In a festive convergence of innovation and global impact, the 2023 edition Solve Challenge Endgameshosted by MIT Solve, took place to welcome the Solver Class 2023. These teams, resolute in their commitment to solving Solve’s global challenges for 2023 and anchored in the advancement of United Nations Sustainable Development Goalsare perfect examples of the impact technology can have when geared towards social good.
To set the tone for the day, MIT Director Cynthia Barnhart called for bold action to serve the world, and Hala Hanna, executive director of MIT Solve, urged the new solver teams and participants to harness the power of technology for benevolent purposes. “Humans have lived with the dichotomy of technology since the dawn of time. Today we are at another stage of generative AI and we have choices to make. So, what if we chose that every line of code heals, every algorithm improves, and every device includes? she declared during the opening plenary session, Powered by technology and led locally: solutions for global progress.
Global, intergenerational and contextual change for good
This year’s Solve Challenge Finals served as a global platform for reflection. Majid Al Suwaidi, Managing Director of COP28, shared the experiences that shaped his approach to climate negotiation. He recounted a harrowing visit to a refugee camp facilitated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and housing 300,000 climate migrants. There he meets a mother and her nine children. In a sprawling camp housing 300,000 people, the shortage was evident, with only one toilet for every 100 residents. “There are people who contribute nothing to the problem but are the most affected,” Majid pointed out, emphasizing the need to prioritize those most affected by climate change when developing solutions. .
Moderator Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General, steered the conversation toward Africa’s growing influence during her fireside chat with David Sengeh SM ’12, PhD ’16, Chief Minister of Sierra Leone, and Toyin Saraki, president of the Wellbeing Foundation. The African Union has recently been appointed permanent member of the G20. Saraki passionately pleaded for Africa to assert itself: “I would like it to be more than just the South recognizing the North. The time has come for us to put African intelligence at the forefront. We have to bring our own people, our own data, our own resources. She also called for intergenerational change, recognizing the desire of the younger generation to lead.
Sengeh, himself 36, stressed that young people are natural leaders, especially in a country where 70 percent of the population is made up of young people. He challenged the status quo, urging society to give leadership roles to the younger generation.
Saraki hailed Solve as a vital incubation center, satisfying the need for contextual innovation while contributing to global progress. She sees Solve as a marketplace for solutions to systemic weaknesses, drawing on the diverse approaches of innovators, young and old. “This is the generation of intelligence that needs to be developed, not just in Africa. Solve is amazing for this, it’s investor delight,” she said.
Henrietta Fore, Managing Partner, President and CEO of Radiate Capital, Holsman International, shared an example of entrepreneurship catalyzed by national leaders, referencing India’s Swachh Bharat Program aimed at promoting cleaner environments. The government initiative resulted in a burst of entrepreneurial activity, with women opening various toiletry and bathroom supply stores. Fore highlighted the potential for businesses to collaborate with countries on such programs, creating momentum and innovation.
Trust as capital
Confidence was a dominant theme throughout the event, from the personal to the professional level.
Johanna Mair, academic editor of Stanford Social Innovation Review, asked Sarah Chandler, Apple’s vice president of environment and supply chain innovation, what advice she could give to companies and startups thinking about their holistic climate goals. Chandler highlighted the importance of trust that businesses must have that environmental goals can align with business goals, emphasizing Apple’s 45% carbon footprint reduction since 2015 and an increase in income of 65 percent.
Greycroft board associate Neela Montgomery discussed her initial skepticism about working with large entities, seeking advice from Ilan Goldfajn, president of the Inter-American Development Bank. “Feel free to come…enjoy a multilateral bank…think of multilateral organizations as the ones that make connections. We can be your business and financial support, we can be your customers and we can be your promoters,” Goldfajn said.
During a fireside chat between Janti Soeripto, President and CEO of Save the Children USA, and Imran Ahmed, Founder and CEO of the Center for Countering Digital, Soeripto shared his belief that the most effective change comes at home and the local community level. She cited a contextual example of this, where Save the Children invested in the development of a small Austrian edtech startup: Library for everyone. The partnership has had a positive impact on the literacy of other communities around the world by making literature more accessible.
There are still major barriers to entry for small businesses into the global market. Imran highlights sclerosis and hesitation to trust small-scale innovation as a barrier to meaningful change.
The final debate of the closing plenary session, Financing the future: increasing inclusive impact, featuring Fore; Mohammed Nanabhay, managing partner of Mozilla Ventures; and Alfred Ironside, vice president of communications at MIT, who asked the two panelists: “What do you look for when you consider investing money in leaders and organizations whose mission is to create impact and reach a large scale?
Beyond aligning principles with organizations, Nanabhay said he looks for tenacity and, above all, self-confidence. “Entrepreneurship is a long journey, it’s a difficult journey, whether you’re on the for-profit side or the non-profit side. It’s easy to say that people have to have courage, everyone says it. When the moment arrives and you encounter difficulties… you have to have a fundamental belief that what you are working on is meaningful and will make the world a better place.