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MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge & MIT Solve: Driving a More Equitable Economy Together

In 2015, the world began to realize a stark reality—the unprecedented wealth and prosperity ushered in by the digital age was not being shared equally across society. Research indicated that income inequality was rising, and the headlines reflected a growing public fear of unemployment driven by automation. 

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, co-directors of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) and co-authors of The Second Machine Age, recognized this reality as a challenge that could be solved if the right resources were brought to bear.   

IDE’s response was the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC), a global tournament for entrepreneurs harnessing technology to ensure a more equitable future. We announced the launch of the IIC at the first MIT Solve convening in 2015. Since then, we have identified 160 organizations from around the world, awarding a total of $5 million in prizes to accelerate their missions. 

The IIC winners are an impressive group of determined changemakers; in three years they have collectively generated over $170 million in revenue, raised over $1 billion in capital, created more than 7,000 jobs, and served 350 million people. 

IIC awardees include entrepreneurs like Hugo Pinaretta, whose grandparents were smallholder farmers in Peru. He and his co-founders now lead AGROS, which applies remote sensing and precision agriculture technologies to increase small farmers’ yields. 

In another case, Helen Adeosun, a former home health care aid, launched CareAcademy, which provides online professional development to teach and upskill caregivers, a growing profession that is unlikely to be replaced by robots or automation. Helen and her team provide opportunities for millions of workers to prepare for the future of healthcare. All our IIC winners are passionate leaders for social change who focus on driving a more inclusive economy. 

The IIC has been a grassroots initiative—a small team relying on the power of an international community to scale and to drive our mission. We’ve worked with more than 600 esteemed experts in their fields to select IIC winners from among 4,500 global registrants. We’ve also engaged more than 100 Outreach Partners: like-minded, for-profit and nonprofit organizations that shared IIC communications across their networks, helping the IIC source inclusive innovators from every corner of the world. 

We forged deep partnerships with nine Collaborator organizations like Merck KGaA in Germany, MaRS Discovery District in Canada, and Liquid Telecom in Kenya. With this support, we have hosted 14 celebrations on five continents, attended by more than 4,000 investors, policymakers, academics, and business leaders.

I’m proud of these numbers, but I am proudest of the relationships that the IIC has cultivated to galvanize this vibrant global community. When the IIC winners arrive at MIT for the Global Grand Prize Gala that concludes their IIC experience, our team greets them like old friends. Winners remain engaged with our initiative and with one another, often joining our judge panels, attending regional events, and collaborating to grow their offerings and expand their reach. We promote the ongoing successes of our winners, and measure and share their collective impact with the world.

After accelerating the global future of work movement for the past four years, the IIC team began looking for ways to further amplify our impact. Coming full circle, we looked to MIT Solve, an institute-wide initiative designed to address the world’s most pressing problems through partnership and open innovation. 

In 2020, the IIC will transition into Solve, powering its Economic Prosperity Challenge to drive increased resources and global awareness to the inclusive innovators who are creating an equitable future of work for all. This transition will magnify the impact of IIC winners and the transformative, lasting change that is imperative for today’s global economy. I look forward to continuing this journey as part of the Solve community.


Image courtesy of MIT IIC

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