Archive for the 'mit' Category

What Works in Poverty Alleviation / A Review of Poor Economics

Much coverage has been given to MIT researchers Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’s new book, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. Banerjee and Duflo are well-known here at MIT for their use of randomized control experiments to test the means of poverty alleviation and their co-starting of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-Pal).

The 273 pages of Poor Economics shares the results of their research – and starts to fill in the gap between economist Jeffrey Sachs’ (aid breaks the poverty trap!) and William Easterly’s (free markets and provide incentives, people will solve their own problems!) theories on development.

Banerjee and Duflo’s work raises oft-debated questions such as what really supports the use of bed nets in malaria infested areas, when is microfinance useful, and why, given the availability of education, are more individuals not receiving quality education? What is actually working?

There are many good intentions in development work (regardless of the location); being able to learn from and distinguish between good intentions and theories and the associated results will help us all push forward the next iterations on our work.

As writers Ramnath and Misra point out in Forbes India, “The approach is not without its critics [one example]. One relates to the danger of generalising [sic] the results (what social researchers call ‘external validity’; it questions whether what worked in one place will work in another). In an earlier interview, Banerjee said it was a serious concern. But some evidence is better than no evidence. Also, many such trials will lead to better policies.”

While we are all not able to commit to (or have the luxury to) conduct randomized control trials, we can learn from Duflo and Banerjee’s work. They offer five key lessons when working on poverty alleviation (summarized here and can be found starting on page 268):

  1. A lack of information often contributes to untrue beliefs.
  2. The poor bear responsibility for too many important decisions (such as whether to spend money on vaccinations).
  3. Markets are not always friendly to the poor.
  4. Many policies meant to help fall short because of the three Is: ignorance, ideology, and inertia.
  5. People live up to their expectations.

Duflo and Banerjee end on a practical note, inviting readers to use the book as an invitation (almost a challenge) to dig deeper. As they say,

If we resist the kind of lazy, formulaic thinking that reduces every problem to the same set of general principles; if we listen to poor people themselves and force ourselves to understand the logic of their choices; if we accept the possibility of error and subject every idea, including the most apparently commonsensical ones, to rigorous empirical testing, then we will be able  not only to construct a toolbox of effective policies but also to better understand why the poor live the way they do. Armed with this patient understanding, we can identify the poverty traps where they really area and know which tools we need to give the poor to help them get out of them. (page 272)

You can find more about the book here: http://www.pooreconomics.com.

Press Release: MIT Global Challenge will Launch to Worldwide Community January 7, 2011

Contact: Lars Hasselblad Torres
617-999-5294
lhtorres@mit.edu

Be A Part of ItCambridge, MA — The MIT Global Challenge, a new initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Public Service Center, will launch on January 7, 2011 as the Institute celebrates 150 years of service to the world. It is anticipated that more than 30 MIT-based teams will compete for a total of $150,000 in awards with up to $25,000 per team that enable winning teams to implement novel solutions to some of the world’s urgent challenges.

The MIT Global Challenge is an online platform that connects and awards teams of public service innovators led by full-time MIT students. The website will unite students, the worldwide MIT community, and their collaborators in identifying barriers to well being in communities around the world, encouraging teams to work together to develop and pilot innovative solutions to those problems.

Sally Susnowitz, Director of the MIT Public Service Center, has described the MIT community as, “a community of ingenious problem solvers who enjoy solving challenging problems.” The MIT Global Challenge, she says, “invites and supports the entire MIT community worldwide in applying their creativity and knowledge to help people in need throughout the world by working with them to create innovative and effective solutions to their problems.”

Continue reading ‘Press Release: MIT Global Challenge will Launch to Worldwide Community January 7, 2011′

Oct 21| MIT Agricultural Processes Challenge kick-off

[Cross-posted from the MIT Food + Agriculture Collaborative]

October 21, 2010: Yunus Innovation Challenge Kickoff dinner, from 7:00 to 9:00pm, R&D Pub Lounge (Stata Center, 4th Floor).

PROBLEM

Around the world, 550 million smallholder farmers lack access to mechanized agricultural technology. Many important food staples like maize (corn) and grains (e.g., rice or wheat) are harvested and processed by hand, which is both labor intensive and time consuming. This year’s Yunus Challenge calls for locally and environmentally sustainable innovations to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

THE CHALLENGE

The 2011 Yunus Challenge will be awarded to participants who create an innovative solution that has the most potential to increase adoption of beneficial agricultural technologies, financial systems, or market access among smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods. Participants are encouraged to put their energy toward creating solutions that overcome the behavioral and situational hurdles of the adoption of agricultural innovations, rather than looking at the challenge only in terms of the creation of new technologies. That said, the proposed solution may involve a physical device.

Scot Frank, Sol Source Earn Big for Green Work

Congratulations to alum Scot Frank, who’s solar concentrator just snagged €500,000 in the Netherland’s Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. From the press release:

AMSTERDAM, 23 September 2010 – Scot Frank has won the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2010 for the affordable portable solar concentrator SolSource. His Royal Highness Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau, the honorary jury chair, announced the American as the recipient of the €500,000 grand prize.

“This is fantastic,” Frank said. “We’ve been working with target users in China for five years. We’ll use this money to set up our Chinese manufacturing, marketing and distribution base.”

The SolSource is a light, foldable device that harnesses the sun’s energy to cook, generate heat and light, and charge mobile phones. It eliminates indoor air pollution from dung- and wood-burning ovens. SolSource also saves women hours each day by removing the need to collect fuel. The device, to be produced from local materials in its target markets and sold for €10, will be a boon in developing countries.

Read the complete announcement here.

Deadline Extended to 10/15! Enter the MIT Global Challenge Video Pitch Contest

Deadline extended! What’s are you doing to change the world? How can resources like the IDEAS Competition and MIT Global Challenge help?

Share your story in the Global Challenge Video Pitch Competition and be eligible to win $1500.

The contest is open to anyone, but teams must involve MIT students. The winning entry will receive $1500 and will be featured at the October 23 Alumni Leadership Conference launch of the MIT Global Challenge.

We’re launching the MIT Global Challenge to connect and reward teams of innovators and entrepreneurs that are tackling barriers to well-being through invention. We need the world-changing students who benefit from opportunities like IDEAS and the MIT Global Challenge to help us spread the word!

We want to tap student passion to make the world a better place by asking you to make a case for why the MIT community worldwide should care about the Global Challenge. To be successful we’ll need their support to fund awards, underwrite challenges, and support student projects as mentors, volunteers, and local promoters of the Global Challenge. Download contest details [word.doc].

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A Passion to Make the World A Better Place

There are many familiar faces in this inspiring MIT Department of Engineering video – congrats to everyone, ans a special shout out to IDEAS winners who continue to apply problem-solving prowess to humanitarian problems!

The International Development Design Summit

Fort Collins, Colorado has been hosting the International Development Design Summit for the past few weeks. It’s a gathering of students and teachers, professors and pastors, economists and engineers, masons and mechanics, doctors, welders, farmers, and community organizers from around the world. Attendees come together to develop new technologies, build prototypes and work towards the realization of ideas. MIT is co-sponsoring the event and some of our own from the D-Lab can be found in Colorado. This year their focus has been on the dissemination of nine featured inventions.

Those nine ideas range from a pressurized, portable bamboo treatment system in Nepal, a water filter in India targeted towards women, a method for transforming Haitian agricultural waste into fuel, an affordable nipple shield to prevent HIV from spreading through a mother’s milk, a safer way to clean water with chlorine, a household water filter in Africa, irrigation technologies for smaller farms in Asia, a solar heating system in Brazil, and solar lights in the Himalayas. If you find yourself in Fort Collins this afternoon, the prototypes are open to the public.

MIT Students, Alum Prepare for Learning Trip

My colleague Alison Hynd who manages public service fellowship and internship opportunities at MIT will be introducing MIT alumni to a project students are involved with in Ecuador this Summer. To help orient alumni to their upcoming trip to the Kallari cacao farmers and chocolate production facilities, the students put together this outstanding welcome video – check it out!

MITGC Introduction Slide Deck

Turn Your Smartphone Into an Optometrist

Remember sitting in front of that hulking, weird Hardware-like device as a kid, the nose of your optometrist inches away as you both peered through the phoropter? A group at MIT might be changing all that – at least for some folks in resource-strapped communities where a $2500 piece of diagnostic equipment and maintenance is beyond their capacity. With the introduction of a new device developed my researchers in MIT’s Camera Culture group in the Media Lab, the phoroptor may be headed the way of the oviraptor.

Dubbed PerfectSight, a 2010 IDEAS winner profiled today by MIT’s News Office (with a splashy home page spotlight!),  the Smartphone attachment is able to detect a range of refractive eye disorders within seconds. This turns the traditional model of optometry on its head: now eye specialists can get out of the costly eye care centers and into field, creating greater access to care, potentially revolutionizing the number of diagnoses carried out on any given day.

Learn more about the device and the Camera Culture group.