Monthly Archive for January, 2011

Q&A With MIT’s Community Innovators Lab

This is part of a series of posts that came out of a conversation between IDEAS and the MIT Global Challenge, Alexa Mills of MIT’s CoLab and Andrew Whitacre of MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media. We started a Q&A triangle where each of us asks questions through the lens of our program. Here is Alexa Mills and Dayna Cunningham from CoLab speaking about their work.

CoLab & CoLab Radio
CoLab is a center for planning and development within MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. CoLab works with low-income communities in putting their assets to work to help strengthen civic life and use the market as an arena for achieving social justice. Its vision is for domestic and international communities to be democratically governed, provide the means for residents to generate decent livelihoods, and be clean, healthy, and environmentally sound. CoLab Radio describes how that vision happens step-by-step, story by story, in communities.

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A worker at the <a href="http://www.evergreencoop.com/Laundry/index.html" target="_blank">Evergreen Cooperative Laundry</a> loads laundry.

A worker at the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry loads laundry. The Evergreen Cooperative model operates at the intersection of three key realms: urban sustainability, civic engagement, and shared-wealth generation. CoLab calls this intersection the 'sweet spot'. Photo by Rob Crauderueff.


KM: Where do you see examples of growth and creativity in working with communities to solve some of the challenges communities face?

Alexa Mills: Every community we work with is doing something incredible. In terms of media and communications, I think the work at Kentuckians for the Commonwealth has been inspiring. This year they published a video that ended with an older gentleman shouting “Blog it, Baby!” to a crowd of hundreds of his fellow Appalachians in support of the alternative energy / anti-mountaintop removal coal mining movement. They have integrated various media tools into nearly every aspect of their work,in a region where many people don’t have Internet access.

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The MIT Global Challenge Journey Begins…

Almost 4 years ago, the MIT150 planning committee requested ideas about a significant way to mark the Institute’s 150 years of service to the world with characteristics that include a focus on doing, was distinctively MIT, was participatory, and that communicated to the world.

Sally Susnowitz, the Director of the MIT Public Service Center, responded enthusiastically to that call with a vision to create a high-profile IDEAS Competition that involves the whole MIT community worldwide in innovative, multidisciplinary problem-solving in partnership with communities from Central Square to central Africa.  The MIT IDEAS “Global Challenge,” Susnowitz offered, “will activate the entire MIT community to apply their problem-solving skills to tackle the world’s problems for the next 150 years.  The collective mind-and-hand power of students and their families, faculty, alumni, affiliates, spouses, and others will traverse the globe, as alumni team members and mentors on-site in distant regions use new communications resources to work with students and faculty teammates located at MIT.”

Today, as the Institutes celebrates its 150th anniversary with the launch of MIT150, it is exciting to reflect that much of the MIT150 charge – and Sally’s vision – has been realized with the simultaneous launch of the MIT Global Challenge to the worldwide MIT community. What a thrill!

Of course, this vision would not be realized without the untethered enthusiasm and support from so many quarters, including the MIT alumni who have backed this effort from day one (you know who you are!), MIT students who have patiently and with encouragement kicked the tires and helped us fine tune the site, the countless community partners who have defined student service opportunities and welcomed their passion and problem-solving skills – and so many others including the remarkable faculty at MIT and the staff who have guided and influenced this effort from the start. Thank you all!

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The Future of Civic Media

Alexa Mills of MIT’s CoLab, Andrew Whitacre of MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media and I hatched an idea to start a Q&A triangle where each of us asks questions through the lens of our program. Here’s the first in a series of two where I asked Andrew questions about C4.

Center for Future Civic MediaThe MIT Center for Future Civic Media creates and deploys technical and social tools that fill the information needs of communities. We are inventors of new technologies that support and foster civic media and political action; we are a hub for the study of these technologies; and we coordinate community-based test beds both in the United States and internationally.

KM: How does C4 identify areas that can use civic media technology and tools — and then, translate that knowledge into action?

AW: Areas can mean both geography and intellectual spaces. So we constantly evaluate our strengths, needs, and interests and seek out community partners that are a good fit in terms of the setting and the problem being addressed.

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6 MIT Ventures Among 2011 Echoing Green Semifinalists

It is always inspiring to see the transformation of nascent ideas into growing ventures, and this year’s Echoing Green Finalists are no exception. Among some of the exciting ideas – including a vehicle designed and produced in Africa called Mobius – are six ventures that began at, or have been advanced at, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here’s a quick summary of these outstanding young initiatives:

  • Community Water Solutions. Community Water Solutions is a non-for-profit social enterprise that partners with rural communities in developing countries to establish sustainable water treatment businesses. These businesses are owned and operated by the communities that they serve, and use simple, affordable technologies to enable the treatment, distribution, and storage of clean, safe drinking water. The maintenance and operation of these water treatment businesses is funded by revenue from the sale of drinking water, while the capital necessary to establish them is generated from CWS fundraising activities. Learn more at: www.communitywatersolutions.org.