Project First Light

Over the past few years, one of Fjord’s founders, Mike Beeston, has been working hard in the eastern region of Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world’s poorest nations.

Together with local people. Mike founded “Ensemble Pour La Difference”, a not-for-profit, CIC (community interest company) that provides design and innovation mentorship. Ensemble also provides macro and micro loans to small businesses that are rooted in local culture, are sustainable and have proven community value.

Fjord have partnered with Ensemble on the First Light project, intended to help Congolese people innovate with design-led strategy, training and technology.


We are also setting up design and innovation led educational initiatives to act as a guiding light for people who need it most, along with developing our own design-led methodologies in the toughest of environments, thus honing our practice.


Helping people, help themselves

We believe that it is in supporting people to improve their lives by themselves, that the Congolese will become empowered, own their own development, fostering peace and stability.  Where an NGO’s charitable interventions are on a top-down basis, Ensemble is very much about ground-up service design and community owned business design based on hyper-local human need.

Having partners like Ensemble, invested long term on the ground, who know the culture and live within it, is a crucial requirement to sustain services.  Our colleagues from Bukavu are becoming design and innovation leaders, providing the vital operational insight needed.

We are showcasing how designers and technologists in developed and developing countries can collaborate to roll-out and scale achievable and meaningful changes.

Innovation via extreme constraints

Difficulties forge services that must be exceptionally robust and easy to use.  A successful ground-up customer service in Bukavu must contend with sporadic power supply, multiple languages, illiteracy, minute incomes and therefore financially prohibitive mobile & data access.

Designing for customers facing constraints such as these, forces the deepest levels of research, alongside creative and innovative construction & testing.

We know that sustainable business models that are designed here will be replicable across the developing world, as there can be nowhere else with greater adversity.

Maintaining initiatives requires considerate and sustainable support from the outside.  Service design education is key.  This is Fjord’s role.  Fjord’s designers and technologists are working alongside Ensemble’s local community leaders to provide methodical design-led business management instruction.

Our challenges are to develop and implement sustainable, prosperous businesses owned and run by local people, thus bringing tangible human value to hundreds of thousands of people in the most constrained region, Kivu, on the border of Rwanda and Burundi.

Find out more about the places where we work.