Tag Archive for 'development'

Tackling the Global Education Crisis, One Innovation at a Time

Whether it’s helping Mexican university students bridge the gap between industry and academia, or providing Ugandan children with basic health education programs, many teams this year have chosen to tackle the difficult problems facing the global education sector.

In recent years, social innovators have joined the ranks of talented teachers and school administrators in rethinking traditional school models, finding creative ways to improve educational quality and access.

A new policy paper by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation might be of interest to those pursuing projects related to educational reform.

How Social Entrepreneurship is Helping to Improve Education Worldwide (available online) highlights the distinct contributions of social innovators in helping to improve early childhood education in low-income communities, creating alternate channels for funding, and providing basic skills to at-risk populations across the globe.

Author Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, draws from several interesting case studies that illustrate the potential for social enterprise to solve issues ranging from poor educational access to the growing achievement gap. The key to the success of these enterprises, Scofield writes, lies in their ability to effectively utilize business practices emphasizing sustainability and scalability – two important attributes of any winning IDEAS Challenge project! Here are a few examples:

In the Bronx, the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco) not only runs multiple afterschool programs and summer camps, but has also created hundreds of revenue-generating businesses within the community, helping to ensure the continued success and long-term sustainability of its programs.

In India, where harsh inequities prevail and 90 million women remain illiterate, the Mann Deshi Foundation provides vocational training and financial literacy to women in impoverished communities. It also runs the Mann Deshi Business School, which delivers microbusiness courses in mobile classrooms, and the Mann Deshi Mahlia Bank, which provides loans for its business school graduates to start microenterprises.

DonorsChoose.org is a charitable marketplace where teachers can make simple classroom requests, from pencils to microscope slides, for their students. As of August 2011, the website has generated $85 million benefitting more than 5 million schoolchildren in the U.S. The website notably allows individual donors to contribute to its overhead costs (with 76% choosing to do so), and has established diverse funding streams that include multiple corporate sponsors.

We hope that these examples of powerful — and sustainable — social innovations offer a bit of inspiration for those joining the education cause!

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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Changing Energy Use in Tanzania: EGG-Energy

Two years ago, eight individuals set out to re-think the way energy is used in Africa. They started with the 40 million people in Tanzania. Roughly 90% of Tanzanians do not have a connection to the electric grid. Most people use dim kerosene lanterns to light up their homes, and a mix of AA and old car batteries to power small devices such as radios, televisions, and cell phones.

Porch Light with Kerosene, used by 90% of Tanzanians. Photo by Eric Persha

Porch light with Kerosene, used by 90% of Tanzanians.
Photo by Eric Persha.

Porch Light with EGG Batteries

Porch Light Lit by EGG Batteries.
Photo by Eric Persha

This group of students built an organization that rents out rechargeable batteries (think Netflix for batteries). In 2009, they were awarded money from the IDEAS Competition to pursue their idea and earlier this year, Jamie Yang was awarded an Echoing Green Fellowship. EGG-Energy is now supplying over 300 customers in Tanzania with regular access to energy. We caught up with their team earlier this week on where they’re headed:

How did winning an IDEAS competition help you in starting EGG-energy?

One of the largest barriers to innovation and actually implementing new ideas is the lack of funding offered to groups that are still ‘figuring things out’. The money received by IDEAS helped pay for the EGG trip to Tanzania in which we started our pilot project. During this particular trip, we were able to identify a village that would be a good starting point of our operations and we now have over 300 customers.

You have traveled a lot to Tanzania. Do you remember the first time you brought EGG-energy to Tanzania? How did it compare with or challenge your business expectations and research?

We installed our first customers in August of 2009 in Mvuti, some 25 miles outside of Dar es Salaam. The event raised a lot of interest with dozens of people gathering around to see us do the installations for the few selected pilot customers. Probably two biggest surprises were first, how much interest there were for the service but how much the different needs varied. We heard requests from powering TV’s to security lighting from the very first day. Second, how far the reach of the community and village leadership go into the business, from approving locations to customer recommendations.

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Dispatch Work: Participation and “Pointing” Urban Spaces

Graffitti in Babilônia favelaAs a mixed media artist, I’m always on the lookout for intriguing, clever, playful, whimsical ways of using ordinary materials to bring delight to the urban experience. A few recollections came to mind recently – principally as a result of a cool project I learned about during the annual MIT IDEAS Competition retreat I attended this week.

The project that got me thinking back to my days of RAOC (random acts of collage) is a “kite mapping” project that will engage youth in Brazil’s slums in surfacing the narratives of place where they live. The idea is one part arts engagement (cultivate narratives of place), a second part technical (use sophisticated technology to document narrative), another part advocacy (application of evidence to legitimize place). Of course, I’m crazy about using collage as a means for story-telling. Like Rauschenberg, I believe collage best replicates visually how we perceive the city.

I won’t go into more detail; you can learn more about “My City, My Future” (aka ArteRio) here. But here’s my point: an “owned” city space is a healthy city space.

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Book Notes: In the River they Swim

In the River they Swim, available at Amazon.com

Among the benefits of attending I2I were the two books I snagged by presenters which have deepened my reading stack, though one made it to the top of the pile by virtue of cracking it open on the long subway ride from the Village to JFK.

And if I may: if there’s one must-read Summer book on entrepreneurship and development, “In the River they Swim” (“The River” from now on) is my cool and refreshing pick. First off, its a collection of essays, which makes it easy to dip in and out of. Second, its well written and edited, which means you’ll find the intellectual waters at a constant and cozy temperature. [Caveat: I'm precisely half way through the book; these observations may not hold. But I think they will].

A few thoughts.

  • Every student who wants to work in international development – whether commerce, government, academia, relief, etc – should read this book. The contributors come from a range of backgrounds and perspectives. What they share is a sense that the growth of domestic and international business activity is a cornerstone of development.
  • Its not just for students. The depth of the contributors’ experience in international development is impressive – essays from heads of state (Paul Kagame, Rwanda), leaders of multinational institutions (Luis Alberto Moreno, Inter-American Development Bank),  international business executives (Malik Fall, Microsoft), and global financiers (Michael Fairbanks, S.E.VEN Fund) – will appeal to the most pragmatic of professionals.
  • Think globally, act globally. “The River” challenges conventional wisdom about how to approach work as a development actor. It recognizes that today’s global economy turns on interdependence, and thus requires high levels of thinking and broad theaters of action. Its not a guidebook for the underachiever.
  • For business to survive, culture must thrive. One of the things I like about the book is that its contributors span the globe. While most have spent some time at elite intellectual centers, they speak from the homes where they’re grounded – Senegal, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Colombia… And many of the authors point to the benefits – and difficulties – of surrounding themselves, and others, with the broadest intellectual and talent base possible.
  • Reflection, praxis and anticipation. The book is divided into three sections: the first are essays that nurse out into important dynamics in international development, as seen from a range of actors – from cultural pluralism in the workplace to hard lessons learned about managing expectations – and more. The second section is less about lessons-sharing and more about advice-giving: the authors introduce intellectual models – tools and analytical frameworks – for better performance. The third section is a little ambiguous – not just because I haven’t read it, but with a quick scan it seems less focused – a pastiche of globe trotting anecdotes aimed at contextualizing(!) the global economy in ways that bring wealth creation vs poverty trap into some kind of resolution, integrate lessons from around the world into a coherent framework for, if not coordinated action, shared assault.

Learn more about “In the River they Swim.”

Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Development Night

Joost Bonsen shared a great set of images from International Development Night last Friday. Over 500 guests joined the International Development Network for the Fourth Annual International Development Night at the MIT Museum on April 3, 2009. Coordinated by MIT’s International Development Network (IDN) –web.mit.edu/idn – the evening is a celebration and showcase of over two dozen practical, action-oriented development innovations and activities at the Institute.