MIT SOLVE Women and Technology Challenge: Breakthrough Innovations for Women

10/31/2017 04:50 pm ET Updated Nov 02, 2017
The winners for the Women and Technology Challenge on September 17
MIT Solve
The winners for the Women and Technology Challenge on September 17

“When we launched this set of Global Challenges in May, we could not have imagined the incredible set of solutions we would receive: 953 solutions from 103 countries across all four Challenges,” said Alex Amouyel, Executive Director at MIT Solve. “It was a difficult competition, and our judges had a tough task ahead of them in choosing the Solvers. But now, we could not be more excited to help these innovators pilot and scale for global impact”, she added.

The MIT Solve initiative announced the winners for the Women and Technology Challenge on September 17 in New York City, during the 72nd UN General Assembly. “We could have hosted the Solve Challenge Finals any other week of the year, but we chose to come to New York City during the UN General Assembly to introduce our Solvers to the world, to have them participate in this incredible week which brings together world leaders who can help accelerate and scale their work. We need fresh innovative ideas if we're going to solve the challenges of the 21st century, and we have the Solvers who have those ideas”, said Amouyel.

The Challenge, conducted in front of a live audience, was led by Ursula M. Burns, retired Chairman and CEO, Xerox Corporation, and Indra Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, PepsiCo. The decision was made by expert judges, such as Kate Ahern, Director of Bain Capital, and Katharina Borchert, Chief Innovation Officer of Mozilla. Out of hundreds of submissions, eight Solvers were selected to build partnerships with leaders to execute, scale and apply solutions.

Solve is a program created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to discover and support durable solutions to the world’s most critical issues. It aggregates experts of various fields, such as technologists, social entrepreneurs, business leaders, policymakers, researchers and others. Together they form a community of people who identify and apply solutions to Economic Prosperity, Health, Learning, and Sustainability challenges. “Solve is excited to be one of the 23 founding members of UN Women’s Global Innovation Coalition for Change. This is an opportunity to join forces with the UN and corporate leaders to make innovation work for women. In the months ahead, we will be highlighting our Solvers and their social impact work, and hope to connect them with these amazing leaders to help pilot and scale their solutions to improve the lives of more women worldwide”, affirmed Hala Hanna, Director of Economic Prosperity Director at MIT Solve.

The 2017 Women and Technology Solvers have come up with creative and innovative ideas to promote women and girls’ full economic participation, regardless of their socioeconomic background. In line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, MIT Solve and UN Women are working together to achieve gender equality (SDG 5). “From providing tech training to human trafficking survivors to teaching girls to code, it is the work of people like our Solvers who are making the goals of UN Women into a reality for women on the ground across the globe”, Alex Amouyel explained.

The 2017 Women and Technology Solvers:

The winners of the 2017 MIT Solve Challenge - Women Category
MIT Solve
The winners of the 2017 MIT Solve Challenge - Women Category

Team leader: Jessica Hubley

Annie Cannons Technology Program for Survivors provides training to human trafficking survivors in high-paying or technical skills worldwide, and secures client work focused on projects that address issues facing women and girls today, so the survivors can learn in a flexible, trauma-recovery-friendly environment.

The company partners with shelters to train capable human trafficking survivors in digital fluency and software programming in a trauma-informed, collaborative, inclusive environment that prioritizes their value. Then, it sources and manages freelance software lifecycle services contract projects to help students earn regardless of industry barriers, leveraging revenue from these projects to expand training. They motivate professionals across the software lifecycle to collaborate with students and other survivors to build software that combats human trafficking and address the vulnerabilities that lead to human trafficking.

Team leader: Roya Mahboob

It’s a nonprofit organization founded in New York City to helps girls and women in developing countries gain access to technology, virtually connect with others across the world, and obtain necessary job skills to succeed in today’s expanding global market.

Students start their own blogs and earn Bitcoin for their work to help them gain voice and economic freedom. A current group of DCF students was recently the first team to represent Afghanistan at the FIRST Global Robotics Olympiad in Washington, D.C.

To accomplish its goals the Digital Citizen Fund has built eleven Internet Training Centers and two stand-alone media centers in partnership with MTI (presently known as Bitlanders) and the Afghan Citadel. Through this collaboration, they have successfully enrolled over 9,000 young women in Kabul and Herat. It has recently expanded operations in Mexico as part of an effort to provide better opportunities for girls and women around the world. They intend to expand to other countries as funding becomes available.

Team leader: Dr Asher Hasan

It reintegrates female healthcare providers (HCPs) who’ve been excluded from the workforce using a digital health platform that connects remotely-located female doctors to health consumers via trusted intermediaries. doctHERs will ultimately match the underutilized capacity of female doctors to the unmet needs of millions of underserved Pakistanis. It transcends socio-cultural barriers that restrict women healthcare professionals to their homes, while correcting two market failures: access to quality healthcare for underserved communities and inclusive employment for women.

After impacting over 25,000 lives across its network of 8 telemedicine centers across Pakistan - 6 in Karachi, 3 in KPK and 1 in Punjab, in February 2017, doctHERs strategically pivoted from the Community Health Model to focus on target populations affiliated with the Corporate Sector including underserved/uninsured stakeholders in Corporate Value Chains (smallholder suppliers, distributors, retailers, etc).

  • doctHERS created custom solutions for employees and contractors in their company's value chain.
  • It uses an interactive, relationship-based approach that informs, educates and empowers employees.
  • From telemedicine and EMR to digital payments to e-prescriptions – doctHERS digitize the entire healthcare value chain to improve quality and reduce cost.
  • 24/7 access to leading specialists and Consultations through the simple convenience of a smart-phone.
  • A meaningful outcomes for all stakeholders, Patients, Providers, Payers, Pharmaceuticals and Public-Private Partnerships.

Team leader: Miss Dee Saigal

Erase All Kittens is the first story-driven game specifically designed to inspire girls to code and teach them practical coding languages to help close the gender gap in technology. The game aims to transform how girls aged 8-13 perceive code education and software engineering and effectively prepare them for 21st Century degrees and careers.

Girls and boys aged 8+ learn to code by building and fixing real levels as they play - on their own, or alongside parents or teachers.

As E.A.K. progresses, children will learn how to use their new HTML, CSS and Javascript skills to build their own simple creations on the web. The game currently teaches HTML syntax, and once purchased it will be updated regularly.

E.A.K.s long-term mission is to equip every child with the practical skills necessary for them to create websites and apps. The team are also passionate about inspiring girls, so that they can grow up to have the same opportunities as boys.

Solely through word-of-mouth, the pilot version of E.A.K. has over 70,000 players around the world.

Team leader: Kristen Railey

A series of creative, hands-on applied engineering curricula for girls and educators designed by engineers and published online for anyone to view. The courses are developed and tested with local high school girls in Massachusetts, and courses are adjusted based on the feedback to ensure that the material is interesting and easy to understand. The goal is to increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and provide educators and girls with curricula that show what engineering is and how it is applied. During the workshops, girls discover that engineering is multi-disciplinary and that it can be applied to any passion they have-- whether it is fashion, healthcare, transportation, national security, or energy (to name a few). The workshops prepare girls with the hands-on skills they need to be successful in an engineering career, like computer aided design and coding.

Women are an untapped resource in the growing field of STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math). More and more jobs require STEM skills, but women make up only 25% of the STEM workforce (White House, STEM Fact Sheet). Some majors are even worse than others; less than 1% of girls plan to study computer science in college (Made with Code). Teaching girls engineering is an investment in our future workforce, because “If women aren’t represented in technology, their ideas, concerns, and designs won’t be included when we create the cities, cars, infrastructure, medicines, communications, companies, and governments of tomorrow” (Made with Code).

Team Leader: Nasreen Alissa

An application, available for iPhone and Android users, aimed at introducing all the rights of Saudi females in general, and specifically their rights before Personal Status Courts for family legal matters including child custody, divorce and alimony lawsuits. The application provides free legal information for women, free consultations through a “Free Legal Advise” icon, and a list of independent lawyers who provide free consultations through the “Lawyers Directory” icon. Through animated videos the app talks about various issues women in Saudi Arabia face, such as divorce, custody of children, inheritance, domestic violence, intellectual property and job hunting. Women’s rights in the country is very restricted. Only recently they won a limited right to vote, but they can’t work close to men and there’s still a debate on whether they should have the right to drive.

Team leader: Amrita Saigal

Saathi has developed the world’s first 100% biodegradable and compostable sanitary pads made from waste banana tree fiber with zero chemicals. This product empowers marginalized communities and reduces women’s carbon footprint. Additionally, it provides an extra source of income to farmers who historically toss the banana fiber.

Founded by graduates from MIT (US), Harvard and Nirma, who are innovators in the use of alternative materials and zero-waste production. The eco-friendly company aims at creating hygiene products that are good for the body, environment, and community.

Since Saathi pads don’t contain chemicals, they provide a rash and irritation free experience. It also promotes zero waste and a faster degradation process - 1200 times faster than plastic pads.

Team Leader: Will Galvin

TruTrade helps small farmers – women in particular – retain and receive the true value for the crops they sell by using a smart digital platform to transform the relationship between small farmers and the middlemen who historically transport their crops to market. TruTrade is designed to provide trade finance and a platform that allows for payment and traceability. The aim is to unlock the vast potential of Africa’s rural producers by giving smallholders a fairer share of the value of their produce.

TruTrade is a franchise business offering Transaction Security Services (TSS) to traders and aggregators. TruTrade franchisees use TSS to link small-scale producers to buyers with controls that enforce quality and transparency and thereby embed trust, enhance market efficiency, manage risks and allow farmers to share in value addition.

Currently operating in Uganda and Kenya, the project fosters changes: the way smallholder farmers access the market and the way their produce is traded and it creates a positive outcome for all parts involved in the value chain. For example, the payment is based on commission which gives farmers the highest price possible.

By putting more money into the hands of farmers, it enables investment in agricultural enterprise development to create a prosperous rural Africa.

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