Monthly Archive for April, 2011

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.

Interview with IMI

Happy Sunday everyone (or Monday for our international readers)! I’m here with a short excerpt from an interview I had with Aakriti Shroff, the team leader of Indian Mobile Initiative (IMI). They’re really beating out the competition with over 1,000 votes. Read below for some thoughts on how they’re getting their votes, what they want to do with the money, and why they think their cause is awesome! I want to thank Aakriti for her responses and her excitement! It’s amazing how passionate they (and all the other teams are) about the work they’re doing. And keep reading next week for another update, another team interview, and excerpts from an interview with a special MIT150 guest!

1. How awesome is it to be in first place? What are your thoughts about your standing right now? What number do you hope to reach in the next couple weeks?

We feel on top of the world! We had received tremendous support from the students in Indian colleges we had contacted and were hoping that this would carry on to the Community Votes. [We] were expecting a decent number of votes from these students, but touching a 1000+ votes was unbelievable. After Lars’ email regarding collaboration on voters (each having 5 votes), we were asked by several teams to request some of our voters to review their team profiles and vote for them.

The truth is, most of our votes are coming from students who have heard about IMI through their colleges. They are aware of our program, and the IMI team does not personally know them! Such support drives our passion to work harder to achieve our goals more effectively.

As for our standings, we can’t say much. As was pointed out to us, there are 8000 registered users on the GC/Ideas Challenge. They’ve got to vote for someone! There’s a week left and the competition could change completely. We really hope that our numbers grow accordingly! If things go on just the way they are, we hope to reach 1400+ voted before voting closes on the 25th of April. We’re keeping our fingers crossed..

2. Why is the problem you’re addressing integral?

When service projects are undertaken, very few of them actually focus on “inclusive innovation”, helping the society build its skills. This is the core of IMI. We were alarmed to discover that even after the recent momentum built on social entrepreneurship around the world, academic institutions have very little framework in place to encourage social entrepreneurship. Most institutions propagate service, not social entrepreneurship. We decided to tackle this problem.

If we succeed in inspiring the youth to become social entrepreneurs, the impact we have on the society increases exponentially.

Instead of solving the problem for a community (generally done from a third person perspective), or even teaching the community to solve a particular problem, we are approaching the future of the country – educated college students and helping them discover the power of the knowledge they already have.

3. What have you done on your project already?

IMI has confirmed the participation of approximately 500 students for the longer five-week program and shorter mobile boot camps. This was a key milestone for our team. We have confirmed the support of participating universities and taken care of most of the logistical details. The team is now concentrating on improving the structure of the course, the activities and modules in the program, and the resources that the students have access to. We have started contacting participating students and inspiring them to interact with their peers. We hope to get the momentum going even before we reach India! Additionally, the team is trying to build a nexus around the Global Challenge/Ideas Challenge platform. Participating in the challenge has opened a plethora of opportunities for us and we are trying to utilize this network in the best way we can to give our students access to more mentors and resources.

Results from Week 1

Hello again! It’s been a week since the Community Vote opened and the participation we’ve seen is astounding! More than 8000 people have registered on the site and I’ve been told that it’s growing by the day and has almost doubled in the last week since the Community Vote opened. It looks like GC is a prime example of a site “going viral” (a bit of biology humor, I couldn’t resist). Over 6000 votes have been placed across 83 countries by these 8000 registered users. And though we don’t have statistics from last year, apparently difference in the participation has been astounding, more than I think the IDEAS/GC team could ever hope for. So if you’re one of the 8000 people who have registered, a huge thank you from the IDEAS/GC team and all of the competitors. If you’re one of the millions of people who have yet to register (shame on you), stop waiting! Go here and set up an account. Anyone can vote (you don’t have to be a part of MIT). Remember you have 5 votes that you can cast, with any one team getting at most one vote. So if you have a lot of friends who are competing, rest assured, you don’t have to play favorites. Remember, you have until April 25!

So onto this week’s standings! As a note, all of you can check out the current tallies at any point in time here. It looks like Indian Mobile Initiative is creating a lot of buzz. At first place with 538 votes, the support that this team has generated is astounding. I don’t remember the exact numbers but IMI has been adding about a hundred votes daily. Congrats to the team and keep up the good work! InnoBox took over second place today with 428 votes, just edging out the long-time second place of AQUA (427 votes…it’s a close one!). The fourth place is currently with 369 votes followed very closely by Low-cost Curriculum for the Blind with 367 votes. Clearly the teams are neck-to-neck right now. I won’t go through the other 38 teams on GC, but rest assured they’re all doing amazingly well and these next two weeks promise to be exciting ones. If your favorite team isn’t in the top 5, you can change that! Spread the word and use those powers of persuasion to get everyone you know to register and vote.

Personally, it’s incredible for me to see the interest and passion that the MIT community has for the projects coming out of IDEAS and GC. I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the 40-odd projects, but the ones I have read are amazing. My plan is to interview the top couple teams each week. If you’re reading this and are on a team, a word of advice from a lot of my IDEAS-competitor friends: if you want to get votes, get on Facebook, get on gchat, get on Twitter and actively pester your friends and family. It’s difficult to get hundreds of votes despite our general ability to make hundreds of Facebook friends. Personal requests and emails tend to be more effective than mass emails and messages. The vote-garnering process takes a lot of time, but if it gets you in the top 5, it’ll be worth it! Best of luck to all the teams!

A conversation with Dr. Rajiv Shah

Photo by Alex Hamilton Chan

Photo by Alex Hamilton Chan

Hi everyone! I wanted to post a few words about a spur of the moment interview I had with Dr. Rajiv Shah. For those of you who missed out on his amazing talk on April 5th at MIT, Dr. Shah is the administrator of USAID and has done remarkable things in Washington and around the world (his CV is too incredible to summarize in a few words). Towards the end of his speech I realized it might be cool to get a chance to speak to him, so I walked with him and his “posse” to his car and asked him a couple questions on the fly (in my haste and, to a certain extent, fear of the federal government, I didn’t whip out my iPhone or ask someone for a recorder, so unfortunately this isn’t a transcript).

Question 1: You said in your speech that you’re already very impressed with what MIT is doing on several levels with ID and research and technology. But what more would you like to see in the future, 10 years down the road, with IDEAS, Global Challenge, MIT, etc?

Dr. Shah emphasized the need for collaboration between colleges and universities, and especially he called for a “network of institutions to come together.” He believed that, “MIT is setting a standard, and colleges like Berkeley are doing good work,” but there is certainly a need for more unification. During his talk, and even speaking to him afterwards, he made it clear that he admired the technology and innovation-driven culture of MIT and its contributions to international development. He concluded by saying that “the passion and desire is so great,” at schools like MIT but ultimately, “we need portals inviting students to come together.”

Question 2: Clearly students are getting involved but research for technologies makes a difference ten years down the road. Do you have any advice or suggestions for students who want to make a more immediate impact or affect policy decisions in Washington?

I asked this question because he mentioned during his talk that technology will ultimately “bend the curve,” or turn a flat and linear growth trend into a near-exponential one. But he also mentioned the flip-side of bureaucratic red tape and the debate in Washington. His immediate advice to students is to:

“just get involved and be loud!”

He also indicated that, “students have helped shape out our national priorities.” And finally he concluded with a recommendation that students “get experience abroad” by studying and working. He believes that students have a lot to say and he saw this even as a student at Penn.

His closing remark prompted me to ask my last question.

Question 3: What kinds of changes have you seen since you were an undergrad or a doctoral student and what do you think about these changes?

He was generally very impressed and thrilled with the changes that have come about in the last few years (he was in grad school much more recently than one might guess by looking at his CV).

“Twenty years ago, to find development experts, you’d go to USAID, and that’d basically be it. Now you have, big corporations like PEPSICo, organizations like the Gates Foundation, and garage inventors like you find here at MIT.”

Overall, he just wants MIT to stay passionate, stay interested, and stay involved. I’d finally just like to thank him for speaking and tell all the people reading to get excited for the next month. In true MIT fashion, MIT150+IDEAS+Global Challenge=an awesome ride!

Community Vote opens

Hello and welcome to the official Global Challenge Blog! I’m Sneha Kannan and I’ll be posting a few words every couple days about IDEAS/GC, including interviews, my own thoughts, and commentary about the competition as it goes. To introduce myself: I’m a sophomore in Course 20 (to all you non-MITers, that’s biological engineering). Like everyone else involved with this competition, I’m passionate about International Development and actually was going to enter something in IDEAS this year, but it’s still in the works so keep your eyes open for an entry in April 2012!

So let me get right into it. Today is the first day that the IDEAS entries are open to the Community Vote. In case you’re not familiar with the format, there are two competitions, IDEAS and Global Challenge. There are a lot of details and dates, which I’ll do my best to summarize in the upcoming weeks, but let me get into what most people care about…the cash prizes and the competition itself. IDEAS gives up to 10 juried awards of $10K, $7.5K, or $5K; Global Challenge has a Community Vote component that awards up to 5 awards of $5K to the most popular teams and a juried component that has up to 7 awards at $10K each. Confused? Check out The bottom line is that any one team can win in all three of these competitions for a total award total of $25K to implement their project in the next year!

While we don’t get to participate in the juried components (Kate and Lars and the rest of the IDEAS/GC team have spent months putting together a truly amazing panel of judges…stay tuned for little blurbs about all of them in a couple weeks!), we do get a say in which teams win the Community Vote. For most of these projects, $5K is enough to either start or drastically expand a product or idea. So between today and April 25th, get online, spend ten seconds clicking a few links, and cast up to 5 votes for teams that you support and visions you want to see become realities. The ultimate success of IDEAS/GC depends on people like you or me, who just want to make a difference.

Keep reading in the upcoming weeks for interviews, team profiles, judge profiles, and general news about how the Community Vote is going. If you have any people you would like profiled or any questions you want asked of the people I do interview, drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to post something ASAP. So, get ready and get excited; it’s going to be an amazing month!