Cynthia Koenig (MS ’06/MBA ’11) Returns to Ross, Speaks about Amazon, Wello Experiences

It was  a perfect case of synchronicity. We shared information in our February newsletter about the new +Impact Studio course. Then one of our high-impact alums, Cynthia Koenig, was inspired to reach out to see how she could get involved, because her current role at Amazon centers around design thinking for social innovation, and she used design principles to found a social enterprise that tackles the wicked problem of water access.

Cynthia Koenig is a Principal in Product Management at Amazon, and she is also the founder and CEO of Wello, which makes the Water Wheel, a 50-liter container that enables people to roll water from water sources rather than carry it on their heads. This allows for three to five times more water to be transported at one time compared to traditional methods.

After receiving a $100,000 Grand Challenge Canada prize to develop the WaterWheel, and manufacturing the first WaterWheel in 2012, Wello rolled out its revolutionary WaterWheel in Rajasthan, India, at the end of 2013 to elated villagers.  Koenig’s Wello won the Dow Sustainability Challenge Grant and earned the Social Impact Award at the 2010 Michigan Business Challenge. Her work has been recognized by President Bill Clinton during the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University. 

Imagine her surprise, when after 8 years in India, and a bit out of touch with big tech players (“I had actually barely used Amazon.  I just thought it was an online shopping site.”), she was hired to work at Amazon in Product Management.

She speaks the language of +Impact Studio Faculty Director Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a professor at Ross. Design thinking, wicked problem solving and affinity maps were definitely part of her 18-month ramp-up for Wello. They provide what she terms “rails” or “lines” which open up creative thinking while ensuring that the work “doesn’t color too far out of the lines.” Koenig is excited to see Michigan Ross take the lead in design thinking by teaching the +Impact Studio course at the business school.

Her company, Wello participated in MAP, and Amazon has been a key partner in the Sanger Business+Impact Challenge, so we hope to see and hear more from Cynthia Koenig in the near future.

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