PLAN 80: Article
The Social Entrepreneurs Of Sa+P

A Sampling of Non-Profit Organizations Founded by Alumni

Much is made of the impact of companies founded by MIT alumni, and of the entrepreneurial culture fostered at the Institute. According to a Kauffman Foundation study, if the active companies founded by MIT alumni formed an independent nation, their revenues would make that nation at least the 17th-largest economy in the world. But less widely noted is the impact of non-profit organizations led and founded by our alumni, carrying out MIT’s parallel culture of social entrepreneurship. Over the years, alumni of the School of Architecture + Planning have been prominent among the Institute’s social entrepreneurs with scores, perhaps even hundreds of graduates holding leadership positions in well-established non-profits. And in recent years a growing number of those non-profits have actually been founded by our alums. The capsule descriptions below provide a brief overview of some of those efforts.

CFY. Founded in 1999 by Elisabeth Stock (’90, MCP’95, SM’95) and Dan Dolgin, a lawyer and private investor, CFY is a national education nonprofit that helps students in low-income communities, together with their teachers and families, harness the power of digital learning to improve educational outcomes. CFY pursues this mission through the combination of its K-12 learning platform,, which makes best-in-class digital learning activities easily accessible and usable, and its on-the-ground direct service initiative, the CFY Digital Learning Program. CFY provides training for teachers, students and their parents, along with free broadband-ready home computers loaded with educational software and 24/7 bilingual help desk support. To date, CFY has served more than 40,000 families from 100 schools nationwide and has demonstrated significant impact on student achievement, student engagement, parental confidence and broadband adoption. To extend the impact of its work even further, CFY operates an Affiliate Network of more than 30 organizations in more than 20 states and the District of Columbia.

NuVu. NuVu was formed in 2010 by entrepreneur and designer Saeed Arida (SM’04, PhD’11, Architecture, Design and Computation) as part of his doctoral research in teaching creativity. Originally established as a for-profit organization, now transitioning to a non-profit, NuVu is a magnet innovation center for middle and high school students, and a professional development program for teachers and educators. Based on the architectural studio model, NuVu provides students the opportunity to work collaboratively with experts, PhDs and alumni from MIT and Harvard, as well as with working professionals, to solve real-world problems in an intensive and fun environment. For teachers and educators, NuVu offers training on how to bring innovative practices to student learning, using project-based methods. Partner schools include the Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill MA, which sends 20 students every trimester to NuVu; the Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea MA, which sends six students a year to NuVu; and the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge LA, for which NuVu runs an annual summer program. The chief creative officer is Saba Ghole (SMArchS’07), an architectural/urban designer and strategist. Their In-House Rocket Scientist is PhD candidate David Wang (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence) and their Prototyping Guru is Sean Stevens.

The Product Stewardship Institute. The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) was founded in 2000 by Scott Cassel (MCP’88, Environmental Dispute Resolution), now its Chief Executive Officer. A national non-profit organization based in Boston, PSI brings together parties that have conflicting interests, with the goal of jointly developing product stewardship solutions to reduce the health, environmental and social impacts of consumer products. PSI has membership from 47 state governments and over 200 local governments, and partnerships with more than 75 companies, organizations, universities and non-US governments. The organization’s unique approach pursues initiatives to ensure that all those involved in the lifecycle of a product share responsibility for reducing its impact, with producers bearing primary financial and managerial responsibility. PSI focuses on over 15 product categories including batteries, carpet, electronics, fluorescent lighting, gas cylinders, mattresses, paint, packaging, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and thermostats. PSI was the first national organization in the U.S. to promote the extended producer responsibility (EPR) model, advancing voluntary programs and using legislative pressure to change corporate behavior. There are now 70 EPR laws in 32 states on 10 products.

The Consensus Building Institute. The Consensus Building Institute (CBI) was founded in 1993 by Lawrence Susskind (MCP’70, PhD’73), Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning; the current directors are Patrick Field (MCP’94) and David Fairman (PhD’98). CBI is a not-for-profit organization with fifteen full-time staff and an international network of dispute resolution professionals who work with leaders, advocates, experts and communities to promote effective negotiations, build consensus and resolve conflicts. For almost twenty years, CBI has helped to mediate complex disputes on six continents. Its areas of expertise include Natural Resources and Environment, including environmental planning, public land, air pollution and water management; and Land Use and Development, helping constituents balance social, political, economic, environmental and health concerns in resolving land use disputes. It also specializes in Social Policies and Programs, enabling groups to achieve consensus on issues such as housing, criminal justice and diversity. In an effort to promote best practices and continuous learning in relevant fields, CBI documents its wide variety of project work in the form of detailed case studies that are available to the public.

Konbit. Developed in 2010 by Aaron Zinman (SM’06, PhD’11, Media Arts and Sciences) and Greg Elliott (SM’11, Media Arts and Sciences), both of whom were students here at the time, Konbit is not officialy organized as a non-profit entity but was created to support non-profits engaged in disaster relief. Created in direct response to the earthquake in Haiti, Konbit helps organizations find and hire local labor instead of relying on foreign workers, thus helping build the local economy. Indigenous people call into Konbit’s automated service which helps them record their skills and life experiences as story-like messages; the messages are then translated and crafted into personas that are easily searched by NGOs, GOs and third party employers looking to perform work in Haiti. Given that more than 50% of Haitians are illiterate, the system uncovers those who would normally be overlooked by services using mobile texting and, unlike other employment efforts, Konbit indexes skills that might not typically be found on a resumé, such as sewing or community leadership. Konbit is the word in Haitian Kreyol for gathering, collaborating and cooperating, a concept at the heart of the mission. To date, they have catalogued ten thousand workers in their open-source database, deployed through partnerships in Haiti.

Broad Community Connections. Founded in 2008 by Jeff Schwartz (MCP’08), Broad Community Connections (BCC) is a non-profit Main Street organization established to revitalize New Orleans’ historic Broad Street as a vibrant commercial corridor. As part of its work, BCC provides design, urban planning and financial technical assistance to business and property owners, community members and other stakeholders, working on such projects as city streetscape enhancements and supporting Tulane University’s development of a new community health center. It also produces events to showcase the culture on the corridor, such as the Broad Street Brewhaha, a celebration of New Orleans’ beer and coffee brewing traditions. In addition to making small grants to fix up properties, and identifying gap financing to make projects happen, BCC is currently undertaking its own development efforts, the largest of which is the $16M Broad Street ReFresh Project, an adaptive reuse of a vacant grocery store to create a mixed-use ‘fresh food hub’ including fresh and affordable groceries, commercial kitchens for school meal providers, and retail and office space.

Transport for NOLA. Along with other SA+P alumni Seth Knudsen (MCP’08), Stephen Crim (MCP’08), Jeff Hebert (MCP’06), Jackie Dadakis (MCP’10), Carey Clouse (SMArchS’07), Sean Escoffery (MCP’98) and Zach Lamb (SMArchS’11), Schwartz also founded Transport for NOLA in 2008, a non-profit think-and-do tank of New Orleanians working to create a world-class transportation system in the Greater New Orleans region, based on equity, accessibility and best-practices. Dedicated to increasing accessibility to multiple modes of transit, it is the first alternative transportation non-profit of its kind in the state. The group helped the RTA secure its $45M TIGER grant for streetcar expansion in 2010, and has worked to expand its programming – including hosting workshops with community members, panel discussions with transit- and planning-related public agencies – and is working with a range of partners to create a complete streets policy and long-term master plan for the region. TfNOLA will be hiring its first Executive Director this winter.

Maa-Bara. Maa-Bara was formed in 2011 as an outgrowth of thesis research by Ogheneruno Okiomah (MArch’11). Her thesis, ‘Maa-Bara: Catalyzing Change in Nigeria’s Niger Delta’, focused on her homeland, a region where 10.8 million gallons of oil spill into the landscape every year. Maa-Bara – which means ‘Water-Farm’ in the region’s Ogoni language – is a sustainable agricultural model that uses kitchen scraps as feed for the propagation of fish and vegetables in spite of water and soil conditions. Co-founded with Elisha Goodman (MCP’ 11), the project makes use of hydroponics to improve food security, increase employment and empower local groups to grow their own fish and vegetables in almost any location, including places where food has never before been grown. One Maa-Bara system produces 1,323 tilapia and 2500 heads of lettuce per year – enough to feed a family of five. Maa-Bara has partnered with aquaponics experts at UMass/Amherst to develop curriculum and training workshops for facilitating technology transfer to the Nigerian landscape; the team will deploy their first pilot in January 2012. Ogheneruno is currently an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Hampton University where she teaches students, primarily of African-descent, how to design systems for social innovation in their local communities.

Hawai`i SEED. Co-founded in 2002 by Elisha Goodman (MCP’11), Hawai`i SEED is a statewide non-profit coalition of grassroots groups composed of farmers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, concerned citizens and Native Hawaiians. It aims to protect Hawaii and its people from the risks posed by genetically engineered organisms by promoting diverse, local, healthy and ecological food and farming. Utilizing a consensus process, Hawai`i SEED successfully deployed strategic plans across five geographically separate islands resulting in four key wins on coffee, taro, papaya and algae campaigns. Those wins included: (1) preventing the importation of a biopharmaceutical algae into Kailua-Kona; (2) partnering with Native Hawaiians to protect their indigenous property rights, resulting in the relinquishing of three patents on taro; and (3) amassing supporters for a five-year moratorium on genetically engineered coffee and taro, passed into law in the County of Hawaii with a 9-0 vote of the County Council. Hawai`i SEED also sponsored annual Hawai`i Island seed exchanges, encouraging home production of food and increasing the food security of the islands, as well as producing and distributing a 70-page educational booklet explaining the state of GMOs in the Hawaiian Islands.

The culture of social entrepreneurship at MIT is cultivated to a large extent by MIT’s Public Service Center, offering a range of support for students working on capacity-building projects around the world. Through a selection of Fellowships and Internships, Grants, the IDEAS Global Challenge, Service Learning, Volunteer Programs, and Community Service Work-Study positions, the Center helps students with hands-on experiences that serve communities and the students themselves in life-transforming ways.

In cooperation with the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the Center also funds summer internships specifically for continuing students in urban studies and planning, each supported with a stipend of $2500 and a substantial contribution toward airfare. In 2011, the collaboration is also funding three domestic public service internships, each with a stipend of $5K. The program is partially sponsored by the Graduate Student Life Grants.