Publication Date

Spring 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




A.J. Faas


design for development, design for good, humanitarian design, international development, Silicon Valley, Social impact design

Subject Areas

Design; Social research; Commerce-Business


This thesis explores the application of ethnographic research and commercially-derived design approaches in support of financial inclusion, a global movement to bring affordable financial services to low-income and rural communities that have traditionally lacked access to these services. I collaborated with and interviewed designers and anthropologists working on financial inclusion projects that range from small, grassroots efforts to create payday loan alternatives in Silicon Valley and London, to more formal international development projects funded by large corporations and philanthropic organizations. Participants in this study shared a strong belief: ethnographic perspectives and design practices that incorporate marginalized voices into the decision-making process can lead to innovative, sustainable, and locally-relevant interventions that improve the lives of people experiencing poverty. However, this study’s participants also wrestled with the knowledge that well-intentioned humanitarian projects often fail to achieve their goals, at times further retrenching social and economic inequalities. These participants needed to weigh the risks of proposing hubristic solutions against inaction in the face of injustice. This thesis highlights the ongoing conversations among designers and anthropologists on how they can—and should—ethically work to achieve social change.

Available for download on Tuesday, July 09, 2024