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MIT Better World

By Stephanie Eich

The brainchild of MIT senior lecturer and D-Lab founder Amy Smith ’84, ENG ’95, SM ’95, the first International Development Design Summit (IDDS) was held on MIT’s campus in 2007. Its goal: to teach a diverse gathering of students, carpenters, mechanics, doctors, and other aspiring makers how to develop lasting, localized solutions for people living in poverty, in close collaboration with members of the communities they aimed to help. When the month-long conference ended, participants returned home to continue work on their projects.

The program has since blossomed into a global consortium of thinkers and doers, formalized in 2012 as the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN) through a grant from the US Agency for International Development. Comprised of 12 international partners and headquartered at D-Lab, IDIN provides year-round support to summit participants as they continue developing prototypes and products and launching their own social ventures.

To date, there are more than 800 IDIN network members making an impact in 65 countries around the world. Thanks to just a few of the 100-plus projects developed through IDIN, women in India have access to safer birthing techniques and reproductive care; low-income communities in Brazil have tools to help them save money and achieve their financial goals; and farmers in Tanzania are producing high-quality avocado oil from excess crops that would otherwise go to waste.

Nearly two-thirds of IDIN network members go on to teach others what they have learned about co-creation. After attending IDDS, Johana Sanabria left her career in industrial wastewater treatment to help start an IDIN-supported innovation center in her native Colombia. Its mission includes community design education. “In many of our workshops, it’s the first time for a student to think that way,” she explained in a recent interview. “That we can create something that we think is useful, but if it’s not affordable to someone else, then it’s not actually useful.” She added, “Working to open C-Innova helped me find my passion for working with the community . . . to help them leverage the resources they have, and build solutions with them, side-by-side.”