Technology is the most disruptive force in human history, ushering in a new era of unprecedented health, convenience, and prosperity. Yet many people are not experiencing the benefits of this progress, despite actively seeking to more fully participate in and profit from new educational, financial, and work opportunities. At MIT, we believe that inclusive innovation – the use of technology to generate increased economic opportunity – is an imperative with a tight deadline. The question we should be asking ourselves at this historic moment isn’t “what is technology going to do to our economy and society,” but rather “what will we do with technology?”
To tackle this challenge, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy has established the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC) to show that technology can be used to create a future of work that works for more people. The fourth annual MIT IIC is now open and tech-driven organizations from around the world are encouraged to register until May 9th, 2019 to submit their application. In its first three years, the IIC scoured the globe seeking inclusive innovators and rewarding and celebrating their solutions. To date we’ve awarded over $3.5 million to over 100 organizations to accelerate the success of entrepreneurs that are using technology to create an economy that works for all. Now in its fourth year, the IIC is seeking more inclusive innovators and will award more than $1.6 million globally. The IIC works with like-minded collaborators in five regions – Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and US & Canada. In Europe, Merck, a vibrant science and technology company, is the exclusive partner of the MIT IIC to support entrepreneurial organizations that are using technology to re-invent and revolutionize the future of work.
The IIC recognizes future of work entrepreneurs in four categories that holistically represent the solution types necessary to build an economy that works for all in the digital era. These four fundamental areas represent the primary design mechanisms necessary to support working people in a time of great disruption.
Skills Development & Opportunity Matching: The jobs of tomorrow will look very different than those of today. Preparing working people to succeed in new, rapidly growing job categories, like robotics, coding, and renewable energy, is critical. And once people develop these skills, we must connect these individuals to open opportunities for work. IIC Grand Prize Winner Laboratoria is a digital bootcamp working specifically with low-income women in Latin America. The women learn critical digital skills, becoming equipped as developers, and then are matched with jobs in the tech sector. Digital bootcamps like Laboratoria, technology-driven approaches to scaling up education, hiring platforms that reduce unconscious bias, and labor markets that ensure fair wages… these are just a few of the technology-driven ways we can ensure working people will have the capabilities to succeed in and access to the work opportunities that are emerging today.
Technology Access: In our increasingly digital economy, people with access to technology and technologically savvy are those who will prosper. And yet many people who are willing and able to work simply cannot “plug in” to the digital economy as they cannot access the most basic technology. 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas do not have access to broadband internet; it’s no wonder rural America’s economy has been hard hit. In a study of 32 emerging or developing countries, 44% of the population accessed the internet at all. Yet innovative approaches can provide access to technologies that will empower people to engage more fully in the digital economy. For example, IIC Winner Jana enables people from around the world to download specific apps on their smart phones. As compensation, Jana provides internet access via smartphones. This innovation has enabled millions of people to get online.
Job Creation & Income Growth: Perhaps most importantly of all, we need to use technology to create new jobs that pay better wages. IIC Grand Prize Winner Iora Health has created an entirely new job category — health coaches – who support patients directly and work as liaisons to doctors, thus supporting patients’ healthcare outcomes while simultaneously driving down healthcare costs. Using a proprietary technology platform to gauge patient progress and success, Iora is providing new job opportunities that merge human compassion with data-driven management. We need more organizations like Iora to enable entirely new industries and jobs to flourish, opening previously unknown opportunities for people in the digital economy.
Financial Inclusion: Often accessing a job and an income is insufficient to ensuring a family’s financial security and stability. According to the FDIC, 27% of American households are unbanked or underbanked. 20-30% of the working age population in the US and EU are engaged in independent work, and yet these people have limited access to income security protections, like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and disability insurance. Technology can change this. Innovators can find better ways to ensure that working people, whether employed or independent, have access to the financial tools and mechanisms to ensure their stability and security. IIC Winner Destacame is doing just that. The organization enables individuals to demonstrate their creditworthiness by using alternative data, gathered from credit-like services such as utilities, telecoms, and suppliers.” Work in the digital economy will continue to evolve. New mechanisms for financial inclusion will provide a safety net as people adjust to the new reality.
If you are inspired by the IIC’s mission and want to engage in our solution-oriented conversation about the future of work, here’s how you can get involved!
Apply: If your organization is using technology to drive economic opportunity for low- and middle income workers, we encourage you to apply by May 9 here!
Nominate: Know of organizations that are reinventing the future of work? Nominate them today! The IIC team will personally invite them to apply.
Outreach Partnership & Ambassadorship: Organizations and individuals with deep roots in the innovation ecosystem are invited to join MIT as an IIC Outreach Partner or Ambassador, by sharing IIC-created content via social media.
Support: Our work depends on financial and in-kind support from generous foundations, corporations, and individuals.
For information on any of the above opportunities to engage with and support the MIT IIC, please contact the IIC team at [email protected].