MIT IDE’s just-launched Inclusive Innovation Challenge seeks global problem-solvers and entrepreneurs

Even as the digital economy flourishes, discussions are heating up about how to more widely share the prosperity. For the past three years, the Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC)—sponsored by MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) -- has challenged entrepreneurs around the world to re-invent the way tech innovation is harnessed. Today, with the launch of the 2019 challenge, IIC Executive Producer, Devin Cook, notes a heightened awareness. She sees a “revolution afoot” to create high-tech jobs and skills training that bring people more fully into the digital age.

“Our vision is an economy that works for all,” she said. To achieve this, the IIC serves as a catalyst to “accelerate entrepreneurs who are already making our vision a reality.” In addition, the challenge wants “to drive a solutions-oriented conversation about the future of work.”

Announcing this year’s tournament, IDE leaders said the IIC will again award $1.6 million--$250,000 to each of four organizations revolutionizing the future of work and economic opportunity. Following last year’s lead, the challenge will take place on five continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the US and Canada. Registration is open now through May 9. Regional finalists will be announced July 23 and winners will be recognized at regional celebrations. The challenge will culminate with a Global Grand Prize Gala at MIT on November 21.

Since its inception, the IIC has expanded and the goals are reflected in many areas of IDE research. “We believe that inclusive innovation – the use of technology to generate increased economic opportunity for moderate and low income earners – is an imperative with a tight deadline,” said IDE director, Erik Brynjolfsson. “The question we should be asking isn’t ‘what is technology going to do to our economy and society,’ but rather, ‘what will we do with technology’?” Technology access, financial inclusion, skills development and opportunity matching, and income growth and job creation, are the four categories for applicants. Each is a solution area to help people prosper in the era of automation.

Efforts to increase economic opportunity are needed at the highest levels of business and government. At the same time, it’s often small, local entrepreneurs like those applying to the IIC, who are paving the way. Since 2016, 3,000 organizations have registered from more than 100 nations. It has worked with more than 100 Global Outreach Partners, 500 judges, and drawn 3,300 event attendees. New judges and new global collaborators will be added this year.

The success has been far-reaching so far. Among the 100 winners awarded a total $3.5 million are solutions ranging from agricultural climate apps for African farmers, to training courses for US health care workers, and coding boot camps in India and the Mid-east. Re-skilling of urban youth in Detroit is rewarded alongside online credit unions in Europe and Latin America.

These innovations are cause for optimism. IDE co-director, Andrew McAfee, said “Our world and the state of humanity…is improving very quickly because of tech progress. Our winners and other entrants show us that broadly shared prosperity is possible, which makes a great antidote to pessimism and negativity."

On March 13, at Autodesk's headquarters in San Francisco, leaders from the MIT IDE and the Autodesk Foundation will celebrate the launch of the 2019 global tournament. Erik Brynjolfsson will provide opening remarks while Andy McAfee and Andrew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk, will engage in a fireside chat, hosted by WIRED Magazine's Emily Dreyfuss. Video of the chat will be available on the IIC website post event.

For more on this year’s challenge, visit MITinclusiveinnovation.com.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, March 7, 2019