The MIT 2017 Inclusive Innovation Challenge

The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) was organized in 2013 by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andy McAfee to examine the impact of digital technologies on the world.  Understanding the future of work and jobs is one of the major areas of research being address by IDE.  What will the workforce of the future look like?, Where will jobs come from in the coming years, especially for the workers must impacted by automation?,  How can we accelerate the transformation of institutions, organizations, and human skills to keep up with the quickening pace of digital innovation?

To help come up with breakthrough, real-world answers to these tough questions, IDE launched the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC) last year.  The Challenge aims to identify, celebrate and award prizes to organizations around the world that are developing innovative approaches for improving the economic opportunities of middle- and base-level workers.

Now in its second year, the IIC introduced the winners of its 2017 competition at an event held on October 12 as part of Boston’s annual HUBweek.  Over $1 million was awarded to the winners in four categories: job creation and income growth, skills development and matching, technology access and financial inclusion.  The grand prize winner in each category received $150,000, while the three runners up in each category received $35,000.  The awards were funded with support from from, The Joyce Foundation, ISN and Joseph Eastin.

“The grand challenge of our era is to use digital technologies to create not only prosperity, but shared prosperity,” said Brynjolfsson in his remarks at the awards event. “We created the Inclusive Innovation Challenge to recognize and reward the many amazing people and organizations that are working to accomplish this mission.” To which McAfee later added: “Our award winners and other entrants show us that broadly shared prosperity is possible, which makes a great antidote to pessimism and negativity.”

The 2017 IIC received around 300 applications from all over the world.  As was the case last year, I served as a judge and personally reviewed about 20 applications.  I was really impressed with their innovative ideas, courage and determination as they addressed some of society’s toughest problems.

Let me share a brief summary of the accomplishments of the grand prize winner and runners up in each of the four categories.  As you’ll see, these companies are helping people all over the world, including Myanmar, Rwanda and Afghanistan.  They all deserve our recognition.

Job Creation & Income Growth - Leverage technology to create new jobs that pay better wages.

Grand Prize Winner:

Logistimo - India-based Logistimo has created a platform to insure that things like vaccines and medical supplies make it where they need to go.  “Villages in many rural communities lack access to essential goods, disconnecting them from mainstream value chains.  Logistimo’s digital auction-based platform - using demand aggregation, load/route/schedule optimization, and fulfillment tracking  - better connects demand to local capacity.”  The company’s approach supports milk runs and line-hauls, integrating trucks, bikes, boats, and drones.  In less than two years it has managed 24,000 deliveries for 1,000 customers, and created more than 80 jobs.

Runners Up:

Hogaru - “Ninety percent of the 30 million cleaning workers in Latin America work informally - without a contract and usually for low wages.  Hogaru connects these workers with small and medium-sized businesses in Latin America, providing the businesses with reliable cleaning services and the workers with improved working conditions and wages.”  The company is based in Bogotá, Colombia.

SkillSmart - “Many job descriptions focus too much on education or years of experience, but not enough on the actual skills needed for the job.  Germantown, Maryland-based SkillSmart turns that on its head, instead focusing on the skills employers are looking for and matching those employers with candidates that fit their needs.”

Tuteria - “The founders of Nigeria-based Tuteria noticed a problem a few years ago - people were having a hard time connecting with reliable, knowledgeable tutors, despite there being many people interested in tutoring.  They set up Tuteria to connect tutors in everything from math to cooking with students. The platform vets the tutors to ensure high quality teaching and enables secure payments.”

Skills Development & Opportunity Matching - Help prepare people to succeed in rapidly growing new job categories, as well as connecting them to appropriate job opportunities.

Grand Prize Winner:

LaunchCode - With six locations throughout the US, “LaunchCode expands the American tech workforce by providing free coding education to jobseekers who lack traditional credentials. It uses a low-cost, scalable model that replicates in-person coding classes, followed by matching them to paid apprenticeships with hundreds of companies.  More than four out of five apprentices become full-time hires.”

Runners Up:

iHub - “iHub recognized a problem in Kenya  - despite there being many people with raw technical talent, local companies had a dearth of technologists.  To solve that problem, iHub opened work spaces and meeting rooms in Nairobi, where upcoming developers have the chance to work with established engineers on real projects. The Nairobi-based company plans to expand beyond Kenya in the future.”

Leap Skills Academy - “India-based Leap offers training, mentorship, and placement opportunities for low-income, rural students in India.  The program helps students prepare for the workplace and be competitive in the digital economy.”

New Day - “In Myanmar, where New Day is located, 80 percent of the population has smartphones, but digital employment services are not taking advantage of this.  New Day has created a platform to connect job seekers with potential employers using mobile technology.  The service is free for people looking for jobs.”

Technology Access - Help people “plug in” and thus proper in our increasingly digital economy.

Grand Prize Winner:

AdmitHub - Boston-based AdmitHub is leveraging technology to help students navigate the financial, academic, and social situations that accompany going to college.  “Even though 2.5 million U.S. students enroll at colleges each year, 48 percent fail to earn a degree within six years. Dropouts disproportionately come from underserved communities, which costs the U.S. an estimated $4.5 billion in lost earnings and taxes each year, according to AdmitHub.  The company designed an artificial intelligence-driven virtual assistant for these students to receive round-the-clock personalized support.”

Runners Up:

African Renewable Energy Distributor Ltd. - “This company has developed solar-powered, portable kiosks where people can charge their phones, access Wi-Fi, or access an intranet while offline.  Using a micro franchise business model, the Rwanda-based company hopes to empower women and people with disabilities who can run the kiosks.”

Digital Citizen Fund - “Only 5 perfect of Afghanistan’s population has access to the internet — and few of those who do are women or children.  To date, the Digital Citizen Fund, based out of New York and with offices in Afghanistan, has built 11 internet training centers and two media centers for women and girls in Afghanistan to gain digital literacy so they can better compete in the global economy.  Digital Citizen Fund is expanding to Mexico and hopes to expand to other markets in the future.”

Dot Learn - “Online education is growing, but less than 1 percent of the population of Africa and India have the broadband to access it — cost and speed of the internet are the biggest barriers to adoption in Africa.  Dot Learn is changing that. Using an MIT-developed technology that compresses video, the company is making online education in Africa as inexpensive as text messaging.  Dot Learn is based out of New Jersey.”

Financial Inclusion - Even with a job and an income, a family’s financial stability can be tenuous if they lack a bank account or have inadequate access to financial services.

Grand Prize Winner:

EFL  - Cambridge-based EFL uses psychological measurements to help assess lending risks.  “Three billion people worldwide lack the credit history that lenders require for loans.  EFL uses psychometric and behavioral science-based credit scoring to approve potential borrowers who might be unable to get credit otherwise.  The company applies its work to loan repayment, providing insight into how personality drives credit risk across cultures, allowing users to score potential borrowers anywhere at any time. EFL has lent $1.5 billion in loans across 15 countries, aiming to empower lenders to grow with less risk.”

AID:Tech - “More than two billion people worldwide have no legal identity, something that is necessary for accessing public and financial services.  Aid:Tech aims to end that, by providing a platform for undocumented people to create a digital ID using blockchain so that every transaction is secure and traceable. Aid:Tech is based out of Dublin, with offices in New York and London.”

Nomanini - “This South Africa-based company provides a platform for financial transactions for the millions of people in Africa for whom traditional banking services are too expensive. Its service provides point of sale and enterprise management software to informal merchants, helping them grow their business.”

Tala - “This company, with offices in Santa Monica, Manila, and Nairobi, combines mobile technology with data science to bring financial access to the many people in Kenya, Tanzania, and the Philippines who are financially underserved. Users with an Android phone can apply for a short-term, unsecured loan from Tala and the app will analyze 10,000 mobile data points to determine an applicant’s creditworthiness.”

Planning is already underway for the 2018 Inclusive Innovation Challenge.

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