Solve conference gathers ‘change agents,’ takes on global problems

MIT hosts talks and workshops for experts, leaders in business

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The Solve Pavilion sits in North Court. The four-day conference addresses global challenges in education, healthcare, energy, and infrastructure.
Vivian Hu — The tech

Leaders from academia and business alike gathered this week for the Solve conference, hosted by MIT to address key challenges in four fundamental areas: education, healthcare, energy, and infrastructure.

Each of the four “pillars” of Solve — Learn, Cure, Fuel, and Make — focused on a central objective and asked key questions to break the challenges down into smaller problems. The four-day conference let invited “change agents” explore these topics in depth through keynote speakers, debates, roundtables, demonstrations, and workshops.

Most Solve events were private, and held in various places around campus, such as Kresge and the MIT Media Lab, and particularly the glass-walled Solve pavilion installed temporarily in North Court, in front of Building 76. A few were open to the public, such as the Roundtable events for the Fuel and Learn pillars, held in MIT Bartos Theater.

The cost to attend Solve ranged from $10,000 to $100,000, although this fee was either waived or sponsored for some attendees. This money, billed as “membership” fees, will go toward the costs of the conference and establishing Solve as an annual event and as an “ongoing movement of exploration and impact,” according to the website.

In his opening address at Solve, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said that if the conference “can make real progress,” that it will serve as a “proof of concept” that “21st century universities have a special role, not only in educating future generations to live meaningful lives, but also as conveners, connectors, and problem-solvers in confronting humanity’s great shared global challenges.”

Solve, which was produced by the MIT Technology Review, was part of HUBweek, a weeklong, TED-esque festival celebrating the intellectual capital of the greater Boston area. The festival was a partnership between MIT, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Boston Globe, and featured events that focus on “big ideas” in disciplines ranging from technology to art.