Legatum, a private firm that invests in the global financial markets and in initiatives that support sustainable development, announced Sept. 17 a structured gift of $50 million to create a new center at MIT. The establishment of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship will support aspiring entrepreneurs from the developing world who have a strong commitment to development entrepreneurship, helping them to acquire the knowledge and skills required for successful business development and civic leadership around the world.
"The Legatum Center at MIT has been established to provide a launching pad for a new generation of entrepreneurs who want to develop the technologies and skills necessary to operate innovative businesses in a developing market context", said Mark Stoleson, president of Legatum.
The Legatum Center at MIT will help students develop and commercialize new technologies, while exploring the application of practical, enterprise-based solutions to address deep-rooted problems in developing nations. In addition, the center will provide a venue for competitions and prizes, seminars, workshops, debates and forums, engaging visiting scholars and industry leaders on topics relating to entrepreneurship, leadership and business development.
"MIT has a long and distinguished history of technological innovation and entrepreneurship and is therefore the natural home for this initiative. We hope that over time the Legatum Fellows will be considered among the business leaders of the developing world," added Stoleson.
MIT and Legatum share the view that providing students with these skills will give them the knowledge and experience they need to become leaders and contribute towards the leaps in development required to establish prosperity among emerging nations.
The Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship is now seeking applications for Legatum Fellowships for the 2008-2009 academic year from graduate students at MIT. These fellowships will provide support to students who are motivated by a desire to apply their talents to grassroots commercial solutions in developing nations. The Legatum Fellows, drawn from across the five MIT schools, will engage in a cross-faculty program drawing upon the expertise of all of MIT's programs and laboratories.
"MIT believes that an innovative entrepreneurial approach, practically implemented from the bottom up, provides an effective route to the creation of businesses and jobs, and to meeting essential human needs. MIT has always been committed to making a difference in the world and we believe this new center continues to help us fulfill that mission," said Phillip L. Clay, chancellor of MIT.
"We are excited at the opportunity to work with such a successful emerging markets investor as Legatum, which shares a similar dedication to excellence and a belief in the practical application of knowledge as a means of creating opportunity and prosperity in developing nations," continued Clay.
Professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland, director of the Human Dynamics Group at the MIT Media Lab and a pioneer in mobile information systems, health systems, smart environments and technology for developing countries, will act as the faculty director of the center.
Iqbal Quadir will serve as the executive director of the center. He founded GrameenPhone, a profitable venture which provides universal telecommunications access in Bangladesh. Before joining MIT, Quadir taught at Harvard University.
"We seek a balance in the debate on what constitutes effective development, which has traditionally been overwhelmingly out of balance in favor of top-down thinking. By focusing on emerging entrepreneurs, and leveraging technological innovation, the Legatum Center at MIT will spawn a plethora of new business ventures in the developing world," commented Quadir. "Our ambition is to advance the principle that it is entrepreneurs who most effectively drive organic economic growth."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 19, 2007 (download PDF).