Lars Torres

Indian Mobile Initiative Sweeps MIT?s Service Challenge

(Above: A rendering from Maa Bara, winner of the 2011 Muhammad Yunus Challenge to Alleviate Poverty. The team proposes a network of locally produced, modular aquaponic stuctures that can safely produce fish and vegetables and serve as a basis for economic revitalization in the heavily polluted Niger River delta. Image Credit: Ogheneruno Elo Okiomah, Team Maa Bara).

Among this year’s winners at MIT’s annual IDEAS Competition and the newly launched Global Challenge were 14 teams representing innovative approaches to gaps in water and sanitation services, agricultural processes, medical and accessibility devices, and more.

This year’s group of teams – 45 in all – competed for $150,000 in awards in a field of graduate and undergraduate teams representing a cross-section of schools at the Institute. Most have worked since October 2010 to develop project proposals that make the case for the innovation, feasibility and potential for impact of their ideas. All teams also were asked to identify an implementation partner with ties to the community where they will pilot their ideas.

On May 2 the winners of this year’s implementation awards were announced at an awards celebration at MIT. Among the winning 14 teams were:

Indian Mobile Initiative, this year’s top winner, which won in all three award categories, will receive $25,000 to implement their project, which seeks to empower Indian youth to address social problems they care about through mobile game development.

Assistive Technology, which won a $10,000 IDEAS Juried Award, will work with the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, Massachusetts to create a universally accessible mobile device for people with severe physical disabilities and demonstrate its usefulness in a long-term care setting.

Maa-Bara, which won the $10,000 Muhammad Yunus Challenge to Alleviate Poverty (a Global Challenge Juried Award) will work to develop and pilot an aquaponic solution that provides farmers and fishermen in the Niger River delta with safer, healthier, and more reliable food supplies and income generation.

EyeCatra won a $5,000 online Community Choice award to pilot their technology that promises to eliminate preventable blindness through detection of cataracts using a smart snap-on device for mobiles, eliminating the need for a trained clinician.

Meet these and the 11 other award winners at the Global Challenge website. You also may follow along as they hit the fields in June through their profile pages to receive updates and connect with them through Facebook and Twitter

Be a Part of It

A year of rapid growth for a new initiative like the Global Challenge is not without its pressure points and lessons. By the end of the 20-day community choice vote and judging process, the Global Challenge received more than 15,000 user registrations and 14,000 online votes from 119 countries. This level of growth would not have been possible without the energy and enthusiasm of our students and their collaborators – their ability to marshal attention using the platform has been incredible to see.

At the same time, engaging more than 80 judges in the U.S. and around the world in a 20-day judging process that involved proposal reviews, team interviews at a distance and deliberation was no small feat. We are grateful to the many professionals who carved out a substantial chunk of time in their schedules to be a part of this year’s judging process.

And finally, a far-reaching and multi-faceted effort like the Global Challenge is simply not possible without the dedication of our volunteer staff, who each week provide support to teams – through proposal reviews and feedback, event support, and identifying additional resources. Many, many more individuals connected directly with teams through our online “marketplace” that seeks to connect users around simple “Help Wanted”/”Help Offered” posts.

You can help the MIT IDEAS Competition and Global Challenge team gear up for next year’s competition, which will launch in September 2011. Here’s how:

– Identify community problems. Define barriers to well being in your community or communities you work with. Explain the problem, provide context, and describe what a successful solution could look like and how MIT can help.

– Underwrite awards [link:]. Invest in the capacity of young people to tackle today’s humanitarian challenges in partnership with the people who need those solutions. IDEAS and the Global Challenge offer sponsorship opportunities in a range of categories.

Volunteer. The Global Challenge offers numerous ways to get involved, including proposal review, mentoring, and event support.

The 2011 IDEAS Competition and the MIT Global Challenge is supported by the Social Entrepreneurship Venture Fund (SEVEN), the Legatum Center at MIT, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, and many other generous organizations and individuals.

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Agriculture, Technology
poverty alleviation