Archive for the 'development' Category

Tackling the Global Education Crisis, One Innovation at a Time

Whether it’s helping Mexican university students bridge the gap between industry and academia, or providing Ugandan children with basic health education programs, many teams this year have chosen to tackle the difficult problems facing the global education sector.

In recent years, social innovators have joined the ranks of talented teachers and school administrators in rethinking traditional school models, finding creative ways to improve educational quality and access.

A new policy paper by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation might be of interest to those pursuing projects related to educational reform.

How Social Entrepreneurship is Helping to Improve Education Worldwide (available online) highlights the distinct contributions of social innovators in helping to improve early childhood education in low-income communities, creating alternate channels for funding, and providing basic skills to at-risk populations across the globe.

Author Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, draws from several interesting case studies that illustrate the potential for social enterprise to solve issues ranging from poor educational access to the growing achievement gap. The key to the success of these enterprises, Scofield writes, lies in their ability to effectively utilize business practices emphasizing sustainability and scalability – two important attributes of any winning IDEAS Challenge project! Here are a few examples:

In the Bronx, the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco) not only runs multiple afterschool programs and summer camps, but has also created hundreds of revenue-generating businesses within the community, helping to ensure the continued success and long-term sustainability of its programs.

In India, where harsh inequities prevail and 90 million women remain illiterate, the Mann Deshi Foundation provides vocational training and financial literacy to women in impoverished communities. It also runs the Mann Deshi Business School, which delivers microbusiness courses in mobile classrooms, and the Mann Deshi Mahlia Bank, which provides loans for its business school graduates to start microenterprises.

DonorsChoose.org is a charitable marketplace where teachers can make simple classroom requests, from pencils to microscope slides, for their students. As of August 2011, the website has generated $85 million benefitting more than 5 million schoolchildren in the U.S. The website notably allows individual donors to contribute to its overhead costs (with 76% choosing to do so), and has established diverse funding streams that include multiple corporate sponsors.

We hope that these examples of powerful — and sustainable — social innovations offer a bit of inspiration for those joining the education cause!

From the Field / Solar-Powered Autoclave

The Solar-Powered Autoclave team is working on harnessing the sun to power autoclaves for improved sterilization of medical devices. This week they’re down in Nicaragua working with women from the solar tech start-up Solar Women of Totogalpa.

Two quick peeks into what they’re working on:

SolarAutoclave / Nica July 2011

Teammate Ted working with the women in Ocotal.

From Anna: The photos are from Ocotal, Nicaragua outside of the IIH-MEDIK lab and include Alejandra, Yelba and Maria from the Solar Women of Totogalpa and Juan Miguel a local lab technician who was part of the MEDIK class taught by IIH.

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.

IDEAS and Global Challenge Teams – Delivering Impact

Thanks to all the teams that recently providing some exciting information about the progress you’ve made over the last year to tackle barriers to well-being in communities around the world. Here’s a round-up of some of the good stuff we’ve learned:

6Dot (Braille Labeler)

· Milestones. In the spring of 2011 6Dot moved into new offices of the Stanford student venture incubator, SSE Labs. 6Dot has gained awareness through participation in three major conferences and expos, including the Stanford Cool Projects Expo, the California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEVBI) conference and the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Diabilities Conference.

· Impact. 6Dot has begun low-volume production up to 250 of their Braille labeling devices for market. As of April 2011 they had secured more than 70 pre-sale commitments.

· Income. In May 2011 6Dot won $10,000 in the Stanford Product Showcase.

· Press. The 6dot Braille labeler was featured in a TV report by ivanhoe.com, which features “Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science.”

BLISS

· Milestones. On May 11 BLISS introduced the Sozankaar collection of bags. Sozankaar means, “skilled with the needle” in Dari. BLISS has operationalized its partnership with Boston-based charity Barakat to provide its curriculum and training program in participating schools in Pakistan. On September 7, BLISS founder Saba Gul and BLISS were commended by the U.S. State Department in a gathering that featured Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. BLISS raised $8k as a finalist in the Unreasonable Institute marketplace, earning a coveted spot in their summer Institute.

· Income. $8,000 Unreasonable Institute;

· Press. BLISS founder Saba Gul (SM ’09) featured in the March/April edition of MIT’s Technology Review.
Founder Saba Gul’s International Women’s Day post for ThinkChangePakistan.

EmpleoListo! (AssuredLabor)

  • Milestones. Launched in Nicaragua and Mexico, AssuredLabor/EmpleoListo! has signed up over 100,000 job seekers. More than 40 prestigious employers, from Philip Morris International to Alcatel-Lucent to MacDonalds and Wal*Mart as well as numerous national and local businesses use the service to recruit candidates. Now has 14 full-time employees based in 4 countries, including: Nicaragua, Mexico, Pakistan and the United States. In October 2010 won the Omidyar Fastpitch Competition.

· Impact. Hundreds of successful job matches made.

  • Income. Raised $1M from prestigious angel investors and Venture Capital funds across 3 continents.

· Press. Recently profiled for their work with MIT’s Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development by the MIT News Office; featured in Fast Company, “Text Here for a New Job”; and VentureBeat, “A Mobile LinkedIn for the Developing World”.

Continue reading ‘IDEAS and Global Challenge Teams – Delivering Impact’

Ideas: Unleashing Creativity through Competitions

Dr Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director of Global Community Initiatives at Microsoft (and recent interviewee of our own Sneha Kannan!) has some insights into student innovation, development, and social change in today’s Huffington Post!

On May 2 as part of MIT’s 150 year anniversary celebrations I will be speaking to students who have entered the MIT IDEAS Competition and Global Challenge — which support innovation and entrepreneurship as a public service. This year more than 80 teams have entered ideas that address barriers to well-being in communities in 24 countries. 46 of them have qualified to enter final proposals.

What is unique about this is that the competition is sparking collaboration among students at MIT and the worldwide MIT alumni network, as well as communities around the world. Opening up the participation to the larger community is interesting and an innovative way for a university to engage a much larger audience. Over the last decade we’ve seen more and more universities and companies launching competitions to develop ‘ideas’ to solve some of the most intractable social problems that we face.

Read the full article here.

Pitch Kitchen at MIT

AQUA PitchThere is a growing ecology of resources at MIT that support student ventures – from grounded ideation in programs like D-Lab to launch mechanisms like the $100k business plan competition. The idea behind Pitch Kitchen is to create an informal environment where students can trial their venture pitches in from of a mixed audience – representatives across these resources – and receive helpful feedback that sets them up for success down the road.

We had our first Pitch Kitchen in February 16. Peter Kang of Team AQUA presented the idea and business model for his project – an online game that is one part education tool and another part charity platform. In the room were representatives from $100k Emerging Markets Track, the Entrepreneurship Center, a communications expert from CSAIL, and yours truly from IDEAS/GC.

Kudos to Peter for his stamina – after presenting his 8-minute pitch he endured nearly a solid hour of intense questioning from panelists – all with the intent of helping Peter and team AQUA sharpen their message around a few key areas:

  • Community connection and impact
  • Transparency and accountability in income and expenditures
  • Representing communities without exploiting ie “gamifying” communities
  • Business and sustainability model
  • Translation of online income into on-the-ground impact

Interested in experiencing the crucible? Join us for the next Pitch Kitchen on Wednesday, 3/16 from 5:00-7:00pm in 4-145. Questions? Email lhtorres at mit dot edu.

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′

And the winner is…

Congratulations to IDEAS 2010 team Sanergy for your winning entry into the IDEAS and Global Challenge video pitch contest! Judges voted Sanergy’s pitch the best for the clear connection between your team’s accomplishment and the resources offered through IDEAS and the Global Challenge. Most importantly, the video did a wonderful job emphasizing a multidisciplinary team drawn from across the MIT community and a deep connection to community and MIT resources on the ground, like FabLab. Here’s the vid:

Sanergy from Ani Vallabhaneni on Vimeo.

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Thanks so much to all of the teams that entered a video into the pitch contest – the range of projects represented is amazing, and I hope that through the MIT Public Service Center we’ll continue to find ways to support your work. View all of the entries here.

At the Generator Dinner.

Last Wednesday we launched this year’s IDEAS Competition and the Global Challenge with a stellar gathering at the Generator Dinner here on campus. Over 100 people attended — students, alums, supporters, and community partners.

The conversation began with a panel on international development organized by our office mate Alison Hynd and Amy Smith with MIT’s D-Lab. Five organizations spoke on what they work towards on a daily basis and what are the key gaps that could benefit from attention and innovation of students. The five organizations:

Lars was live tweeting and caught the scope of challenges presented there.

Continue reading ‘At the Generator Dinner.’

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.