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D-Lab Celebrates 15 Years of Global Impact

MIT D-Lab Founding Director Amy Smith delivers the closing keynote at D-Lab’s 15th Anniversary Symposium. Photo: Megha Hegde

On October 20, MIT D-Lab hosted a full-day symposium at Little Kresge Theatre to celebrate its 15th anniversary. From its humble beginnings in 2002 as a class simply known as the “Haiti Class,” D-Lab has gone on to develop more than 20 MIT courses (more than a dozen are offered each year), six research groups, and a suite of global programs known as innovation practice, which consists of social entrepreneurship, innovation ecosystems, inclusive markets, and humanitarian innovation programs.

The symposium kicked off with welcoming remarks from D-Lab Executive Director Bob Nanes, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz, and D-Lab Founding Director Amy Smith, Over 30 students, alumni, fellows, researchers, faculty, instructors, staff, and global partners spoke about their work with D-Lab and the impact it has had on them personally and on their communities. Global partners who participated represented projects and programs in countries including Botswana, Colombia, Ghana, Guatemala, and Kenya.

In his remarks, Waitz said that D-Lab, “provides a wonderful, authentic learning experiences for our students, and does it in a way where they’re working in direct relationship with others on solving problems that are very challenging in global poverty.” He went on to note that over the past five years, MIT students are “much more outward-faced, much more focused on solving the world’s challenges,” and that as a result, D-Lab is “the perfect focus for MIT at a great time with a great set of students.”

All of D-Lab’s research groups presented at the symposium with short talks on local innovation and development; off-grid energy decision-making tools; mobile tools for community health workers; technology-enabled methods for field research; creative capacity building; and “lean research” as developed by D-Lab and partners and practiced by the TEGA Girl Effect.

To mark the occasion, MIT President Rafael Reif sent a letter that was published in the symposium program. He wrote, “Over the last 15 years, D-Lab has redefined international development as the development of human beings and their capacity to identify and address the daily challenges of poverty. In the process, it has become a global laboratory, leveraging MIT’s strengths to design, create, build and make a better world.”

—Nancy Adams, D-Lab