Reflections on the 2017 PIA Annual Meeting

May 4, 2017

Last week, at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the MIT Practical Impact Alliance, personal connections and peer learning continued to foster collaboration across the network. In addition to launching our 2017 working groups, members spent time engaging with each other’s projects, critically analyzing obstacles, and setting the stage for future collaboration that could allow each of these projects to reach their goals.

The meeting kicked off with a welcome reception and a program update from both PIA and MIT D-Lab, with an emphasis on the role of these programs in the greater development ecosystem at MIT and around the world. Immediately following the program update, PIA members were invited to a gallery walk and open collaboration workshop, where attendees took the time to learn about the projects their fellow members are working on, and offered resources and connections to help reach more efficient solutions. 

Following the open collaboration workshop, BoP Inc.’s Benjamin van der Hilst led “Changing Behavior at the Base of the Pyramid,” a workshop with practical tips and guidance on practices required to catalyze change in user behavior to maximize social impact. BoP Inc.’s approach involves understanding reasons for current behaviors, clearly defining the current barriers to change, and identifying appropriate triggers and motivators that would best be able to encourage change. After learning more about the behavior change challenges of five real-world ventures and initiatives, attendees were divided into five working groups, and challenged to design a behavior change intervention for those challenges. 

On the second day of the meeting, Innovation Strategist Simone Ahuja and IDIN Global Network Manager Jona Repishti led PIA members and D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows through a workshop on hybrid partnerships. In this session, participants engaged in five live case studies to test a self-assessment tool prototyped by D-Lab to activate and facilitate partnerships around inclusive business models between different type of organisations including corporations, NGOs, social ventures and governments. 

In the afternoon, PIA members were invited to a special session with information on the upcoming PIA Co-Design Summit, which will be held in La Guajira, Colombia from November 12 to 18th 2017. After learning about the summit organizing partners (World Vision Colombia and Siemens Stiftung EpN) and the hosting community, PIA members got a lively introduction to the vibrant Colombian culture by Pedro Reynolds-Cuéllar from C-Innova. We also announced the first PIA online course on Participatory Design which will be piloted in september 2017 with the Colombia summit participants and other PIA members’ affiliate.

To wrap up the day, members gathered in the D-Lab Workshop to do ideation and co-design of solutions to a challenge posed by D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellow Betty Ikalany. Betty’s venture Appropriate Energy Savings Technologies works with micro-entrepreneurs who often face challenges around properly documenting sales and customer records, particularly those with limited literacy. Members worked in teams to generate creative solutions to this challenge, and then adjourned for a networking reception with D-Lab staff and Scale-Ups Fellows. 

Winthrop Carty, PIA member and Executive Director of the Melton Foundation commented, "This year's PIA gathering was my third, and my favorite. Our organization got a lot of really excellent feedback and potential collaborators for our project in Ghana ... PIA is reaching a new stage in its growth and maturity. I see this in the relationships I've been able to develop with colleagues from corporations, social enterprises, USAID, and other NGOs, in addition to the MIT community."

A few PIA members stayed over the following two days to take part of the various events celebrating social entrepreneurship and international development at MIT. This includes the demo evening hosted by the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, the MIT Scaling Development Ventures conference and the IDEAS Global Challenge Showcase  where four PIA members participated as judges. 

“I was deeply impressed by the environment that MIT creates for its students to prosper," said David Hoffman, a PIA member from Siemens-Stiftung Empowering People Network, "It’s equally creative and free- spirited on one hand, but very professional and business orientation on the other hand.”  

— Saida Benhayoune, D-Lab Scale-Ups Program Director