Archive for the 'conversation' Category

MIT IDEAS Global Challenge now on Pinterest

All IDEAS entrants, if you have visual content you would like to display to generate publicity for your team as public voting goes on, there is now a Pinterest board dedicated to showcasing all teams in the Global Challenge, MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Teams.  E-mail with your Pinterest username so that you can be added to the list of collaborators who can post to the IDEAS Board.  If you are not on Pinterest yet, you may request an invite via the site itself or by e-mailing the same address listed prior.  Happy pinning!

Trash Into Art

This week, the Trash Into Art installation is on display in the MIT Stata Center, first floor.

The goal of Trash Into Art is to raise awareness around the value of waste materials such as cardboard, Styrofoam, plastics, metals, and other objects found in a garbage can. A crucial focus is the impact of waste on marginalized people and communities.

This exhibition features student artists who were challenged to collect pieces of waste for a week, and to create a thought-provoking project from materials that would otherwise be thrown away.

The installation is one component of the larger “Waste: Put it to Use” Yunus Challenge, presented by the MIT International Development Initiative in collaboration with MIT D-Lab and the IDEAS Global Challenge.

For more photos, click here.

Farmhack@MIT Ignite! Pitches



Hey there’s a great event coming up at MIT in early March. Its called Farmhack, and the purpose is to bring together New England small-scale farmers and MIT engineers to identify projects for collaboration. There seems to be a consensus that the equipment available is costly, or simply does not respond well to the needs, constraints, and conditions of America’s small acreage farmers. Some of the areas that have come up include seeding technologies, soil monitoring systems, lifestock monitoring systems, irrigation systems. And more! So, if you are a New England farmer or an MIT engineer interested in using small-scale farms as laboratories for innovation, join us! Here are the details.

Farmers -

Do you come away from visits to other farms inspired by a tool or system that you just saw?  Have you invented things on your farm?  Can you describe some challenges on your farm that a team of farmers and engineers might be able to address with a new tool?

Engineers and Designers -

Do you have technical skills that you want to apply to the real world in real time? Are you interested in a direct relationship with the solutions our society needs? Have you considered applying your skill-set to sustainable agriculture?

Continue reading ‘Farmhack@MIT’

Science, Adventure, and Service

The Guardian UK has a delightful article that describes the confluence of history, science, and adventure that turns on the story of Darwin, the redesign of the HMS Beagle, and NASA scientists today – and ways they inspire modern K-12 education. At the heart of the article is a wonderful quote, that “Inspiration, then, fuelled by adventure, was the trigger for Darwin’s lifelong commitment to science. Over the past few years the Beagle Project team has worked to bring the adventure of science back into focus.”

I think this affinity for adventure and discovery among students is a big part of what makes public service so attractive at MIT – its the opportunity for students to apply their problem-solving skills in very different and unfamiliar contexts that stretch their learning. This is exciting, and it’s also problematic, and goes to the heart of a robust debate that Bruce Nussbaum kicked off a few months back on design and the new “imperialism.” When the HMS Beagle – a very adept ten gun sloop of war of the British Navy – set out on its historic voyage nearly 180 years ago, Britain was at the apex of its colonial expansion, and the voyage marked a projection of power far more than it did a scientific endeavor.

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Global Health “Game Changers” – But Will the People Play?

Today the Huffington Post carries a story by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah describing a new approach to tackling – and solving – development: identify “game changers” through “grand challenges.” What this means is, USAID is actively seeking out innovative scientific research and technological innovation that hold significant promise to reduce large-scale barriers to human well being around the world. By way of illustration, the authors lead with a celebration of microbicide trials. What they fail to point out is that in U.S., women’s AIDS activists have been pushing for greater access to microbicides for years; politics has been the principle barrier to widespread access in the past, not technological shortcomings.

I fear the same dilemma will play out for many of the technological innovations that could help us make headway in other areas identified by the administration:

  • How tosustainably provide electricity to rural and hard-to-reach communities in the developing world;
  • How to make education available anytime, anywhere, for anyone;
  • How to better manage and coordinate responses to humanitarian crises and conflicts;
  • How to create resilience in staple grain crops to environmental change and variability; and
  • How to provide high-quality, affordable, primary health care in rural communities.

So while the administration, and readers of the Huffington Post, will likely take it as a given that the public “goods” described and promoted through the “grand challenges” will be well served through ongoing innovation (what isn’t?), much more daunting will be the necessary political will to ensure that research and deployment occurs within a lasting political framework for widespread adoption. To complicate the landscape further, the success of political action will turn on good amounts of social, cultural, and individual acceptability and behavior change – domains that have proven surprisingly selective in terms of technological uptake.

Research carried out by economists like Esther Duflo at MIT’s Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) is exciting in this regard. It has long been said that “economics” is as much about good guess work as it is about hard science. Working to understand the behavioral and environment conditions under which economic well-being does and does not flourish, Duflo and her colleagues are revolutionizing the field. For the “grand challenges” to work, it will be important to better understand the conditions under which “solutions” can be implemented successfully. Through the information collected over the years in fields such as health, finance, and agriculture J-PAL is developing an unparalleled – and often myth-busting – view of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to technological adoption.

A “disruptive” technology is hard to forecast; a “game changer” is even harder to discern. USAID’s strategy to shift the global development needle toward positive outcomes for more people would be well-served to champion not just the technologies but the political and social barriers that will inevitably impede the widespread adoption necessary for success.

    Bruce Nussbaum: The New Imperialism

    During the period of rapid American mechanization and industrialization – from roughly the late 18th century through the 19th century – the United States benefitted significantly from the contributions of foreign inventors and entrepreneurs. One might go so far as to say, the founding of American industrial strength out of this period was formed out of strong continental ties and a lively exchange of ideas and designs.

    Explicit knowledge transfer programs like worker training and study tours thrived as societies sought to keep abreast of the latest technological advances – as did less formal modes of learning, including philosophical societies and outright espionage.

    Against this backdrop of the lively exchange of knowledge and commerce, it comes as a bit of a shock to read the latest musing of Bruce Nussbaum, a professor of Innovation and Design at the Parsons School of Design, who mused in a recent Fast Company Design article whether “Humanitarian design is the new imperialism?” Granted, this is a line of enquiry he’s used in the past, for example in a 2009 Businessweek article when he asked whether “Green” was the new imperialism.

    Continue reading ‘Bruce Nussbaum: The New Imperialism’

    Maker Faire Africa 2010: Call for Makers

    Maker Faire Africa is a celebration of ingenuity and entrepreneurship across the African continent. It is inspired by the successful spread of DIY festivals known as Maker Faires across the United States (check out the latest on the New York City World Maker Faire in September).

    The Maker Faire Africa (MFA) co-founding team of organizers (Emeka Okafor/TED Africa, Erik Hersman/Ushahidi, Emer Beamer/Butteryfly Works, Henry Barnor/GhanaThink, and Mark Grimes/Ned/NedSpace/NedWater) seek African innovators, inventors, and makers to participate in the second Maker Faire Africa event to be held in Nairobi, Kenya August 27-28th on the University of Nairobi campus.

    To encourage African innovators, inventors and makers from all African countries to try to make it to this unique and one-of-a-kind event, they have some limited funds for those makers outside Nairobi requiring travel and accommodation assistance.

    In addition, MFA10 organizers are trying as much as they can to locate and invite women innovators and makers. They’ve found that during last year’s event in Accra, Ghana locating women makers was a challenge, especially those outside arts/crafts categories.

    Maker Faire Africa is a free event for all invited makers, innovators and inventors. All the makers that “applied” last year participated in the event. To view some images of the event in Accra, please visit the MFA site.

    View the complete call for makers.

    IDEAS2010 winners retreat reflections

    IDEAS held its annual winners retreat May 25-26 at the always welcoming and excellent MIT Endicott House in Dedham. Over the course of two days, participants were asked to work with their team members and fellow winners to plan their next year of work, with an eye toward long-term impacts.

    Although we didn’t get around to some of the more adventurous options like firewalking and gravity-less flight we had a great time interacting across discussions and activities like:

    • Project roadmap: plan the ultimate outcomes you envision for your project, and wrap around each the objectives, activities, resources, and timeline necessary to achieve those goals. Laura Sampath, International Development Initiative manager and Daphne Dhao, MIT alum and superstar IDEAS volunteer, led great discussions and workshops that privided practical tools for project planning, including a discussion of “Asking the right questions.”

    Continue reading ‘IDEAS2010 winners retreat reflections’


    Over on his “Dare Mighty Things” blog, tech and social entrepreneur Ryan Allis writes, “As I sit on the 28th floor of a hotel in San Francisco I am angry, yet hopeful. I wonder why in a world with as much wealth as we see, as much luxury that we experience, should 40% of the human species live on under $2 per day?”

    Ryan’s uncharacteristically outraged.

    Always passionate, there’s a ring of clarity and urgency. This from a guy who, not even 20, founded a successful technology company and today spends alot of time inspiring others. Ryan’s young, smart, successful – he’s supposed to be optimistic about the human species and our capacity to shape the world for the better, right? So what gives?

    Continue reading ‘Why?’