ve supported on a small scale to begin with and growing our involvement moving forward.

There’s a groundswell of interest from designers focusing on environmental and social issues and what I’d love to see is impact design, as we’re calling it, become part of the regular lexicon and everybody becoming more aware of the impacts of their design decisions.