The two Design Academy Eindhoven grads behind Super Local design studio are bringing sustainable solutions to rural Malawi. They are part of our Makers + Shakers series – a look at the next generation of independent makers who are tapping into new markets, exploring unconventional materials and using their skills for social good.
“As social designers, we connect the dots,” according to Luc van Hoeckel and Pim van Baarsen, founding principals of Super Local design studio. Both graduates of Design Academy Eindhoven, they could have stayed put in their native country, where design is a thriving profession. Instead, they decided to focus on ways of impacting remote, mostly destitute regions of the world – through design.
Their aim is to help nurture closed-circle ecosystems, in which local skills are turned into sustainable micro-economies, independent of imports and outsourcing. So far, they have taught east African islanders in Zanzibar how to make beautiful glass bowls from wine bottles brought in by tourists, then discarded. In collaboration with Sakaramenta, another Dutch social business based in Malawi, they have built a children’s playground out of a disused ambulance.
Their latest initiative is a collection of hospital equipment, including beds, trolleys, privacy screens and surgical tables, engineered and manufactured on site with a team of locals. During research trips to rural clinics, the duo toured wards where nurses showed them beds that were still in use even though the legs had collapsed, a common problem caused by whole families sitting on them while visiting.
“Many of the products are donated, so it’s hard to repair them,” says van Hoeckel. “We could see that it would be a good fit to set up local production.” Their solution was to develop galvanized metal frames that can withstand the weight of an entire family. At a workshop in southern Malawi, Super Local worked with 15 tradespeople, teaching them how to read technical drawings and cast moulds, skills that would enable them to make the products and redesign them as needed.
Key to Super Local’s human-centric approach was giving doctors and nurses the role of designers. By immersing themselves in the environment and brainstorming with the staff, they facilitated mutual input, which meant that everyone was invested in what was made. The end goal is to sell the line to NGOs that wish to stimulate local economies. “If you work on quality, your end user will benefit,” says van Hoeckel. The initiative – launched in March with a fun online video to promote the new Care Collection – has already received its first orders.