Daily Archive for June 21st, 2011

Sign off Hand off

Shillong Entrepreneurship AdvertisementThree years at MIT goes faster than a shopping cart strapped with twin jet engines. And, trust me, its just as fun! Well, as you may have guessed, something is up, which is true. I’ll be moving on from MIT at the end of June, looking to apply my interests in art + technology + participation in development in other fields and other settings. Kate will be stepping up to manage the planning and day to day operations of IDEAS and the MIT Global Challenge for 2011-2012 and beyond. For all of you who have worked with Kate in the past, you know this is a great thing – for Kate and for IDEAS! For those of you who may not have had the pleasure, you’re in for a treat.

I remember that when I started here, the position description and conceptualization of the Global Challenge were in shambles – a perfect fit! As someone who loves to initiate, create, instigate – this whole IDEAS and Global Challenge initiative was well-matched to my skills and interests at the time. Coming off of several years working globally in the field of democratic governance with a (pretty deep) side trip into arts education and community engagement, I felt ready for the support and backing of an institutional context with the scope and creativity that building a new program could provide. Could anyone ask for more than that institutional context be MIT? I was eager to learn more about, and from, other resources here as well – homes of innovation like CoLab, D-Lab, and the International Development Initiative.

It has been a pleasure to work with these groups – as well as our partners the MIT150, the MIT Alumni Association, and the host, the MIT Public Service Center – to give shape to the Global Challenge over the last three years. When I first encountered the idea it was a loosely structured proposal built around the success of the IDEAS Competition. As I write, the Global Challenge is a set of strong relationships, a robust online platform, a cohort of 14 incredible teams, and a clear vision for how innovation competitions can serve as a platform for community-wide service and real-world change. I can’t wait to see it grow!

Somoho Mountain of HopeThe work that I see at MIT around community and international development has tremendous potential. From personal devices that increase workplace productivity in resource scarce environments to large-scale infrastructure that transforms community access to goods such as clean, safe, and renewable energy. I see young people and their mentors engaged in deep work to rethink global development, from the ground up. As much as there is great hope in the point solutions and dazzling technology, the complexity and scale of change needed to bring the benefits of modern knowledge to resource-strapped environments is astounding. I am humbled and enlivened by the ways I see today’s innovators at MIT hitting these challenges head-on:

Maa-Bara with its vision for community-scaled, modular closed-loop agriculture. Jeevikah and their efforts to conceive of temporary and very-large-scale water catchment systems for arid regions. Sanergy and their novel way to bring better sanitation to peri-urban settlements while producing energy and fertilizer for a profit. 6dot and their braille labeling solution that excites and responds to user needs for an affordable, portable and fast labeling device. And AssuredLabor, a service that connects workers in emerging markets with jobs using mobile phones. EGG-energy, which brings renewable energy to off-grid markets through a scalable battery leasing service.

These are a few of the projects that inspire me – sophisticated solutions to persistent problems that respond to an opportunity and a community context to support human development in some way. It has been an a privilege to watch these and other student projects grow from nascent ideas to – if not yet full-blown solutions, to flourishing pilot projects. They’re the kind of projects I’d expect to encounter in my travels – from the SOMOHO Mountain of Hope in Soweto to training programs in Shillong to farming innovation where I make my home in Vermont – not the stuff of top-flight engineering. Its heartening to know that the world’s problems are MIT’s problems. That a global challenge can be seen as a local challenge. And that students here have the drive to learn from and work in partnership with communities everywhere.

FiddleheadsI’d like to thank my colleagues at MIT150, the MIT Alumni Association, and the Public Service Center for making my time here so rewarding. I’d especially like to thank the students who have shared your passion and talents – your dreams for a better world -  and for placing your trust in the experiment that is the Global Challenge. Kate, here’s bending an elbow to you, and wishing you every success as you steer this program forward at this remarkable institution.

Cheers, and let’s keep in touch!

lars