We are always looking for women who are constantly changing the game and that’s why Asia Sultan’s story was so inspiring to us at SLA.

Asia is a young trailblazer in the industry of Design Thinking and Innovation. She uses her experiences as a woman to apply the human approach that is needed to excel in the Design Thinking industry.

During this interview, Asia chats with us about why more women should be in Design Thinking, the power of innovation, and how we can uplift each other in the career space.


 On starting out In Design Thinking…

Curiosity into the field of innovation is what led me to explore this discipline in 2016 when the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking opened their first school in Africa.

I was pursuing a Masters in Property Studies at the University of Cape Town at the time. I immediately fell in love with Design Thinking because the human-centered approach truly resonated with my personal philosophy.

After spending 6 months at the institute I felt that the final piece of the puzzle had been put in place. Design thinking has allowed me to experience problem-solving in areas that I hadn’t ventured into before.

I’m very grateful to be living my purpose which is to use my experiences, education, and design thinking practice to create innovative solutions that make our world a better place.

Being a woman is actually my greatest strength in the innovation industry - Asia Sultan Click To Tweet

About Switch Innovation and what they do…

Switch innovation is an innovation management company that specializes in corporate innovation. We are a balance between technology and advisory as we help large companies with legacy issues to deliver disruptive products to market and build new businesses.

We use design thinking and lean startup methodologies to drive innovation strategy and process for our clients who span across various industries.

Challenges women in the design thinking industry face…

Being a woman is actually my greatest strength in the innovation industry. Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving.

It starts with the people you are designing for and ends with solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs. It requires building deep empathy with the people you’re designing for and this comes very naturally to women.

Because of this, I am able to create solutions that are not just technically powerful, but also have an emotional value proposition for end-users. In a world where consumers are spoiled for choice, an emotional value proposition is a massive competitive advantage.

 Women that I look up to…

My late mother, Hanifa, is the best woman I’ve ever known. I’m an unapologetic feminist because of my mother.

Growing up, both the girls and boys in my household participated equally in doing house chores.

She instilled in me from a young age the importance of education hard work, perseverance, equality and believing in myself.

Most importantly, my mother taught me to love and care for others. This has contributed to strengthening my approach to empathy, an attribute that is crucial in my work.

As a designer, I spend a lot of time understanding people, putting myself in their shoes and owning their problems in order to best design solutions that are relevant to their lives.

 

As a designer, I spend a lot of time understanding people and owning their problems in order to best design solutions that are relevant to their lives. Click To Tweet

Professionally I look up to Oprah Winfrey, a longtime advocate of female education. I am inspired by her story, especially how she overcame hardships in order to become one of the most influential women on this earth.

I admire that she uses her platform to break gender barriers on a global scale and even uses her resources to invest in education and improving the lives of women.

Lastly and similarly to Oprah Winfrey, I truly admire Rebeca Gyumi, Founder of the Msichana Initiative. She pursued and won a landmark case on child marriages through the petition she filed at the High Court of Tanzania to challenge the Tanzania Marriage Act, 1971, which allowed girls as young as 14 to get married.

The law was amended and raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls.

My advice to anyone trying to jump-start their career in the Design Thinking space…

I would advise anyone starting in the design thinking and innovation space to try to learn as much as possible.

  • Read books
  • Subscribe to newsletters
  • Engage with other designers through platforms like IDEO and LinkedIn.

A lot of changes are happening in the world of innovation and every day there is a new technology, tool or method designed.

Design thinking entails working with clients across different industries, therefore you need to understand different industry trends so you can use methods, material, and approaches that are relevant to them.

Join design thinking groups on professional networks, subscribe to newsletters, attend design thinking meetups in your area, keep learning and you will be unstoppable.

Why I think uplifting women is so important in the workspace…

 

Empowerment is created when the strengths that women already bring to the company are recognized and utilized.

If you build organizations of high trust, respect, transparency, engagement, open participation and empowerment your employees will respond accordingly.

When people find meaning and happiness at work, wonderful things happen to the organization; culture and moral changes, staff turnover reduces, employees are more creative, innovative, confident, open-minded and generally more motivated.

As a leader, isn’t that the environment to work and operate in? I champion efforts to uplift women in the workplace because women have so much to offer the world and often times they don’t get equal opportunity to be heard or showcase their gifts.

 

The importance of empowering women in the workplace is documented in “The Business of Empowering Women”, a survey of 2,300 business executives.

The survey found that the companies who focused their efforts on empowering women reported significant business benefits.

A third of the businesses surveyed reported that their investments in women resulted in increased profits; another third reported their investments were expected to grow in the short-term.

In summary, to quote the late Kofi Anan,

“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”


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