“Inspired, energized, hopeful” is how Elaine Harris ’78, pictured center above, feels about Hack for Inclusion (H4I), the March 9–10 gathering that brought together more than 120 MIT alumni, students, and supporters to develop and pitch solutions to 13 challenges. The group tackled topics including bias in machine learning, ability/disease stigma, barriers to female founders, and racial prejudices.
Cash prizes went to three top teams: BlackSpace Boston, a website and app designed to mitigate the isolation of racism; Your Life Is in Your Hands, a kiosk that provides a quick, bloodless, and pain-free way to do pre-diabetes screening; and Transparency, an online dashboard that exposes hidden bias in decisions such as who gets a home loan. Premiere sponsors included Amazon, the Boston Globe, Weber Shandwick, and Microsoft, who hosted the event in its Kendall Square office.
Harris, a business executive who helped organize the event, is a chemical engineering major with an MBA in marketing from Stanford. Based in Washington DC, she has recently launched Golden Rule Technology and is using virtual reality and innovation processes to address issues of inclusion, bias, and discrimination. Learn more about H4I and Harris's work in the interview below:
How did Hack for Inclusion originate?
Hack for Inclusion came together as a result of the facilitator that both Hacking Discrimination and Breaking the Mold used for our respective initial hackathons in 2017, Fahad Punjwani, a grad student in MIT’s system design and management program. He set up a meeting with the newly designated Sloan Breaking the Mold leader, Tim Zachas, and me. We both agreed that we had enough in common that it made sense to combine efforts. Jointly, we did a lot of outreach to student groups on campus and in the Boston area, faculty and staff, other organizers, and community organizations. We jointly worked on the creation of the challenges and the MBA group had the lead on the onsite coordination.
What were the significant outcomes of H4I?
Empowerment: Many said they were amazed at how well the process worked and what they were able to accomplish. People expressed a new sense of hopefulness: that they and others really could make a significant contribution to positive change.
Teams wanting to continue their work:
- The diabetes team that won second prize for their bloodless diabetes pre-screening kiosk is doing a feasibility evaluation.
- The team that worked on the Boston Globe challenge is looking for sponsorship/funding to develop their BlackSpace app.
- STEM mentoring: multiple people have wanted to connect with this team to support more people of color successfully pursuing STEM degrees and careers.
How does the work of your organization, Golden Rule Technology, relate to the goals of H4I?
My company’s goal of leveraging technology to address issues of bias and lack of inclusion is completely consistent with and, in fact, overlaps with the goals of Hack for Inclusion. I’m viewing H4I as proof of an emerging best practice, with the potential for creating a community of change agents as well as new ideas and potentially businesses. The combination of robust diversity and inclusivity in event design and participation, design thinking facilitation, and well-articulated challenges is unique. I would like to extend what is now MIT-centered work to other regions with an expanded group of business, academic, and community participants.
Another tech/inclusion offering I’m developing is virtual-reality, unconscious-bias training. Creating greater awareness and understanding by enabling users to feel experiences and perspectives different than their own, when combined with targeted complementary exercises, will have a positive impact on the way people engage in business, community, and personal settings.