One of the MIT Global Challenge questions is: Can indigenous crops and trees provide income generating products? SoilFarm Multi-Culture Group in Kenya and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in the U.S. seek an answer to this question.
The IDEAS Competition and MIT Global Challenge are an annual invention and entrepreneurship competition that support and encourage innovation in overcoming barriers to well-being in communities around the world. They are powered by the MIT Public Service Center to spur innovation as public service. Teams work in a variety of areas — water, sanitation, disaster relief, access to health care, education, energy and much more.
This is a Q&A between Kate Mytty of IDEAS and CoLab.
CoLab: What is the difference between the Global Challenge and the IDEAS Competition?
Kate: Great question. The IDEAS Competition has been running strong for a decade now. In the past ten years, it has seen increasing interest by students and their collaborators; at the same time, at MIT there’s a growing ecology of interest in international development, social enterprises, and generally speaking, humanitarian work. To build on the success of IDEAS and support the growing ecology, we’re launching the MIT Global Challenge to open up the IDEAS Competition and connect students working on novel public service projects here at MIT with the resources of alumni around the world.
The key difference — the IDEAS Competition is focused on what’s happening here at MIT. The MIT Global Challenge serves as both an online platform and an extension of IDEAS — where teams can connect and form online, alumni can offer their support, and where the community will vote for their choice teams in April. For teams entering into the competition, there are two options, enter just the IDEAS Competition, for up to $10k in awards, or enter both IDEAS and Global Challenge, an additional opportunity for up to $15k in awards and to share their work and connect with others through the Global Challenge platform.
CoLab: Is the challenge/competition based in any particular philosophy of development or innovation?
Kate: Indeed. The philosophy — or the intention — of the competition is to encourage innovation in working with underserved communities on tackling the challenges they face. That’s a broad welcome to many teams working on a variety of projects — they can be a prototype, a service, a business model or even, a policy that can create meaningful change.
IDEAS and Global Challenge are focused on supporting that initial, nascent idea coming out of laboratories, classrooms or extracurricular work and giving it the legs necessary to make those ideas reality. Beyond the small type around the competition, there are three key expectations and judging criteria of the projects that enter: innovation, feasibility and impact at the community level. That focus feeds into every bit of the competition.
On the other side is the philosophy behind how the competition works. There are two steps to any competition — entering the competition and if you win, step two is using your award money to do good. For IDEAS and Global Challenge, to enter the competition, teams must submit an initial proposal before their final proposal. Through the initial proposal process, our volunteer staff reads each of the proposals and offers feedback to teams to prepare their proposal for the final entry. If you ask any of the past entrants, that feedback process provides an unmatched opportunity to move their project forward, again supporting the development of those nascent ideas.
CoLab: Do you think the challenge/competition model could be relevant in a non-university setting? Do you think any other group or community could adopt this model?
Kate: I do — and it’s happening in a lot of places. USAID has a competition. There’s the Dell Social Innovation Competition. Here at MIT there’s the $100k Emerging Markets track in the $100K competition, and many more by various players in the world. I imagine if you look at the number of competitions in this space of tackling the world’s challenges, you’d find the number growing at an increasing rate.
What I find to be beneficial about a competition is there’s an opportunity to spur innovation in specific areas. Competitions serve that purpose well. There’s an urgency about competitions and a reward at the end — making creativity, innovation and the potential for impact all the more compelling.
Where more support and competitions could help — is enabling ideas to take off and become reality. A lot of competitions are business plan competitions — enabling change does not always require a business to be created. It could be a number of different forms that wouldn’t translate into a business or non-profit. Perhaps it’s a education routine to encourage farmers to use more sustainable practices, a method for designing a piece of technology that can help mitigate disease in a certain community, or a capacity building workshop to encourage innovation in that community. There needs to be more space for encouraging innovation that doesn’t fit into common frameworks.
This post is part of a Q&A triangle between three offices at MIT: the Global Challenge and IDEAS Competition, the Center for Future Civic Media (C4FCM), and the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab). Each office asked three questions of the other two offices, generating six blog posts. Check out the other posts, which will be published between January 6th and 11th, if you’re interested: