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!

And I would not be doing justice to our partners and chief developers of the site if I did not dedicate a separate paragraph to the IdeaCouture team in Toronto. What can I say Cheesan – way to go, and thank you!

So here we are. We’re at an important point along a continuum of remarkable achievement at MIT. We’re at a time when student interest in global affairs – and international community development specifically – has likely not been higher. Today, key partners like D-Lab have students traveling and learning about community-centered innovation in half a dozen countries. MIT’s Public Service Fellows are spread across more than a dozen countries. Institutional partners like the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship have enabled students to travel to many more countries over IAP. Here at IDEAS and the Global Challenge we’ve already received two dozen proposals for projects in nine countries.

Its an important and an exciting time. Its exciting because because the scale, complexity, and urgency of the problems we face in communities around the world has never been better matched to the world’s available scientific, technical, and entrepreneurial capacities. MIT is an outstanding resource for our time – as it was 150 years ago – where technically skilled students increasingly benefit from exposure to the practice and challenges of community development. And that exposure also comes through programs like the IDEAS Competition and the MIT Global Challenge, which increasingly relies on effective partnerships across the world-wide MIT community (departments, alumni clubs, Enterprise Forums) and beyond the MIT community (community-based organizations, international nonprofits, government).

This growing network of people and resources – knowledge, skills, material and financial support – and the capacity to mobilize and deploy those resources in ways that benefit students and communities directly is going to be critical to the success of IDEAS and the MIT Global Challenge.

And its not something we’re going to get perfect the first time around. We’re going to grow, and learn as we grow. And we’ll expand and adapt the MIT Global Challenge as a connecting and enabling platform as we grow. So as we launch this week, and celebrate the accomplishments of everyone who pitched in, wrestled with, and ultimately gave shape to the MIT Global Challenge, I’d like to invite you to join us in this journey with us. Be a part of this exciting initiative to support invention and entrepreneurship as a public service, at home and around the world – and pass it on!

It starts here…

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