Global Challenge added to IDEAS

New service competition may become regular IDEAS feature

Last Friday, MIT announced the winners of its annual IDEAS (Innovation, Development, Enterprise, Action, and Service) Competition and Global Challenge. Over forty teams, consisting of everyone from undergraduates to non-MIT affiliates, competed for up to $150,000 in awards.

In addition to main awards, which awarded teams $5,000, $7,500, or $10,000, teams were also vying to win the new Global Challenge or one of five Community Choice awards. The Global Challenge featured judges from around the world, while Community Choice awards were decided by user votes.

The Global Challenge was initiated this year in honor of MIT’s 150th anniversary; with this expansion came a new online platform, designed to further connect participating teams with the worldwide community. Upon creating a username, visitors to the site could view competing teams’ pitches, provide comments and feedback, and offer their own skills and services to the project.

One successful project was the Indian Mobile Initiative (IMI), which was spearheaded by a team of undergraduates. According to team member Aakriti Shroff ’13, the group aims to inform people in India about the vast opportunities available in mobile platform development. The project, which will utilize student instructors from MIT, plans to focus on the social enterprise associated with creating an application.

“It’s really half entrepreneurship, half programming,” said Kyle A. Fisher ’13, another team member on the project. He believed that stressing the former is key to helping students succeed.

IMI, along with other teams, received help from community partners to implement their project. Shroff said the team reached out to an MIT alumnus at Google India, who then introduced them to a variety of other resources.

When asked what he most enjoyed about the competition, Fisher said he appreciated the opportunity to see a variety of “incredible” ideas from his colleagues. Shroff liked how the challenge emphasized a focus on smaller issues, rather than a single broad, general problem, adding that it helped to scale solutions.

The idea for the Global Challenge originated in 2007, when, according to program administrator Lars H. Torres, the Public Service Center began talks with the MIT150 planning committee concerning a possible public service activity. Torres, who was hired in 2008 to help steer the direction of the Challenge, stated that the original goal was to “engage the worldwide community in a meaningful way.”

The challenge began with a series of “generator dinners,” where students could come and sell their ideas or skills and begin to form teams. At some of the dinners, community partners came and led discussions on issues they would like to see resolved. Information sessions for other service challenges were also offered to educate students on potential issues facing the global community.

A variety of resources, including IAP classes and development grants for prototypes and research, were offered to teams to help them carry out their proposals. Between February and April, opportunities were available for teams to practice their pitches and receive feedback in events known as “pitch kitchens.” Some teams even traveled to MIT Alumni Clubs in the area to present.

After each group submitted a final proposal, they were subject to three kinds of judging, and could stand to win awards from each — IDEAS, Global Challenge, and Community Choice.

The “Face to Face” judging session was held on April 25 to select IDEAS award winners. On that night, around 30 judges, in small groups, analyzed the teams on four categories: innovation, feasibility, impact, and an overall “wow” factor.

After selecting the teams that they liked the most, each judging group placed them into categories for the $5,000, $7,500, or $10,000 prizes, and then determined the winners based on their judging criteria.

For the Global Challenge, MIT contacted panelists from around the world, including alumni and other interested parties. These judges had twenty days to read proposals, ask follow-up questions, and ultimately decide on five winners.

More simply, Community Choice Awards were handed out to the five teams that had the most votes online from registered visitors.

Torres said he was disappointed in the low number of user votes that were cast for the teams; each visitor was allowed to vote five times, yet the average amount of votes cast per person was 1.42. When asked what he would do differently with the program, Torres said he would like to see more hands-on opportunities for students to “engage with the dilemmas facing communities around the globe.”

It was the feedback that Shroff valued the most. She suggested that more ways for teams to solicit feedback be incorporated into future competitions. Fisher expressed a desire to incorporating video presentations into the completion, which he believed would help teams get their ideas across better than through writing. He thought the help of the Public Service Center (PSC) in creating this videos could prove beneficial.

As for the teams that did not win monetary prizes, Torres said that some have continued to pursue additional funding, from either “other institutional resources” or other service challenges. Torres would like to see the Global Challenge have a stronger support network for teams that do win but still merit attention.

Looking towards the future, Torres mentioned the desire of the PSC to continue the Global Challenge for next year and beyond. “We have a plan to keep it moving it forward,” he said, adding that it would require “an ongoing piece of conversation with the student community” over how to improve the program.