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Community Innovation Lab hosts Spark Summit

MIT recently hosted the Spark Summit, an innovation workshop focused on technology and social change.

The June 12 event was organized by the Community Innovation Lab, created earlier this year within MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning. It was co-sponsored by MIT's Center for Reflective Community Practice and the Waitt Institute.

The Community Innovation (CI) Lab will foster collaboration among the high-tech industry, urban communities, and MIT students and faculty. Through the CI Lab, these groups will work on developing and disseminating technologies that can tackle long-standing community concerns in areas such as safety, public health and civic engagement.

"MIT has long provided opportunities for students and faculty to work with companies to invent technologies and entire industries. The Spark Summit marks the beginning of a new kind of innovation dialogue that can improve the well-being of communities in need," said Betsy Campbell, director of startup initiatives for the CI Lab. "We hope the Spark Summit will result in expanded cross-boundary networks and the development of future leaders who are technologically expert as well as community-sensitive."

The event "brought together a cross-boundary group to explore the dynamics of sustained collaboration with community leaders driving the design of technologies for social change," said Ceasar McDowell, director of the Center for Reflective Community Practice and a founder of the CI Lab. "Nobody's ever done that before. This event laid the foundation for the future."

Campbell will organize a national conference for community-driven innovations in the fall, and plans to make the Spark Summit an annual event as well.

The CI Lab also sponsors one of the prizes in MIT's annual IDEAS competition, which promotes student innovation and inventiveness for community needs. The 2004 winners of the CI Lab-sponsored award were media arts and sciences graduate student Tad Hirsh and Jeremy Liu, founders of Speakeasy, a telephone referral service that allows immigrants to connect with volunteer translators and social services.

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