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Designing for impact

As a child, Honey Bajaj accompanied her father on business trips to Nathu La at the India-China border in Sikkim. Soldiers’ quarters there were at an altitude of 14,140 feet above sea level, and safe drinking water was difficult to come by. The only method for accessing water was converting snow using kerosene oil and a stove, but this caused pollution and left the water unfiltered.

A natural problem-solver, Bajaj was inspired to develop a way to provide clean drinking water for the soldiers. “The result was a case study of the camps and outposts of the Indian Army in Sikkim that was presented to senior officials,” she said.

After two months of research and prototyping, she finalized the design for a manual filter to melt snow into purified water.

Today, Bajaj is a member of the inaugural class of the Integrated Design and Management program, a master’s curriculum designed to produce new business models, great products, and the creativity to solve complex, hard-to-define problems. The program is offered jointly by MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the MIT School of Engineering. Bajaj has come a long way to get here. She was raised in the foothills of the Himalayas in Siliguri, India, where she studied at St. Joseph’s, Matigara, an all-girls’ convent school.

Following high school, she completed a bachelor’s program in English Honors at the University of Delhi, and then a second bachelor’s program in product and user interface design at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology.

“‘Success is the worst teacher; hence be fearless and take action.’ That’s the attitude which was instilled in me by my parents and my aunt, who played a special role in my life from the time I was born,” said Bajaj. “These are the mantras that have helped me move my work forward.”

MIT’s Integrated Design and Management program was Bajaj’s next educational pursuit. The program is not only providing her with management and engineering skills, but is also helping to broaden her perspective as a designer and entrepreneur, she said. “This program will create leaders who will build organizations to create innovative and sustainable products, services, and systems,” said Bajaj, who will graduate in 2017.

Bajaj’s work focuses on designing for impact, especially among the largest, poorest segment of the world’s population. She is working to understand the market’s needs in health care, education, energy, and accessibility. After traveling through 16 states in India, she has gained a working knowledge of maternal and infant mortality issues, rural transportation challenges, emerging markets, use of technology in classrooms, energy consumption practices, and electricity needs in rural areas.

In 2010, Bajaj joined the founders of Embrace, an organization dedicated to improving health care for children in developing countries. In India, she helped to design and invent an affordable infant warmer. The Embrace Warmer, a non-electric warmer that can be used in clinical or home environments, helps to protect premature and low-birth weight babies from hypothermia.

While at MIT, Bajaj serves as the executive co-chair of the Graduate Women at MIT, a student-led group founded in 2009. The role allows her to be involved with the personal and professional development of MIT’s graduate women.

Going forward, Bajaj hopes to create opportunities for women in her native country. “I aim to set up a non-profit program for training young girls and women to discover their talent, along with helping them start an entrepreneurial journey,” she said.

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