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How a Creative Agency Became a Catalyst for Social Change

This story appears in the June 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Frog Design is redesigning what it means to be a creative consultancy. Sure, the San Francisco-based firm develops state-of-the-art products, services and strategies for brands, but it’s also leveraging its core competencies to improve the quality of life for impoverished citizens at home and abroad. The agency’s frogImpact team collaborates with nonprofits, corporate foundations and other charitable concerns to engineer and deploy design-centric solutions and strategies to challenges like healthcare, education and disaster relief. 

Frog Design created the Healthy Baby kit for expectant mothers in developing nations.

FrogImpact’s greatest hits include the Collective Action Toolkit, a downloadable collection of resources and collaborative activities to help solve community problems; Backpack PLUS, an integrated set of physical, digital and service-level components for community health workers, created in conjunction with UNICEF and the MDG Health Alliance; Healthy Baby, a neonatal support system commissioned by Bill Gates; and pure oxygen supply businesses in Rwanda and Kenya, operated under the auspices of local nongovernmental organizations. 

“Our core belief is creating lasting value by advancing the human experience,” says Hans Neubert, Frog Design’s chief creative officer. “We want to be the idealists and dreamers you can rely on to carry your vision forward.” 

Celebrated German industrial designer Hartmut Esslinger founded Frog in 1969; it became a driving force in the emerging personal computing segment. In 1982 Apple contracted Frog to formulate its Snow White design language, employed across multiple systems between 1984 and 1990. Over time Frog also tackled projects for clients ranging from Microsoft to Louis Vuitton to Disney, moving past industrial design into software, e-commerce and mobility solutions. 

The frogImpact platform spun out of Project Masiluleke, which paired Frog with the nonprofit PopTech in an effort to boost AIDS education across South Africa via free text messages that encourage mobile phone subscribers to contact HIV call centers to explore testing and treatment options. Since Project Masiluleke launched in 2008, more than 250,000 South Africans have requested information, tripling volume into the country’s National AIDS Helpline. 

“We realized that many of the same methodologies being applied to innovate large corporations, startups and the commercial end of the spectrum could also be very relevant to what we call ‘design for social impact,’” says Fabio Sergio, vice president and global lead of Frog’s Social Impact practice. “Something as simple as sending a text message can achieve really important net effects in contexts where resources are limited or scarce.” 

The frogImpact team is now shifting its focus to the world directly outside its window, joining in late 2014 with San Francisco nonprofit Tipping Point Community on T Lab, a program dedicated to prisoner reentry, affordable childcare and other issues facing the 1.3 million Bay Area residents living below the poverty line.

“There’s a passion here to change the world and a belief that design can play a role in that,” says Frog Design president Andy Zimmerman. “If we continue to scale what we’re doing, it will be an incredible change agent.” 

More social impact brilliance

EveryLayer has developed a cloud-based software system to wire Africa at half the cost, working with Facebook, Cisco, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and others to expand support for communications after the Ebola outbreak of 2014.

The low-cost BioLite HomeStove burns biomass twice as efficiently as open flame while emitting one-tenth of the carbon monoxide and smoke, and generates electricity to charge devices like cell phones—a potential lifesaver for the 3 billion people worldwide who cook over open fires and lack access to reliable power.

BluMarble collects glass bottles from Las Vegas resorts and eateries and cuts them into glassware, light fixtures, jewelry and other tabletop accessories sold at a retail shop downtown and in the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino.  

Brand-name used-clothing e-tailer Twice boasts low prices on luxury goods and inventory to rival Amazon and eBay, adding more than 5,000 items every day. 

Household-supplies subscription service ePantry keeps customers stocked with eco-friendly cleaners and paper products, all delivered to their front door.

Codestarter crowdfunds $250 at a time to buy laptops loaded with programming software for kids who want to learn to code.

For each of Yoobi’s school supplies purchased, another is donated to a school or hospital classroom through the Kids in Need Foundation or Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Donors who send used women’s designer clothing to Fashion Project’s online marketplace can choose which charity will receive 55 percent of net profits from the sale; buyers see who their purchase will benefit. 

Twenty percent of net proceeds from the lingerie brand Empowered by You goes to the Seven Bar Foundation, which offers microloans to help impoverished women in multiple countries go into business. 

Jason Ankeny

Written By

Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.