Monday, October 19, 2015

Solving Big Problems @SOLVE_MIT

Recently I was fortunate enough to participate in the inaugural SOLVE conference, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In the words of the conference organizers, ‘Solve’s mission is to inspire extraordinary people to work together to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.’   The event was organized around four pillars: Fuel, Make, Cure and Learn.  As anything agriculture or climate related was housed under the Fuel pillar, most of my interactions were among participants with an agriculture, energy or climate focus.  Fortunately, the Food-Energy-Water nexus theme was present throughout many of the sessions.  I was certainly grateful to be invited to participate in this event and my expectations were exceeded.  Most of the conference was subject to Chatham House Rule so specifics can not be discussed, but a notable highlight from the opening (public) keynote is described below.

SOLVE kicked off with a keynote by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (@JeffDSachs) who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia.  He energetically delivered the updates around the new Sustainable Development Goals, with one very noteworthy announcement.  I have seen Professor Sachs discuss the SDGs in the past, but this time he really emphasized the importance of data and analytics towards meeting these goals so that they really do what they set out to do.  For years, many of the goals have been platforms for project based work, but in the end when it is time to evaluate the effectiveness of the instituted measures, the results were unclear.  It was very refreshing to see the emphasis on what the analytics related approaches can provide; further, it was clear that without a data-driven emphasis, many of the goals are doomed to failure.  In addition, this approach plays right into the business model and platform that we offer at aWhere.

Many potential partnerships were established, with equal representation among other commercial companies, not for profit organizations and academia.  As expected, many of the themes ran across pillars, so cross fertilization of ideas should lead to the development of some interesting tools that can tackle these big global problems.  I will continue to report on any collaborative activities that were germinated at SOLVE, and I hope to be back again next year for the next session.

Photography credit: Dominick Reuter

No comments: