30% of the population lives on or near a coast, and the majority of global trade runs through ports on coasts. How can the impacts of rising sea levels and stronger storms be mitigated?
In this special bonus episode of Climate Conversations, the team sits down with Dr. Alexander Dale, the Senior Officer for MIT Solve’s Sustainability pillar. MIT Solve is a community for connecting innovative solution-makers with the resources to solve global challenges. They seek to connect people across spaces both within MIT and the external, global community to address the world’s greatest environmental, economic, and sociopolitical challenges.
The Climate Conversations group explores how Solve is building this global network of scalable solutions, and what makes for a successful Solver (challenge winner). They discuss Solve’s 2018 “Coastal Communities” challenge, which looks at ways to address the issues coastal communities are facing due to climate change and rising sea levels. Is there a way to harness these issues, and transform them into a solution? Dr. Dale and the team discuss the innovators of the future, and how they are tackling these challenges.
If you’re enjoying our Climate Conversations podcast, you can subscribe on your favorite podcast platform to hear the latest episodes first. Find us on:
[00:00:00] Rajesh: This is climate conversations by ClimateX. I'm Rajesh Kasturirangen here at open learning at MIT and I know we've been gone for a while, but Curt, I think we got some interesting new news, isn't it?
Curt: Yeah. That's right. This is Curt Newton. Also with MIT open learning. We've got a special podcast episode here today with Dr. Alexander Dale from the Solve initiative at MIT. They're doing some really interesting work and in particular they have a challenge on sustainable coastal communities that's open for proposals through July 1st.
Rajesh: How many PhDs does it take to solve a light bulb? I'm just kidding.
Alexander: Solve in what sense?
Curt: Depends on what you mean by solve.
Rajesh: Or dissolve light bulb for that matter. But today we have somebody in our studio, Dr. Alexander Dale, who's the senior [00:01:00] officer for sustainability at MIT's Solve which is solve.mit.edu.
Curt: So tell us what is Solve?
Rajesh: I had the same question.
Alexander: Yes Solve is this relatively new initiative from MIT. We come out of the president's office. So President Rafael Reif started Solve back in 2015 and really the impetus behind Solve is that the world is full of big problems. There are 7 billion people in the world. There are lots of good ideas out there and you shouldn't have to have an MIT ID in order to get access to some of the resources that are here in Cambridge.
So Solve works to find great ideas from around the world and get them the resources to start up and scale up. And so we work on four big pillar areas, health, learning, sustainability and economic prosperity. So I lead the sustainability piece of that, which is climate, energy, food, water and everything in between.
Curt: Listeners to The Climate X podcast who have checked out our site may notice there's some similarities in our kind of high-level [00:02:00] mission statements about connecting communities and the world with what's going on here at MIT.
Rajesh: Entirely coincidental.
Alexander: I think that's true for a lot of stuff at MIT, right? A lot of the goals for these big problems is you need to connect people across a lot of different spaces. MIT certainly has a lot of people working on a lot of things that needs connection and Solves' real piece and as part of that MIT eco system I think is working with a lot of external stakeholders.
So most of the people that Solve works with are not at the Institute, which is a lot of fun.
Rajesh: So Solve from the name sounds a very MIT kind of thing. So how is it different from every other kind of MIT thing that solves things?
Alexander: Right. So we are not a research space. I think that's the biggest piece relative to other parts of MIT.
We don't have any researchers on staff. That's not our role. Our role is to find existing ideas that are out there elsewhere in the world. And so occasionally that includes someone at MIT who is doing something neat but mostly the [00:03:00] social entrepreneurs are startups that we work with are from the Philippines or they're from Jier or France or they're working in Guatemala.
Curt: How about a case or two, a story about a solver?
Alexander: Yeah, so we have selected 67 solvers over the past two years.
Rajesh: So a solver is, is it a person, is it an institution, is it a start up?
Alexander: A solver is a person. They are part of a solver team which is an organization generally, and so I mentioned four pillars earlier and the way that Solve works is that we'll put out one big challenge in each of those four pillars each year.
So as an example, last year, we had the sustainable urban communities challenge in the sustainability pillar and the focus there was that 50% of the world now lives in cities. We're going to see increasing amounts of people living in those dense urban areas. We need to be able to provide food and water for them.
And so, what we were looking for are ideas for three big areas, ways that we [00:04:00] can maintain existing infrastructure or build it if it doesn't exist, right. That's places like Flint, Michigan or places, a lot of developing cities where the infrastructure pipes have just not been built. We're also looking for ways that we can decarbonize or localize some of the food chains.
There's a big rise in demand for protein, meat is really carbon-intensive. How do you figure out ways around that problem? And third, ways just generally to decentralize this and pull maybe water treatment or food production in the city proper. So we put that out to the world and we ended up selecting eight really amazing different solutions from a bunch of different countries.
Let me give you two specific examples. So one is a company called City Taps that is started in France but his piloting in (inaudible). And their core approach is that many people in the world do not have access to running water in their homes. So that means they pay what they call triple tax on poverty. They pay in terms of money because water is more expensive when you have to buy it bottled.
[00:05:00] They pay in terms of their health because it's often less safe or less treated and they pay in terms of time. It takes a lot of time to get that water. And so, at the same time water utilities don't have the capacity to service a lot of these folks. They don't have the money to stay on top of a set of monthly bills that are paid after the fact and so the utilities don't have the cash flow to build out and maintain the infrastructure.
So what's City Taps has done is they produce a smart meter that is really rugged, fits in very low resource environments and can attach in all sorts of different spots and then people can pay for water in advance. So you pay by phone, so you don't have to have physical money which avoids some corruption pieces and it also means that the utility that has cash flow for building out infrastructure.
So more people get water. It's built on an existing city network so it's good and scalable and everything can be cash flow positive.
Curt: So it sounds useful for people regardless of whether your water supply is getting privatized or not.
Alexander: Right. That's [00:06:00] exactly is. It's useful for utilities regardless of their core ownership structure.
Rajesh: Nevertheless. Is there a danger that it leads to that kind of privatization outcome, which may or may not be the best thing in the world.
Alexander: I've talked with them a little bit about this. There's certainly working with some private entities right now for instance, their pilot is with a subsidiary of Veolia, but there's a space there where governments may not be able to provide the funding to build out this infrastructure.
And so, while there's certainly a risk to privatization, I think if done with different technologies or with a focus on making it available to more people. I think technologies is like this can help fill a gap that government's in many cases may not be able to fill.
Rajesh: So this brings me actually to maybe a more macro question.
Rajesh: Which is that, all of these Solve challenges are massive social technical challenges.
Rajesh: Right? And your embedded in existing social, political, economic, cultural biases, everything that you can imagine. So, [00:07:00] how do you...
Alexander: wrestle with that?
Rajesh: Exactly. How do you engage with that minefield of competing interests?
Alexander: Yep. So one of the things we do is as part of the submission process, we're asking people to talk very specifically about the context of their starting in because we have ideas from all over the world, people are coming from lots of different spaces, whether it's corruption, whether its political challenges, whether it's a very different set of financing. And what we found is people give us their context and they give us how they've dealt with the context so far and what Solve is then able to provide is a lot of people who know other contexts or can provide advice for how to scale it up and wrestle with some of those different pieces.
We can bring not just kind of a corporation on the table who might want to invest in this but also someone who's working for a government or a multilateral organization who can say, "Oh, you should look at this context or you're going to need to watch out for this piece".
Rajesh: How many years have you been doing this at Solve?
Alexander: The current challenge 2018 is our third round.
Rajesh: Right. [00:08:00] So you must have seen hundreds of applications to be solvers. Are there patterns emerging? Things that are working? Things that are, maybe you don't want to reveal the things that are not working but...
Alexander: No, we actually do. So one of the values of Solve is open innovation.
We had about a thousand submissions last year and they are all on our website. You can go look at all of them and I will say that many of them are not that robust or well put and I think...
Rajesh: That's a very diplomatic way of saying that.
Alexander: But I think it's really important because that is a space then where we're storing a lot of ideas from all over the place that people can build on and the site is set up so that you can go on, you can comment, you can look at other people's ideas and join their teams even.
Alexander: So we actually do want to showcase some of the things that aren't working, as well as the things that are. In terms of trends, we know that ideas do better when they have thought about that context and they know what their initial pilot looks like.
We know that ideas do better when they're coming from a specific area but they've thought a little bit [00:09:00] about what that broader market might look like. There's some standard pieces of, kind of startups that are relevant in most of these cases and one of the limitations that we found in trying to reach all the corners of the globe, is that a, our application is in English. Not everyone speaks that. And b, the sorts of questions that can help people think through, what might be a really good way to build an idea and have it move forward are not necessarily commonly taught right?
This is one of these pieces where we want Solve to help bring some of that ethos of, not just the technical knowledge of MIT, but also the business case right? All the work that's going on and slow in other places and finding ways to bring some of that content out to all the people that want to solve.
Curt: So there's some training or building of capacity.
Alexander: We're figuring out what that can look like, yeah. Right now, we have this platform. We encourage people to help each other out and suggest ideas. We're thinking about ways that we could do more.
Rajesh: So Alexander, tell us you're either straight [00:10:00] or meandering path to Solve.
Alexander: Yes, so my path is a little bit meandering. It mostly is multidisciplinary.
So I got involved in sustainability because my mother cared about sustainability and it took me a while to realize that but it turned out to be true and so undergraduate I thought I was going to go design rocket ships and roller coasters and it turned out that I found a sustainability club in junior year and basically never looked back and ended up switching from an Engineering Physics degree in undergrad to a Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD with a very big focus on energy and water policy.
That was at the time, I was in Pittsburgh. And natural gas was just starting to show up there with a whole fracking boom, which I'm sure you've talked about on here. So fracking was just starting to be a piece there. I got to do a lot of work on that. I got to look at what does energy policy look like for Pennsylvania or Arizona or Brazil in terms of carbon and climate and future planning. And it turns out that my competitive advantage as an engineer is not doing engineering, [00:11:00] it's talking to other people about engineering and technical pieces.
And so after finishing that, I ended up running a nonprofit called Engineers for a Sustainable World, which is a lot of technical professionals who want to do good things as part of their careers and figuring out ways to both teach them technical content around sustainability, but also teach them how to do more than the technical pieces, social entrepreneurship or talking with other people and I managed to transition from that and have the opportunity to do a triple science technology policy fellowship.
So I was at the EPA's Department of Transportation and Climate Division. And got to work on biofuels and on electric vehicles and automated vehicles and what does decarbonization policy look like. It was great to be a technical expert in that space. And then I admit that when the 2016 election happened, that was also a good time to cut the fellowship short at the EPA.
Rajesh: I wonder why?
Alexander: It's a mystery. So my wife came up to MIT to start a postdoc and I came [00:12:00] up to come to the hub week events and the crowds and climate conference and Solve was having a very very early pilot event with one of their very early challenges around carbon. I got to see that.
Rajesh: This was 2016. That's when Climate X actually won.
Alexander: Yeah. No, I was there when Climate X won. It was a really that's... what I said was, I remember seeing that happen. And so it's so interesting to be on the podcast.
Rajesh: And here we are.
Alexander: So I came up and said, "Oh this is a new initiative". This is an interesting blend of the social entrepreneurship that I've done, some of the technical work that I've done around energy and water and climate.
It's a chance to go work with a lot of people around the world, which is something I hadn't gotten to do very much and they were hiring. So that was that right intersection of different interests and backgrounds.
Curt: So you've got a challenge up and running now on coastal communities.
Alexander: We do.
Curt: Love to hear a little bit more about that what you're hoping for, what its goals are.
Alexander: Sure yes, this is our 2018 challenge. It's around coastal communities and how they can adapt or mitigate in response to climate [00:13:00] change and really this comes out of the idea that 30% of the world lives near the coasts. Global trade all runs through coasts. So they're important even if you're in the middle of Iowa. Your goods probably run through a port on one of the coasts.
And the oceans right, we know from climate that seas are warming and so fish populations are moving, that seas are rising and so we need to plan for that in every different community around the world. Certainly, there's been a lot of conversation around that in Boston and that we're going to get stronger storms, right?
So there's this combination there of, how do we manage to adapt just some of those things and change how we run economies, how we build things, how we live. But there's also these questions around how can we use the ocean to really build up economies and see that as a positive way of stepping towards a sustainable economy. Not just feeling the need to be afraid of the sea and adapt to it.
Rajesh: So, can you think of a problem that would be fantastic to solve in that moment?
Alexander: Yeah, there are a bunch of communities in Tidewater, Virginia. [00:14:00] So the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the Hampton Roads region, there's a lot of very low-lying residential neighborhoods and some of those have flooding now at high tide.
So people are unable to get to work. They get cut off from main streets. People are seeing their basements flooding or they're seeing their home values go down and there's, some people we're not going to be able to save those spaces. So we'd like to see solutions in either direction here. One would be, is there some low-cost infrastructure that we can build for those neighborhoods, that can help manage that water and low cost because we have some high cost solutions, they're big and expensive and they take ten years and they're probably not going to work forever.
But the second is also where we need to retreat. How do we make sure that that happens equitably, that the people who are poorest and have the least economic mobility don't see their home values or their wealth just totally disappear.
While the people that do have more mobility and are generally more well-off can leave first and abandon the neighborhood.
Curt: What's the nature of solutions for [00:15:00] that second one that might be coming through the competition because obviously that's a really important fundamental...
Curt: Challenge and also one that's not, say especially technological in its solutions.
Alexander: I think it could be more technological than you think right? If you look at some of how we do financing and how we do risk management. One of the things I'm really excited about is we have several insurance companies involved in the challenge leadership group, who are very interested in what they call the coverage gap.
Where there's the space of what is insured versus what damage might occur and I think that there's also a space for financial solutions whether it's using buzzwords, like Blockchain or whether it's just different ways of communities coming together to treat value for those homes and move some money around so that people who are the last out, don't get totally lost.
Rajesh: So you could have the rising oceans drive turbines that power the energy, that part of the servers that then mine the Bitcoin.
Alexander: I think we're gonna try to use non-Bitcoin Blockchain the energy efficiency but [00:16:00] yeah.
Curt: I'm thinking we should keep a running tally of you know, (inaudible) it get's blockchain, we ring some sort of a bell.
Alexander: Yeah notice I say blockchain and not Bitcoin. We actually will have a prize that's more on the etherium blockchain for solutions that are working in that area. We're really excited to see what people put in for some of these really hard problems, that have long-term pieces where immutability is really valuable. Immutability means that if I put something on it now, it doesn't change in the future and so for something like sea level rise, which is a slow problem over time, you really want to document that five years ago, you said yes to financing something.
Alexander: Yep, happy to provide those definition because I know I slipped the lingo.
Rajesh: Some people in this country, you know like in the White House seemed to not have that kind of consistency of opinion.
Alexander: Consistency of opinion in which space? That these are problems we should deal with?
Rajesh: Or even that, I said the same thing that I actually sat on [00:17:00] record yesterday.
Curt: Don't hold me to anything because that was five years ago.
Rajesh: Right? I was being flippant but one may be politicized version of, I wonder if technology can address something that is fundamentally a social issue, right? Of course, there might be a record that said five years ago, I promise look, this is what I promised.
Rajesh: Right, but I wonder if by that time people will say, "Well, yeah my promises are from five years ago. The world's changed. So my promise doesn't hold."
Alexander: Sure. If we're going to talk about the details of some of this, I think part of the aspect of that promise is that there would be some money in escrow as part of it, that would be bound up in whatever tokens or currency.
So it's not just that you said it, it's that, there's also bound up money.
Rajesh: Okay good.
Alexander: Otherwise, yes, it's a public trust problem, not a tech problem.
Rajesh: Yes. It's interesting to think of these things, say in a city like DACA which where I think the resources, even compared to say poor people in Virginia are much...
Alexander: Much [00:18:00] less. On a variety of different fronts.
Rajesh: So, how am I to address the coastal communities challenge in places like Bangladesh or other poorer coastal communities in the world?
Alexander: So I hope that I'm not doing that. I'm hoping that the Bangladeshis are addressing it for one. But also they're gonna have a different space where they have different materials available.
They may have more labor available and they have a different set of needs to start. And so I think that, one thing that I'm hoping to see is construction methods or ways of building architecture communities, that is locally appropriate. And maybe has been being done for a 100 years as floods come up every year.
Alexander: And finding ways to adapt that to a sea level rise. The other side that I would love to see is coming from Cambridge, right?
We have lots of really good models for sea level rise around MIT because we have world-class researchers and a lot of data. One of the things I've been talking to a lot of people about [00:19:00] is how can we take some of those models or data needs and downscale that or build a version that doesn't take as much.
Alexander: But that could be applied by a Bangladeshi community using maybe smartphones and maybe using data that's gathered by fishermen on their daily routes.
Alexander: This is me coming up with ideas on the fly.
Rajesh: That's fantastic.
Alexander: That's the sort of thing that is totally plausible, would be really interesting and would benefit not just Bangladeshi communities, but also has a market for communities all along the coasts of Africa or South America and throughout the tropics.
Rajesh: And one thing that immediately comes to mind whether we are riffing on this is, it may not just be a coastal issue. Right? So because if in fact especially in that part of this (inaudible) and the gangetic plains, there's flooding from rivers, which will also increase as climate change affects a lot of water patterns. And so there might be yearly flooding that can be addressed exactly with [00:20:00] the same kind of technologies that...
Alexander: Or that has been being addressed.And I think the idea that we need innovation. We talk about innovation a lot at Solve, it's also buzz words. But innovation can be a lot of things right? It can be, you're doing new high-tech stuff that could go to space but it could also be something where a community along the Ganges has been dealing with flood waters for 100 years.
They have a standard way of doing it that uses local materials and all of a sudden we give them a platform to share that idea and help crystallize it into a larger business plan that can then scale up to a lot more people.
Curt: I understand that in the Solve calendar about half the year has given to these, running these challenges and the other half your kind of traveling around the world talking to these different communities and really kind of understanding where they're coming from.
Alexander: Yeah, so we spend about half the year looking for solutions to a challenge and selecting the best ones and we spend the other half doing, two things. So one is talking to everyone and seeing where they're coming from, that's part of our challenge design process so we know the right questions to ask [00:21:00] and the other thing that we're doing during that time is taking the best ideas from the previous challenges and making sure that they also come with us around the world where we can to share their ideas and to find them more resources, to scale up what they're working on.
Curt: Anything stand out that you've picked up from that sort of global workshop experience over the past year?
Alexander: Everyone has some of the same barriers and you say what are the barriers to good work on big challenges and everyone says money in politics first. The first thing I tell everyone is to be more specific on all of those points. The other aspect is that, we really do need to consider a lot of different resource communities.
And I think it's very easy for us to slip into a U.S. mindset around a lot of issues that are driven by policy. Right? We also work on education. We also work on medicine and those are issues where the U.S. healthcare system or the U.S. education system is its own thing and so finding ways that we can really get strong African voices into a healthcare challenge or a [00:22:00] climate challenge is really important. And so we're trying to get to as many places as we can. We know that we'll be doing trips to places like India and China next year, very explicitly to make sure we're hearing different voices.
Rajesh: So, as you were talking it struck me that many of these challenges also are quite closely related to each other.
Rajesh: Right. Do you see that as part of your challenge design? Like how do you decide that something like okay, this is the sustainability slot and the other thing is in the learning slot. Right, but they may have a lot to say to each other.
Alexander: Yep. We want them to have a lot to say to each other. We encourage our solvers, that our members organizations to all talk to each other and cross fertilize with ideas. But will also when we're doing challenge design, we try to make sure that the challenges are distinct in any given year, but often they'll flow from one pillar to another across years.
And so that may be, we did the sustainable urban communities challenge last year. And for next year, maybe the economic prosperity [00:23:00] pillar is doing inclusive cities or the health pillars doing a healthy cities and that's a space where our solvers then can be experts in some of that work and we can get a new batch of people involved around some of the same conversations.
Let me tell you about least one more specific solver. I can talk about the entire class for let me tell you about one more specific one. This is a group called Meal Flour and they are working in Guatemala. I started by 3 million from the University of Chicago and they were looking at the problem where women and children in several cities in Guatemala do not get enough protein. Meat is expensive and it's hard to get and we know that also if they do get a lot more meat that's likely to come from high carbon sources.
So what they've managed to do is train a lot of different families on how to grow mealworms in their kitchens. And they can feed on kitchen scraps and they can turn those kitchen scraps into mealworms and the mealworms into mealworm flower that mixes really nicely into existing breads or tortillas and that's protein-rich.
It's a very low [00:24:00] carbon source of protein and it's a very low-cost form of nutrition. And so they've been working with initially a set of 15 families and now they're working with several tens of families and specifically working with a lot of community organizations to scale up this sort of training program.
Which is both design and construction of farms. It's how to maintain these and it's also built a really nice community for the women that are involved in this program, to get to connect with each other as well as talk about nutritional issues.
Curt: There's got to be a cookbook that comes along with it right?
Alexander: There is. They bring some really delicious cookies to our events.
Let me talk about one more, maybe. Our final one is called Fresh Direct Nigeria, no relation to the U.S. grocery delivery company.
Curt: Fresh track?
Alexander: Fresh Direct. Yep. This is a group that started by a woman named Angel. She is based in Lagos, Nigeria and Abuja and you've heard a lot maybe about urban farming as an approach to food supplies.
And so this is urban farming done in a different context. So the containers are a lot [00:25:00] cheaper rather than fitting out a container for 70 or 100 thousand dollars. They fit out a container for about seven and it also provides a space for youth in low-income areas of Abuja or Lagos to be employed.
They can run the farms using an app. So they have a lot of support and they're driving fresh produce then to grocery stores and restaurants in these two cities. So that turns out to be good from nutrition standpoint, good from a low-carbon food chain point, good for employability and a really great set of photos as a result.
Curt: So what would it take to bring that solution from Lagos to the United?
Alexander: Maybe some policy change, but I think she'd be happy to teach you. They have a whole process now. They are bringing online another 20 containers. They have about 14 up now, but they just got an investor to basically double the size of their two urban farms. They'll be off grid so it'll all be solar-powered.
Alexander: And one of the inspirational pieces there is, to go back to some of this context, they have a lot more labor availability [00:26:00] and they have a very different cost of the market and so their access to fresh vegetables in those spaces is much lower. Before, some of these restaurants were getting their vegetables airlifted in from Germany.
So in terms of lowering the carbon footprint of your supply chain, not only are you changing how they're grown, you're also changing how they get there.
Rajesh: I want to know what restaurant are lifts anything from...
Alexander: Fancy restaurants, I think. There was just a lack of supply of greens. So, If you wanted a salad that wasn't something that was locally available.
Curt: The embassies were getting it (inaudible).
Rajesh: Okay. You said thousand applications, four challenges a year, but they're probably 100,000 challenges that could be addressed.
Rajesh: How do you pick those four?
Alexander: So part of it is going around and talking to a lot of people. We try to do at least 20 to 30 challenge design workshops all around the world each year.
We will pick on a few different dimensions. So one is, we want challenges for [00:27:00] Solve that are very human-centered, that are gonna affect a lot of people if we solve them. There are from the MIT of space a lot of technical challenges, that are important, but they don't have a good human aspect to them and they're often much more at the research phase.
We want things that are going to affect a lot of people and are ready to do that commercialization or implementation step. The second is we want challenges that are ready to go. Fusion is a little far ahead for Solve. And finally we want things where there's a coalition of organizations to support them. If we pick the most important challenge under some other criteria, but there aren't organizations ready to step up with technical advice or mentorship or funding, the solutions that we pick are not going to get the support they need to go have impact. A little bit, that's a chicken and egg because the most important solutions might be the ones that most need the attention, so we're constantly fighting that battle.
We are trying to balance those pieces out. But in talking to a lot of people, we'll see oh this is what people are interested in this year. This is where the technology has gotten [00:28:00] to so that there are interesting ideas showing up where if we put out the challenge will find some really neat ideas. And we also will see, there's some very specific contexts or places that are saying, oh we have this really cool aspect and or this really cool subproblem, and we'd love to work on that and we can roll all of those different pieces into one broad theme like coastal communities.
As an example, we have a university member UC Irvine and they're really excited to go work on coastal communities and our front lines of health challenge within the context of Orange County.
And so that's looking at California's sea level rise or coastal erosion or some of the mud slide issues that they've had out there and it's also finding a local community of people that want to do innovative work and giving them something to focus on. So that's the other piece. There may be a thousand challenges, if everyone is split up among those thousand, we don't have a critical mass in any one of them.
One of the things that Solve can act as is a focal point for saying we're going to work on this challenge as a community this year. We'll work on a different one next year, but we'll really [00:29:00] give it the attention and the spotlight and the media focus that it needs as well as looking for great ideas from a technology standpoint.
Curt: It seems to me that a really interesting constituency for this work are college students, not just at MIT, but there's great growing interest in connecting students with the real challenges out in the world as they are lived by these communities. Are you getting a lot of students and faculty from different colleges, kind of stepping in and wanted to be involved somehow?
Alexander: We have a lot of interest. Yeah, I was down in Brazil and Fortaleza just a few weeks ago doing a workshop Solve it on workshop. So one aimed at generating solutions or refining them specifically because there are a lot of faculty and students there that want to be involved in some of the design thinking work that we're doing, they want to be involved in this very socially impactful sort of solutions. They don't just want a business degree that lets them go be a middle manager and make money. They want to be involved in something that has a difference and Solve gives them that sort of focal point of, if you're going to work on what [00:30:00] a new venture might look like, focus on one of these challenges and get started. And then the platform provides a way for them to look at what are other people doing and can we join in that as well.
Rajesh: So do you back solutions or solvers?
Alexander: We back solutions. We specifically select for the ideas rather than some organizations which select more on the people. We celebrate the people behind those ideas. We bring them to events. We want to put them on stage and make sure people know what great work they're doing.
Rajesh: So what's in it for a solver?
Alexander: Yeah, so solvers get access to a community that can provide a lot of different things for them. So one first things we do is we sit down and say, okay, where are you at and what do you need to go forward? Everyone needs money, but that money can come in a bunch of different forms and many people need business advice.
They need technical ideas to help validate their idea or bring it forward. They may need public relations support for legal advice and our goal then is to connect [00:31:00] these solvers with the members of our community, different corporations or NGOs or government folks that can help provide any of those resources or mentorship.
Further, we have a lot of different connections to events, as well as our own and so we want to give them a platform to share the great work that they're doing, whether it's here in the United States, whether it's in Saudi Arabia, whether it's in Shenzhen in China. We have solvers that have talked in all of those places in the last year and we're looking forward to continuing to expand that network as well.
So solvers get to be on stage as well as getting a lot of the resources. They need to start up and scale up.
Rajesh: Thank you Alexander for taking us through this solution process. Solve is early in its journey, I think.
Alexander: We're still building a lot of stuff.
Rajesh: Right. So what is meta Solve?
Alexander: Wat is Solve Solve?
Rajesh: Yeah, exactly.
Alexander: So Solve as it goes forward, we know that we have a little bit too much concentration on the US and Europe in terms of the solvers that we select, not [00:32:00] necessarily the applications that come in. We had 100 countries represented, but we know that the end result was a little bit more global north. We want to be broader and so that requires some efforts on how do we get the application out?
How do we get support for people that have good ideas, but don't have formal training and we know that we want Solve events to be in other areas of the world, Latin America, South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia.
We're working on potential partners and ideas for all of those. Finally. I think what Solve looks like is really building out that global community of people that want to see social innovation as part of technological development and getting as many of them as possible to be part of this online space, where when we call for great ideas, they can respond with their own, they can comment on others. They can join those teams so that we have a really open source community that can help crowd solve these problems.
Curt: So speaking of calls for great solutions, there's an active one who can close by just reminding our listeners.
Alexander: If you have a great idea for the [00:33:00] coastal communities challenge and how coastal communities can adapt or mitigate in the face of climate change, please go to solve.mit.edu and send us your idea.
You have to send it in by the end of June. So July 1st is the deadline and we will do selection by September.
Rajesh: Thank you Alexander for coming in and sharing your thoughts and we, of course at Climate X are very interested in the coastal communities challenge and we'll be tracking it closely.
Alexander: Great. Thank you so much for having me.
Curt: Yeah. Thank you Alexander.