Reflections on Collaborative Action at 2016 PIA Annual Meeting

April 12, 2016

At the MIT Practical Impact Alliance, we believe in the power of personal connections to catalyze lasting institutional partnerships. So, when many of our members came together at MIT for the PIA annual meeting, we wanted to make the most of it. Of key emphasis for us this year was strengthening connections among members and with the MIT ecosystem, and identifying concrete opportunities for collaboration. It was extremely rewarding to see how the mindset and energy of our members, paired with our tailored workshops, helped to spark new ideas and advance PIA’s shared learning and collaborative action goals.

In addition to launching our 2016 working groups with inspiring case presentations (see update here), our members spent meaningful time and energy identifying actionable collaboration opportunities and starting to build the trust and relationships that will be essential to moving these ideas forward.  

As we all hail from different types of organizations and different geographies – both of which come with opportunities and challenges – we felt it important to spend time getting to know one another as individuals and as representatives of our organizations. So after brief introductions, we kicked off the two days with a D-Lab hands on activity in our colorful D-Lab workshop. PIA members worked in teams to assembler a spot welder and shared the excitement of designing and testing a sheet metal egg-transporting device.

Later on, our members met and engaged with the D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows, who came from around the world for their D-Lab annual retreat, and other guests from MIT, who made the ideas shared and potential opportunities all the richer. 

From left: 2015 Fellow Elliot Avila, Mechanized Multicrop Thresher, Tanzania; 2012 Fellow Kevin Cedrone, Augmented Infant Resuscitator, 2015 Fellow Kristin Kagetsu, Saathi Pads, India, Sunday Silungwe, business partner of 2014 Fellow Carl Jensen (pictured to right), Zasaka, Zambia, 2014 Fellow Sidhant Pai, Protoprint, India. Not pictured: 2015 Fellows Julio Lavalle, Poupacerto, Brazil; Betty Ikalany, AEST Agricultural Waste Charcoal, Uganda; Sidhanth Kamath, GreenPath Food, Ethiopia; 2014 Fellows Mitesh Gala, Seed Jarna Pump, India; Zehra Ali, Ghonsla, Pakistan; Matthew Orosz, STG International, Lesotho and Tanzania; 2013 Fellows Suprio Das, Zimba, India; Zubaida Bai, JANMA Clean Birth Kit in a Purse; Alex Hornstein, tinyPipes, Philippines; Danielle Zurovcik, Wound Pump; 2012 Fellows Bilikiss Adebiyi, Wecyclers, Nigeria; Hallie Sue Cho, OttoClave, Nepal and India; Kwami Williams, MoringaConnect, Ghana; Jodie Wu, Global Cycle Solutions, Tanzania; Shawn Wen, PortaTherm, Nepal; 2011 Fellows Anna Young, Solarclave, Nicaragua; Jackie Linnes, Solar Water Purifier, Zambia; Tish Scolnik, Leveraged Freedom Chair.

Two friends of PIA, Nicolas Chevrollier of BoP Innovation Center and Simone Ahuja of Blood Orange, facilitated dynamic, complementary sessions with PIA members and guests and Scale-Ups Fellows to catalyze collaborative action within the group.

Nicolas led a session focused on opportunity generation and collaboration mapping. First, we watched videos (including a virtual reality experience) following the daily lives of four women living in poverty in different settings. Through group discussion, we generated new insights about the pains and gains of each of these personas and identified potential “jobs to be done” to improve these situations at the customer, value chain, and ecosystem levels. To offer a variety of possibilities, the videos were themed around four different sectors (energy, waste, agriculture, and WASH). We then chose the sector and issues of most interest to our organizations to explore collaborative solutions. Within each theme, participants engaged in an opportunity marketplace, where they sought partners with complementary assets and shared goals to spark concrete collaborations. Several pairs and groups formed and pitched their collaboration ideas, and we are excited to help advance these moving forward.

Simone led a session on hybrid partnerships, focusing on identifying the catalysts and overcoming the barriers that stand in the way of successful collaborations. Participants from different types of organizations paired up and interviewed each other on their behaviors and beliefs in regards to issues such as trust, risk tolerance, pace and communication styles. Then participants gathered in cohorts of the same organization type to brainstorm the top catalysts and barriers to creating hybrid partnerships from their distinct perspectives. These were shared with the larger group, and possible solutions were brainstormed to overcome the identified challenges and leverage the opportunities at hand. In addition to revealing interesting insights around hybrid partnerships, this exercise served as a first step in informing the design of a dynamic tool that PIA will develop with Blood Orange to facilitate successful partnerships among PIA members.  

Many of our PIA members stayed for the MIT Scaling Development Ventures conference which brought innovators and entrepreneurs from different sectors to discuss and share best practices around themes ranging from inclusive finance, to BoP marketing, to scaling innovation ecosystems. Finally a few of our PIA members stayed on to serve as judges for IDEAS Global Challenge, which showcased MIT’s most innovative student ideas around social impact.

All and all, the second PIA annual meeting was a great success and we are very thankful to all of you who came together from near and far to help strengthen our community of practice and to amplify our individual and collective impact.