MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge to Honor Winners at Detroit Event

Technology has been transforming the way we work for decades, and MIT believes figuring out how to leverage it to rethink jobs and community prosperity is a grand technological challenge of our time. To respond to what the university calls an “economic and moral imperative,” it created the Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC), which lands in Detroit next week to celebrate the competition’s 12 North American finalists, including two from the Motor City.

The IIC, a part of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, was launched three years ago to recognize and reward organizations that are using technology to “create more broadly shared prosperity by reinventing the future of work in the digital era,” MIT said in a press release. Since its inception, the IIC has drawn more than 1,500 applicants and awarded more than $2 million.

This year marks the first time the IIC is adopting a global tournament model, hosting challenges in five regions around the world—Africa, Asia, North America, Latin America, and Europe. Detroit, where MIT has partnered with the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, is hosting the North American portion of the tournament.

During the livestreamed event on Sept. 27 at the College for Creative Studies, all 12 North American finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of experts, as well as an invitation-only local audience of educators, entrepreneurs, and those working in economic and workforce development. Four finalists will be awarded $20,000 each and will go on to compete in a global gala at MIT on Nov. 8, where they have a shot at a $1 million grand prize. The eight North American finalists remaining will each win $5,000.

Devin Cook, the IIC’s executive producer, says the competition sought entrepreneurs working in four categories: technology access, income growth and job creation, skill development and opportunity matching, and financial inclusion.

“We’ve definitely seen some intriguing trends within the four categories, such as how much focus should be on specific demographics as opposed to the broader left-behind economy,” Cook says. “A lot of organizations are doubling down on specific groups of people.”

As examples, she points to two North American finalists: Oakland, CA’s AnnieCannons, which trains human trafficking survivors to be software professionals, and Baltimore’s Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, the provider of an online platform that seeks to end recruitment and employment abuse in temporary work programs.

Hanging around in the background like a specter is automation, Cook says. Automation is expected to eliminate a significant number of jobs within the next 50 years, but it hasn’t been the IIC’s primary focus.

“All of the organizations [in the challenge] want to make sure people affected by automation have other on-ramps to good work,” she says. “Some are using technology to augment people” rather than automate their jobs, she notes.

Both of the Detroit finalists are working to broaden access to technology. Apps Without Code teaches people to build profitable, mobile app-based businesses without extensive software skills, and the Detroit Community Technology Project is taking a grassroots approach to building neighborhood wireless networks.

Lavea Brachman, the Ralph Wilson Foundation’s vice president of programs, is “extremely excited” to see both Detroit and Buffalo, NY—the two cities the foundation’s work supports—represented among the North American finalists, and adds that it’s especially satisfying given it’s the result of blind judging. Brachman says those competing in the IIC demonstrate that technology can benefit people without a four-year college degree, providing opportunities to use innovative solutions to increase quality of life.

Brachman says the foundation will soon kick off an initiative on the future of work and hopes to expand its partnership with MIT.

“We’re starting to examine training needs for lower-income workers in businesses that are increasingly using technology,” Brachman says. “Our interest is in funding and helping to scale training programs that ensure everyone has access to digital literacy.”

To learn more about the finalists in the 2018 Inclusive Innovation Challenge, click here. The livestream, which will broadcast the Detroit event as well as the grand prize gala in November, can be seen here.

Trending on Xconomy