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Innovation Ecosystems Accelerator: Advancing Community-Driven Solutions for Peace, Planet & Prosperity

A global fellowship model that equips and connects innovation ecosystem builders to advance inclusive problem-solving for social impact

Photo of Lauren McKown
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Please see the full list of attachments for more information on our in-depth beneficiary feedback process, key takeaways, and plans for continued shared learning.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Innovation ecosystem builders provide vital infrastructure for local innovators to succeed. This fellowship will convene and equip these leaders to pave the way for community-driven problem solving.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

MIT D-Lab promotes inclusive, community-driven design for a more equitable world.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

This idea emerged as an evolution of our International Development Innovation Network (, which supports a global network of innovators to solve critical social challenges. At this juncture, we are shifting our focus to not just support innovators, but to strengthen innovation ecosystems.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Local innovators are best positioned to tackle local challenges, but they often operate in environments without the infrastructure, capital, mentorship, and tools to succeed. Ecosystem builders like makerspaces and accelerators can fill this gap, and this fellowship will equip them to do so.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Each year, MIT D-Lab will select 3 fellowship teams through a competitive process. Each team will be made up of 3-5 leaders committed to envisioning, designing and implementing a one-year action plan to strengthen the innovation ecosystem. D-Lab will convene these fellows, facilitate their design process, and offer leadership training, seed grants, mentorship, and key connections. In the next year, we will build our program curriculum, launch our first fellowship class, experiment, and learn.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

MIT D-Lab envisions one full-time fellowship manager for this program, who will be supported by additional D-Lab staff including our curriculum and trainings manager, community manager, and support teams such as monitoring and evaluation, communications, finance, and administration.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Program/Product/Service Design

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Iterate or improve on my product/service

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

Our measurement efforts will take place at three levels: 1. FELLOWS: Fellows' individual goals, satisfaction, takeaways, learning, and achievements 2. INITIATIVES: Each initiative's number of beneficiaries, outside investment, and other custom indicators appropriate to those initiatives (i.e. ventures incubated) 3. ECOSYSTEMS: Fellows’ influence on (1) new innovation activity in their communities, and (2) adoption of a collaborative design approach by local, regional and global actors

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

We found that our users value shared learning and collaboration across innovation ecosystems just as much, if not more so, than within their own ecosystem. We originally framed the year-long collaborations as country-based, but we now plan to offer fellows the opportunity to collaborate across countries. We will also rotate convening locations so that teams can learn from each other's ecosystems.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

When discussing the ideal candidate for the fellowship, there are a number of selection questions that emerge: Should candidates apply as individuals or a team? Should applicants have a pre-defined goal, or should that goal emerge with their team over time? Should we recruit for experience or for enthusiasm for something new? Should the ecosystems chosen be spread across the globe (Guatemala, Kenya, Pakistan), or clustered in a region (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania)?

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

Over the last ten years, the International Development Design Summit has brought together hundreds of people from all walks of life to learn the design process, to develop solutions to community challenges, and to spread the approach of collaborative design. At these summits, participants produce prototypes: an avocado oil press, a brick made from industrial waste, a voice app to teach fathers about maternal health. Nearly 1000 people have attended these summits: an eclectic group of makers, entrepreneurs, and educators with this one shared experience. So, what happened next? Well, many of them continued to work on these prototypes. Jesse turned that avocado oil press into Avomeru, a venture improving the incomes of thousands of Tanzanian avocado farmers. Cristian turned that brick into MAECOL, an eco-construction business in Cali, diverting 8 tons of construction waste each day. Sacha turned that app into Rah-e-maa, now connecting nearly a thousand Pakistani fathers to vital information about maternal health. But something else was happening, too. Many of our alumni had different kinds of dreams. They didn’t just want to work on a single product; instead, they were inspired to help others in their community develop their own products and ventures. Their ideas took many forms: they founded maker spaces, they championed new university programs, and they launched business incubators. Like Bernard, who founded the Twende Social Innovation Center in Tanzania. Like Alex, who started C-Innova in Colombia. Like Amna, who runs the Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab in Pakistan. Together, these ecosystem builders provide training, mentorship, and acceleration to thousands of local innovators, giving them the tools they need to succeed. We began to realize that Jesse, Cristian, and Sacha- they would not have been successful without critical support from people like Bernard, Alex, and Amna - the innovation ecosystem builders. And what’s more, these ecosystem builders were reaching many more local innovators than the ones in our network - ones that we couldn’t hope to reach ourselves. We began to ask ourselves: What if, instead of directly supporting innovators, we helped strengthen the ecosystems they need to thrive? What if we equipped the ecosystem builders who directly supported those innovators? Would that approach reach more people? Would it provide them with stronger and better quality support? And if so, would that mean better solutions and more resilient communities? Wouldn’t that amplify our impact? This pioneering fellowship will equip and connect ecosystem builders who support local problem solvers. With our help, these ecosystem builders will reach more local innovators with better services. This will result in more good ideas, more successful businesses, and more accessible solutions that promote peace, prosperity and planet.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

We have made myriad of changes to our idea since beginning the OpenIDEO process several weeks ago, and have greatly appreciated the opportunity to iterate on our design over time. At MIT D-Lab, our staff regularly teach and promote use of the design process ourselves, so it's really refreshing to be able to apply it ourselves in our program design work. We have learned a lot, and truly enjoyed ourselves along the way. In the final stages of review, we want to draw your attention to a few key additions: 1) We received feedback from expert reviewers and our users that they wanted to see concrete examples of what this program might look like in practice. They also wanted to learn more about how this program idea came to be. We created a new video (attached here) to more fully tell the story of how our work has evolved over the last ten years, leading to the creation of this pioneering fellowship model. 2) As we aim to launch our fellowship as soon as October 1st, 2017, we have attached our early-stage thinking on how to implement the program, including an activity timeline, a tentative budget, and a framework for measuring impact. Please see attached PPT for more information. 3) As a team, we are now reflecting on the data gathered during our pilot in Australia. In an attached PPT, you can learn more about what participants in our pilot learned and valued from this experience. You can also read about what they recommend to improve the program going forward. We are looking forward to using this information to inform the program design, particularly as it relates to curriculum.

MIT D-Lab empowers a diverse, global network of innovators to design, develop, and disseminate low-cost technologies to improve the lives of people living in poverty. These innovators - from Zambian welders to Guatemalan industrial designers - operate in environments with limited infrastructure and myriad constraints holding back entrepreneurship and local talent. With the help of training, funds, mentorship, and a vibrant network, hundreds of these innovators have been able to bring their ideas to life. 

MIT D-Lab has long known that tapping into local ingenuity is critical to tackling the web of interconnected challenges at the intersection of peace, planet, and prosperity together. However, we have realized that these local innovators need infrastructure and support to succeed: a vibrant, inclusive, and resilient innovation ecosystem. We have also realized that ecosystem builders - makerspaces, accelerators, platforms, and the like - have enormous potential to fill this gap.

In 2018, MIT D-Lab will build upon experience from its International Development Innovation Network ( program to pilot a new fellowship focused on innovation ecosystems. This pioneering program will enable ecosystem builders across the globe to start and strengthen initiatives, providing more localized support and a stronger enabling environment to the innovators in their communities.

This fellowship will lead to the creation and expansion of local initiatives that directly support innovation. These initiatives may provide education in design, local capital to support entrepreneurship, physical and virtual spaces for problem solving, or collaborative platforms to connect with other innovators. With newfound access to these resources, local innovators will be better able to design, develop and scale solutions.

As our fellowship initiative grows, and as more local innovators see success, other influential institutions will begin to adopt policies and practices that support local innovation. Ultimately, it is our belief that this feedback loop will result in both more innovation and more support for innovation, creating a robust ecosystem and engine for problem solving.

Explain your idea

Each year, D-Lab will select 3 fellowship teams through a competitive application process. Each team will be made up of 3-5 ecosystem builders committed to envisioning, designing and implementing a plan to strengthen their innovation ecosystem. First, D-Lab will convene these fellows and facilitate the design process for their innovation ecosystem plans. These action plans may include opening a maker space for innovators to connect and collaborate, introducing design thinking into primary or secondary school curriculum, creating a small grants program for local entrepreneurs, or advocating for policies promoting and supporting entrepreneurship and sustainable businesses. Each plan will converge around the primary goal of increasing local community capacity to design, innovate, and solve the development problems they see around them. D-Lab will provide teams with tailored support including training, mentorship, grants to implement their action plans, and a community of practice where innovators and students from different countries can share ideas and learn from one another. The major components of the fellowship program are detailed below: Convenings and Training: A kick-off event will bring together teams to learn about co-creation, design, and innovation ecosystem building, and guide teams in designing their community action plan. A second mid-point event will bring the teams together again to focus on feedback, problem-solving, and potential pivots. A final event will bring the teams back together for reflection and shared learning. Each convening will be held in one of the ecosystems represented by the fellows themselves to encourage learning and collaboration across teams and countries. Each training will also encompass crucial skill building in leadership and management of these initiatives. Action Plan Grants: Each fellowship team will have the opportunity to apply for a grant of up to $50,000 to implement their action plan at a local level. Communities of Practice: D-Lab will not only work closely to support each fellowship team individually over the course of the year, but it will also bring these teams together to share challenges and learnings across ecosystems. D-Lab will also connect them to other influential actors in their ecosystems and in the MIT D-Lab network.

Who Benefits?

The direct beneficiaries of this program are the fellows. The indirect beneficiaries are the local innovators served by the fellows’ initiatives. Our fellows will be individuals playing the role of an ecosystem builder and sharing a strong ethos for inclusive community design and development. These fellows as young, dynamic leaders who bridge the gap between under-resourced communities and the power player who typically drive innovation. These fellows may lead a local maker space, an incubator or accelerator, a co-working space, a university program, a local education initiative, an advocacy movement, or a collaborative platform. They are strong connectors, conveners, and communicators focused on creating social impact.

How is your idea unique?

MIT D-Lab’s approach is unique in three critical ways: We believe everyone can solve problems. D-Lab is as much about creating innovators as we are about creating innovations. Through this fellowship, teams will enable everyday people like farmers, teachers, and mothers to have the confidence and skills to become active creators of solutions, rather than passive recipients of solutions. This fellowship focuses on ecosystem builders, not entrepreneurs. While many accelerators focus on the individual ventures tackling social challenges, few focus on the ecosystem initiatives that support them. We enable teams, not just individuals. D-Lab has seen that its most successful grassroots innovation initiatives are driven by diverse and dynamic partnerships. These initiatives are more reactive to community needs, better resourced, and more sustainable over time.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) D-Lab works with people around the world to develop and advance collaborative approaches and practical solutions to global poverty challenges. MIT D-Lab Founding Director Amy Smith organized the first International Development Design Summit on campus in 2007, bringing together diverse innovators from around the globe to learn the design process and develop prototypes to address development challenges. These design summits were held annually, and after each one, participants kept working on prototypes, launched social ventures, and shared what they learned back home. In 2012, the International Development Innovation Network was created at D-Lab to build and support this growing network through a year-round, global ecosystem for innovation and collaboration. Since then, we have experimented, learned, and iterated our approach to meet the needs of a broad range of innovators in our ~1000 person network. At this juncture, we are poised to use these lessons to go deeper into innovation ecosystems. D-Lab’s new fellowship program will increase our focus on systemic challenges and approaches, and refocus our resources to creating enabling environments for local innovation. Through this work, we seek to catalyze a global paradigm shift toward more inclusive and collaborative approaches in the fields of education, development, design, and entrepreneurship. D-Lab’s work is guided by our leadership team including Founding Director Amy Smith, Executive Director Bob Nanes, Associate Director Kofi Taha, and Scale-Ups Director Saida Benhayoune. The fellowship will be implemented and supported by staff from D-Lab’s International Development Innovation Network and Scale-Ups programs, drawing from their experience in organizing and catalyzing hundreds of design trainings, developing new design and co-creation curriculum, administering global fellowships, and establishing communities of practice by connecting changemakers from dozens of countries across the globe. Current staff from these programs have co-created the vision for this fellowship, which we see as the next step in deepening the impact of our International Development Innovation Network program, which comes to a close in 2017. We envision one full-time fellowship manager for this program, who will be supported by D-Lab staff including our curriculum and trainings manager, community manager, and support teams such as monitoring and evaluation, communications, finance, and administration. D-Lab’s network is expansive, and our pipeline of leaders and innovators is rich with candidates ready for this type of fellowship. We also have a range of partners across MIT and around the globe who will be instrumental in implementing this program.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
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Attachments (5)

Lessons Learned_Innovation Ecosystems Australia Pilot.pptx

Preliminary data and lessons learned from our innovation ecosystems curriculum pilot in Australia (with teams from Guatemala, Kenya, and Pakistan).

Innovation Ecosystem Cohort .pptx

This document provides a detailed outline of how this program would work from the early planning stages to implementation to reflection and learning. It includes an implementation timeline, additional notes on monitoring and evaluation, and an estimated budget.

User Feedback Process and Takeaways.pdf

This document outlines our user feedback process from ideation to pilot and development of a model, including the feedback we have received from our users over the past two weeks as a part of the Bridgebuilder Challenge. It also outlines some of the key takeaways we are hearing from our users, and some thoughts on how we might incorporate those ideas and participate in continued learning moving forward.

What Is an Innovation Ecosystem.pdf

This month, MIT D-Lab is partnering with Laika Academy to develop, test, and pilot new curriculum on innovation ecosystems with leadership teams from Guatemala, Kenya, and Pakistan. We see this initiative as the beginning of a learning journey about how innovation ecosystems can be supported and improved to be geared toward addressing global development challenges. This blog outlines how we see these systems working now, and how that may change as we learn and grow with our partners.

IDIN Program Impact Report 2012-2016.pdf

Learnings from D-Lab's International Development Innovation Network (IDIN) program will inform and guide our new initiative. This report gives an "at a glance" of the IDIN program's impact from 2012-2016.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Miho Kitagawa

Hi Lauren ;)

One idea to strengthen this innovation ecosystem is to have both micro and macro eyes. D-lab already does a great work with micro eyes through working with local innovators. I think what would differentiate the "group of innovators" from "ecosystem of innovators" is to allow the intricate interactions to happen among the ecosystems - which requires macro-level eyes. And, so many values can be added through them! For example, taking into the account the longitudinal change of these ecosystems and their presence in this world (almost like history). Another example would be to consider how these innovation ecosystems would interact with global politics. When these things are also taken into account through the process, I think these ecosystems would increase its resilience and impact in the world.

Also, this is more for the later iterations, but what about using blockchain for any tracking that happens locally, in order to decentralize power? I think it aligns with D-lab's mission well.

Good luck! :)

Photo of Lauren McKown

Hi Miho,

I love this idea! As a team, we are working on putting on our "macro eyes" by embarking on a learning journey about the effects of innovation ecosystems, their core components, and how they evolve over time. We're also really interested in working closely with the fellowship teams to understand where they want to move the needle and strengthen systems, e.g. if the team is interested in enabling and encouraging investment into start-ups owned by minorities and marginalized communities, how can we help them understand the status quo before we get started, and then track movement in that indicator over time, but ALSO understand the less obvious effects, for example, are those marginalized communities now placing more emphasis on their children to stay in school, or do communities take more interest in higher-paying STEM and business fields as a result?

I'm still learning more about blockchain, but very interested in the topic - any particular articles or books you have in mind that we should check out?

Photo of Debbie Tien

Hey hey, this article might be useful re: blockchain -

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