MIT Solve’s Executive Director Cracks the Code by bringing together brilliant minds and scalable resources to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.
Northampton, MA –News Direct– HP Inc.
By Ariel Foxman
How can we best meet the most pressing challenges of a world community beset by inequity, injustice and indifference? Imagine if this noble mission was your daily job. Alexandra Amouyel, Managing Director of MIT solve, an initiative that connects tech entrepreneurs around the world with partners, funding and resources, doesn’t have to be imagined. Each year, the initiative invites anyone, from anywhere, to come up with practical and scalable solutions to a selected set of Solve’s topical challenges.
Previously at Clinton Global Initiative and Save the children, Amouyel was recruited five years ago as Solve’s first executive director, responsible for ensuring that the initiative can identify and support the right global solutions by fostering open innovation. This year, Amouyel and his team solicited contributions from the Solve community and decided to center the 2021 challenges around five relevant themes: anti-racist technology, digital inclusion, equitable classrooms, health security and pandemics, and resilient ecosystems. HP is a sponsor of the challenges of digital inclusion and anti-racist technology, hosting the HP Award for Accelerating Digital Equity, which will distribute $ 100,000 to four “Solver” teams within these two categories.
“I don’t think you can change things on your own,” says Amouyel. “There is no one lone innovator, no one lone activist. Here she explains what a good challenge and even greater resolve is.
What attracted you to this unique position?
Solving is the vision of the president of MIT L. Rafael Reif. MIT’s mission is to advance knowledge and educate students to better serve the nation and the world. Solve is a recognition that as an institute we must have different ways of doing it, especially when there are almost eight billion people on the planet. There are innovators who do a great job and who are actually closer to the real issues facing communities. I wanted to support these people.
With an endless number of problems you might want to present to the world to solve, how does Solve cope with the challenges of any given year?
It is an art and a science. We spend six to nine months designing challenges, and there’s a bottom-up crowd-solving part where we get feedback from our community through workshops, and then we also talk to our professors at MIT and other experts on specific topics. Anyway, the challenges always address the same four pillars: learning, health, economic prosperity and sustainability.
Are there other metrics that you and your team use to make sure that a challenge will attract the right types of solutions?
We wonder if this challenge affects billions of the world’s most underserved people. Where are there enough early stage innovations bubbling up? We are looking for prototypes and pilots, not just ideas. And third, will there be enough community members and partners to support it with funding, mentorship and resources?
What is your philosophy when it comes to working in coalition with business?
I like The framework of Julie Battilana. [Ed: Battilana is a professor at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School.] She writes that for any social change movement, you need the agitator, the innovator and the orchestrator. It’s the orchestrator that works with or within the system to effect change and bring innovation to scale, and I see myself and Solve in that type of role.
Are solvers encouraged to work with teams and problems, and even communities?
There is a real exchange – between all the teams within each cohort and class, and across the different themes. But there is also a much broader impact that goes beyond specific solutions. Our Indigenous Communities Fellowship is in its fourth cycle. We are seeing collaborations between native scholars and some of our solver teams. We are sort of rediscovering things that indigenous peoples have known for centuries. It matters a lot to help change the narrative around what technology is and who is an innovator.
You say that the core value of Solve is optimism. How does this apply in practice?
Despite all the problems the world faces – and there are many – we can use human ingenuity, technology and empathy to solve them. Resolution advisor Megan Smith, who was one of President Obama’s chief technology officers in the United States, says, “If we can include everyone, we can solve anything. I like that very much.
Alex Amouyel will join Alex Cho, president of HP Personal Systems, and Sarah Brown, executive president of the Global Business Coalition for Education and president of Theirworld on July 21 to discuss digital equity and education.
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