SDM Students Tackle Engineering an End to Poverty

President of CARE America attends final presentations

By Lois Slavin
February 27, 2004

On January 30, 2004, six teams of first-year SDM students made presentations to Peter Bell, President of CARE USA on addressing the problem of extreme poverty in Africa. The assignment capped the end of a 3 week-long design challenge, the second in the month-long session that kicked off the start of the program for the SDM class entering in 2004.

This SDM design challenge was created to allow students working in multi-disciplinary, cross-industry teams to practice using tools and techniques they had learned in their classes during the four week January program. It was inspired by an interview Denny Mahoney, Director of the SDM Fellows program, heard last November on public radio during which Bell discussed the complexities of eradicating poverty.

Mahoney subsequently contacted Bell and worked with him, other members of the CARE staff, The Kennedy School of Government, MIT faculty, and second year SDM students to create the design challenge, entitled "Engineering an End to Poverty."

"The basis for the design challenge was to think about how you deal with ambiguity and frame a specific solution to a complex problem," noted Mahoney.

Bell, who was in Cambridge in late January for meetings at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, attended a special presentation session by the SDM teams. Each group presented a unique, holistic, high-level systems-based approach that discussed prioritizing or trading off of competing issues, such as education, healthcare, and commerce. The teams also outlined specific plans for using technology, infrastructure and political development.

"Reducing and ultimately ending extreme poverty is, to me, the most important challenge of this century," said Bell. "I’m delighted that you were given this assignment because an interdisciplinary solution using interlocking approaches is needed and I am not aware of any groups anywhere in the world that are using this approach."