As Catapult Design’s co-founder and CEO, Heather Fleming teams up with organizations to engineer technologies that actually reach those who need them most, helping to close the gap in social inequality.
“We can’t simply measure success based on ‘units sold’ because our ultimate objective is to understand how these technologies impacted lives.”
Growing up on an Indian reservation in rural New Mexico, Heather Fleming experienced firsthand the design challenges of limited access to resources. Working around a lack of running water and electricity primed her for the Product Design program at Stanford. While learning about the social and economic benefit a treadle pump had on Kenyan farmers’ lives, she realized that “we could, and should, be considering the social impact of what we create.”
After college, with disappointingly few opportunities for “designers interested in the social space,” Heather volunteered with Engineers Without Borders while simultaneously working at a product design consultancy. When she began to meet enough like-minded colleagues, she “merged worlds,” combining these otherwise disparate undertakings to co-found Catapult Design.
Catapult works with both nonprofit and for-profit, so long as they are “doing innovative, exciting work in a financially sustainable way.” Heather formed Catapult with powerful outcomes in mind. She says, “at the end of the day we’re an impact-driven organization and we want to make sure we work with organizations that have the capacity to implement the solutions.”
Though Heather tackles head-on the same kinds of problems she herself once faced in “one of the most economically depressed communities in the U.S.,” she mostly works in developing nations. As much as she’d like to “beef up” Catapult’s implementation strategies, she’d also love to apply their field-testing methodologies, positive case studies, and supply chain and distribution strategies to needs closer to home. “There are many communities in our own backyard that are equally overlooked,” she says.
Although such projects may only be on her wish list for now, Catapult Design isn’t Heather’s only outlet for affecting American product design: she’s also a lecturer, a Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellow, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, on the Board of Directors of the Navajo Chamber of Commerce on the Navajo Nation, and chairs a committee within ASME’s Engineering for Global Development initiative.