Want to solve global crises? MIT project seeks fresh ideas

Solve initiative aims to crowdsource new answers to global woes by tapping inventors, entrepreneurs, experts worldwide

A global initiative is calling on the Middle East’s brightest minds to help spur fresh thinking around solutions for some of the world’s most intractable problems.

Solve, which is backed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), aims to tap inventors, entrepreneurs and experts worldwide to crowdsource new ideas for global issues, from energy, to health and education.

Individuals with bright ideas will be connected a hive of businesses, philanthropists, nonprofits and academics able to help turn these concepts into reality.

"We are firm believers in the ingenuity of people everywhere"“Global problems are complex and interdependent and no one actor or sector can fix them alone,” said Alex Amouyel, director of Solve. “Solve is a marketplace. We broker connections between innovators and people with resources.”

It’s an open platform, she added. “Anyone can submit an idea: from tech entrepreneurs in Gaza, to a refugee in Zaatari camp, to a teacher in Abu Dhabi. We are firm believers in the ingenuity of people everywhere. It’s just a matter of developing and publicising the amazing work already being done.”

Solve targets four areas where new ideas and emerging technologies have the potential to drive change: health, education, energy and inequality. Its next round of challenges will be announced in May.

Its most recent cycle took aim at three areas: improving education outcomes for young refugees; preventing and treating chronic diseases in areas where resources are limited; and reducing carbon contributions.

“We want to give visibility and scale to ideas that might otherwise struggle to be seen"Finalists are due to pitch their solutions at the United Nations on March 7, with the most promising moving on to present to Solve judges at MIT in May. A number will then be named Solvers, opening the door to MIT’s network of mentors, impact investors, companies and academics, all able to help get their ideas off the ground. 

Participants at the first Solve event in October 2015 included Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc, philanthropist and businessman Ratan Tata, and Laurene Powell Jobs, founder of the Emerson Collective.

“It’s a non-monetary award, because we focus on connections,” said Amouyel. “That could be anything from Google giving free developer time, to office space, capacity building, or in some cases, financing. It’s a long-term model.”

Ideas can be at any stage when they are submitted to Solve, from concept to a fully working model. Among the solutions that have caught Solve’s attention to date are Kiron, a free online learning platform for refugees and displaced people. The Germany-based startup blends online and offline elements to help refugees gain new skills, or earn degrees, in preparation for integrating into their new country or returning home. Another, ClimateCoin, suggest using cryptocurrency to motivate people to offset carbon.

“We want to give visibility and scale to ideas that might otherwise struggle to be seen,” said Amouyel. “Solve is the matchmaker able to pair innovators with resources.”