In the summer of 2010 we featured a social innovation called the Information Blanket -- a baby blanket printed with infographic-style instructions on how to care for an infant. Operating on a Buy One/Give One model, the for-profit social business works with Shanti Uganda to give an Information Blanket to a mother in Uganda for every English-language blanket sold.
Today we're interviewing the founder, Neil Powell, to find out more about the inspiration behind the Information Blanket (you got it, TOMS Shoes was part of it), what made him decide to get involved in the social enterprise sector, and his tricks for replenishing creativity.
4 Questions with Neil Powell, Founder of the Information Blanket
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
Generally speaking, it came from my belief that there’s a real need for information among many first-time parents, no matter where you’re from. I wanted to create a self-sustaining company that didn’t rely on donations, and TOMS Shoes provided a great model.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
I created The Information Blanket in response to PSFK’s “Future of Health” report, which they wrote for UNICEF. It struck me that one effective way to fight infant mortality globally would be through the dissemination of information. If mothers worldwide had the proper facts about newborn health, millions of young children could be saved. In creating The Information Blanket, then, I tried to answer two questions: what basic information isn’t being made accessible to mothers in countries like Uganda, where the infant mortality rate is shockingly high, and what product can I create that will have a practical use for those mothers? A baby blanket seemed like the obvious choice. Not only does it provide a basic necessity for the infant, but it’s a large surface on which we can communicate basic information about newborn health.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
As a parent myself, I know how terrifying it can be to realize your child is sick and not know exactly what to do about it. Even the most prepared parents forget what they’re supposed to do in a moment of crisis. But the “Future of Health” report brought me face to face with the terrifying prospect of raising a child without any of that preparation that I was lucky enough to have. My trip to Uganda in May, during which I launched The Information Blanket, made that idea all too real, as I met woman after woman who didn’t have the basic supplies or information necessary to care for her newborn. I returned from Uganda with a renewed sense of dedication to the project, and it hasn’t diminished in the slightest.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
I have a lot of creative outlets. I paint, sculpt and make furniture. I find that moving from one exercise to another helps keep my mind fresh and (hopefully) full of ideas. I spend most of my creative time in my studio in upstate New York. Being surrounded by nature has always been part of my process because it helps me focus and calms my thinking.