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This challenge is open to US Indigenous communities using traditional and ancestral knowledge along with technology to create sustainable and prosperous livelihoods for themselves.
The number of native-owned businesses in the US is growing—Native American women have started at least 17 new businesses a day since 2007, despite average unemployment rates in Indian Country standing above 50 percent. The potential for youth-led innovation is also significant, given that 40 percent of self-identified indigenous people in the US are under the age of 24. Supporting economic opportunities through skills training, business development, or job creation—is crucial for the future.
Based on community input, this year’s Fellowship theme addresses unemployment, accessibility, and connectivity disparities by accelerating the existing momentum for economic opportunity in Indian Country.
Through the US Indigenous Communities Fellowship, MIT Solve seeks innovators within the Oceti Sakowin, Navajo Nation, and Hopi Tribe communities with solutions that support and scale sustainable economic development and resiliency using technology. Solve welcomes solutions that:
- Enable new skill development and create employment opportunities that help sustain natural and cultural resources
- Support native youth in creating new business ventures
- Provide access to technology and connectivity
- Connect local business owners to accessible capital and markets
All selected Fellows will receive a minimum of $10,000 in fellowship funding and take part in the flagship Solve at MIT event in May 2019 and a regional Solve event in fall 2019 (travel funding provided). Fellows will be selected by a panel of cross-sector reviewers.
- Submitted solutions must include use of technology for practical and functional purposes. This can be high-tech or low-tech: examples include software (mobile app), hardware (computers, phones, connectivity), agriculture (seeds, irrigation), and manufacturing. This may encompass new technology like drones and artificial intelligence, or existing ancestral technology (like traditional home structures or food storage and preservation) applied in new and interesting ways.
- Strong preference will be given to tribal members and native-led projects that directly benefit and are located within the Oceti Sakowin, Navajo Nation, and Hopi Tribe communities in the United States. Solve specifically looks for a diverse set of Fellows and projects.
In 2017, the Water Protectors of Standing Rock came to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as finalists for the MIT Media Lab Disobedience Awards, which recognize individuals and groups who engage in ethical, nonviolent acts of disobedience in service of society.
The Water Protectors of Standing Rock were honored for bringing together the largest gathering of Native Tribes in more than a century to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
In her acceptance speech, Water Protector Phyllis Young challenged MIT, saying “I know MIT is the brass ring of technology, and I’m seeking a partnership. I’m not content to go home with this [award] … The rhetoric is over in America; it’s time for action.”
This call to action sparked the MIT Indigenous Communities Project led by MIT Solve and the Priscilla King Gray (PKG) public service center, in collaboration with shift7. In 2018, MIT Solve launched a pilot Fellowship with the Oceti Sakowin community focused on sustainability. Six Fellows were selected with projects ranging from renewable solar energy to community gardening courses. Fellows attended Solve’s flagship event, Solve at MIT, in Cambridge in May 2018 to share their work and network with potential partners across the Solve community.
Concurrently, the PKG center partnered with the MIT Terrascope Program, a first-year learning community, creating an indigenous-centered curriculum for student engagement, “Tradition, Technology and Transition: Water Security on the Navajo Nation.”
Utilizing these institute connections, MIT Solve was able to expand its Fellowship opportunity in 2019 to include Oceti Sakowin, Navajo Nation, and Hopi Tribe communities in the United States.
First and foremost, Solve and our partners aim to establish a foundation of trust and partnership in the communities with which it works. Accordingly, each Fellowship theme must be informed by the communities it intends to support.
We encourage other Indigenous communities to get in touch with us if they are interested in partnership.