The Power of Inclusive Innovators

Sunday, October 1, 2017

By Devin Wardell Cook

Renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead, famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

The core belief of the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge is that groups large and small must harness technology to create more jobs and improve the future of work. More importantly, the MIT IIC aims to accelerate this reality. That’s why they are offering $1 million in prizes to promote and celebrate technology-based solutions that drive greater economic prosperity worldwide. The 2017 MIT IIC finalists prove that correcting labor shortages, skills gaps, and a lack of diversity in the science and technology fields, is not only possible, it’s already happening.

For the past six months, the MIT IIC panel has judged Inclusive Innovation organizations from across the globe. In just two short weeks, they are bringing their 16 top-scoring finalists to HUBweek. On October 12, the IIC will celebrate these change-makers and announce four grand prize winners at a Gala Celebration during HUBweek, at The HUBpresented by Liberty Mutual Insurance. 

During the celebration, the 16 finalists will be acknowledged publicly by luminaries such as Eric Schmidt, Executive Chariman of Alphabet Inc; Leila Janah, Founder & CEO of Sama Group and LXMI; and Mignon Clyburn, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner, among others. 

New Paths Forward

MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) co-founders Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee defined the era we live in as the Second Machine Age. In their best-selling book, they point out that even while digital technology is creating unprecedented wealth it remains concentrated among relatively few people. The authors propose that the way forward is not to preserve the jobs of the past, but to create new paths for more people to share in digital prosperity.

This call to action was the genesis of the IIC, and the Finalists are paving the way by demonstrating sophisticated solutions to complex problems. 

In the award category of Technology Access, for instance, one of the finalists, the Digital Citizen Fund has built 11 internet training centers and two media centers for women and girls in Afghanistan to gain basic digital literacy (see photo above). The organization says that only 5 percent of Afghanistan’s population has access to the internet — and few of those are women or children. (Read more about all of the finalists and categories here.)

Similarly, although online education is growing, less than one percent of the populations of Africa and India have the broadband to access it — cost and speed are the biggest barriers to adoption. Another finalist, Dot Learn, also in the category of Technology Access, is making strides to change that imbalance. Using an MIT-developed technology that compresses video, the company is making online education in Africa as inexpensive as text messaging. 

How to Eliminate Barriers 

Boston-based AdmitHub, another MIT IIC Finalist in the Technology Access category, wants to eliminate at least one set of barriers: it has created a virtual assistant, powered by artificial intelligence, that can help students navigate the financial, academic, and social situations that accompany the college admission and attendance process. 

Other IIC finalists, such as AID:TechTalaNomanini, and EFL, seek to broaden the scope of Financial Inclusion for businesses and individuals. Tala, for instance, has developed an Android application that builds financial identities and delivers instant credit to populations in Kenya, Tanzania, and the Philippines. The whole process, from application to loan disbursement, takes less than five minutes. AID:Tech’s model, meanwhile, employs blockchain technologies.

IIC entrepreneurs are also directly targeting the problems of Income Growth and Job Creation (HogaruLogistimoSkillsmart, and Tuteria) and finding better ways to match skilled workers with good jobs (iHubLaunchCodeLeap Skills Academy, and New Day) in the quest to bridge the digital divide.

Be sure to join us on October 12th at The HUB presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance for the MIT IIC Celebration Gala during HUBweek to meet innovators who are defying the odds to change the world. Registration is free, but required and open now


Devin Wardell Cook is the Executive Producer of the Inclusive Innovation Challenge.

This blog first appeared in Bostinno’s newsletter here.


Read more about IIC finalists in this Forbes Grads of Life article.