Caitria O'Neill
(d.school fellow 2013-2014)

A former tech-company CEO and backpacking, kayaking and expedition guide -- Caitria O’Neill has been known to dabble. Over the years a common theme has emerged, however. She likes to solve human problems. Ever since June 2011 when an EF3 tornado ripped through her hometown of Monson, Massachusetts, the ability of communities to put themselves back together has come first. The storm made her parents’ home uninhabitable and destroyed the homes of many of her neighbors, but Caitria's more than just a survivor. She's a solver.

Storms are not known for giving, but this storm gave Caitria at least one thing: an idea. She and numerous others in Monson, frustrated with the emergency response system and its many and often unintentional inefficiencies, banded together immediately after the storm hit. They used the minimal technology available to them -- Facebook and Google’s Docs and Voice platforms -- to create a work-order network for people in need to reach out to those able to provide assistance.

The network was a rogue operation at first, functioning outside of the government’s emergency management structure. Officials told them to shut down in the interest of preserving residents’ and emergency responders’ safety. But the makeshift network persisted, and eventually led Caitria, a graduate of Harvard University, and her sister to found Recovers, an organization that makes software recovery kits available to towns immediately after a natural disaster.

The part of Caitria's story that is often missed, if you ask her, is the figurative road that runs between the storm and the founding of Recovers. She describes herself as an introvert who prefers quiet time reading, hiking or camping. Before the storm, she was more inclined to write white papers than tackle the challenges of being an entrepreneur. She was “terrified of being on the phone,” she says. But somewhere between the storm and the founding of Recovers, an introvert en route to becoming a professional academic transformed into an unlikely evangelist.

”My particular form of post traumatic stress disorder," she says, "was to start a company."

Caitria has since left her position at Recovers, and is dedicating her time as a d.school fellow to learning the methodology of design thinking and leveraging the talents of the fellows cohort. Specifically, she wants to focus on how to ask good questions and develop better, more effective mechanics.

Follow Caitria on Twitter at @CaitriaONeill.

Whiteboard Ink:

I miss my old process, and it hurts

What, teach this stuff?

Related Links

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTA9egEBPts

"How Communities bounce back from disaster" Caitria O'Neill, CNN

Recovers.org is making donations more efficient Alison Overholt, Fast Company.