MBA, MIT Sloan School of Management
Entrepreneurship Lead, Rwanda Summer 2011
Christina received her MBA at MIT Sloan and MPA/International Development at Harvard Kennedy. She now works at Innovations for Poverty Action to spin-out a new organization that will scale proven development interventions. The first day of class in Rwanda we posited a scenario: President Kagame is worried about increased traffic in Kigali (the capital) and has enlisted us to come up with ideas for how to fix it. We passed out fluorescent colored post-it notes and asked students to scribble as many ideas as they could on to them. Perplexed but intrigued, they engaged and soon the blackboard had a number of ideas: "Make working from home easier and more acceptable," "Build a gondola service to connect Kigali's hilly neighborhoods", and "pass law to restrict cars on certain days." What is the connection of this to mobile technologies, you might ask? We launched our entrepreneurship curriculum around a focus on problems in their communities, and used human-centered design thinking to explore solutions. As budding tech developers, our students had a hammer and were wont to see everything as a nail. But rather than creating mobile apps for issues that weren't relevant to their communities, we encouraged them to identify true pain points, and then explore whether they would be able to come up with viable business models and mobile applications to solve these problems. Two months later, watching our dozen student teams present compelling business models and mobile applications to Rwandese tech leaders and government ministers and receive glowing feedback, I knew that teaching entrepreneurship was one of the most fun and rewarding activities I could have done that summer.
MBA Candidate, MIT Sloan School of Management
Entrepreneurship Lead, Kenya Summer 2011
I decided to pursue the opportunity with MIT AITI for a couple of reasons. It was important for me to contribute my experience towards the development of possibilities for other people and my plans were to start a technology-based venture in East Africa. AITI was the perfect way to achieve both. After getting the offer to join AITI, I collaborated with other MIT Sloan student instructors to develop a solid curriculum beginning with the lessons we wanted to impart with due consideration for the goal of the program. I have always enjoyed discussing interesting issues with people. I learn from listening and sharing in engaging discussions like many people do. However, I did not expect to come to the realization of how much I love teaching as happened to me while teaching this curriculum that I had developed. It was really the best lesson this experience has taught me. Everyday, I could not help but reflect on how much fun it must me for my professors at MIT Sloan to teach. It is possible it remains a little magical to watch someone learning and to see realizations dawning in students minds and new possibilities coming into their imaginations. Given my extensive previous work experience, I also related leading teams of people with leading students. They may be differently motivated, yet the result you seek as a leader is identical - you want your team engaged and productive. The experience has also made me a better leader in this way. The experience taught me to be a better presenter to an audience, a better leader of discussions in a team, and a better motivator of others.
MBA Candidate, MIT Sloan School of Management
Entrepreneurship Lead, India Summer 2012
With a 70% mobile penetration and a mobile subscriber base that is set to cross 696 million connections by the end of 2012, it was obvious to me that AITI could create tangible and immediate impact in India right now. Hence I decided to launch AITI India at IIT Bombay, India’s premier technological institute that graduates some of the brightest young leaders every year. Leading teams through what may be their first ever shot at entrepreneurship is fascinating and challenging at the same time. It was important to emphasize innovation and a customer-centric approach to ensure that the entrepreneurs think about why customers would want to adopt their product or service, which quite often is the reason why ground-breaking ideas fail as start-up ventures. One of the best things about AITI is its focus on empowering future leaders with the right entrepreneurial mindset, as opposed to just equipping them with the technical skills. I also noticed how students felt extremely comfortable interacting with instructors from the same age group, and we soon began receiving requests from several young entrepreneurs in neighboring areas to discuss their venture plans and share feedback. By the end of the final Start-up Showcase, we had requests from three other Indian universities, several students, and corporate houses to expand the program! Launching AITI India has been one of the most enriching and memorable experiences of my life, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for leadership experiences that can create an impact on emerging markets.
MBA Candidate, MIT Sloan School of Management
Entrepreneurship Lead, Philippines Summer 2012
Entrepreneurship Lead, Philippines Summer 2013
Teaching undergraduate students at the University of the Philippines Diliman was for me the best way to learn about mobile development and entrepreneurship, especially in an emerging markets context. "The best way to learn is to teach" by Frank Oppenheimer became very vivid and real. It was also an opportunity for me rediscover MIT's culture and contrast it to our host's. Our students unanimously expressed the relevance of the things they learned and the impact MIT AITI will have on their career. It was the first year we held this course in the Philippines and managed to accomplish success both inside and outside the classroom (e.g. in the form of hackathons), in good part due to the outstanding support we had from the University and the local business communities.
PhD Student, MIT
Technical Lead, Kenya Summer 2011
Technical Lead, Philippines Summer 2012
I decided to become an instructor for AITI primary because I am considering a teaching career after I graduate. I have been a teaching assistant for an undergraduate level class at MIT, had taught high school students, but I have never taught Masters level students or students in a developing country. Also, I have always wanted to travel to and experience Africa. Therefore, AITI gave me a very good opportunity to develop my teaching skills in a very different context and to travel to an African country. The students we taught had no or minimal experience in programming in Python. This was ideal as we were able to teach them from the very basics to how to become a Python ninja. I was very happy to see that after about two weeks almost all the students were capable of writing Python programs that did useful things. By that time they had realized the power of the language and its simplicity amidst the initial skepticism. It was very satisfying to see how thrilled they were when they got a program and parts of their projects to work after hours of debugging. I enjoyed engaging with students and giving advice whenever and wherever possible. Some of the informal conversations I had with the students weren’t just limited to the things we covered in the classroom or their projects. They were interested in learning about how to apply for graduate programs in the US, life at MIT, and some were even interested in learning about my PhD thesis research. I also learnt a lot from these interactions with the students. Some of the students still keep in touch with me, and update the progress of their projects through the next steps of the incubation process, and some of them request technical assistance and advice for the problems they face as they progress. AITI gave me a much needed break from academics at MIT. I am very happy it lived up to and beyond my expectations and that I was part of team that made a positive impact for thirty six Kenyan students.
Technical Lead, Rwanda Summer 2011
The challenge of teaching a class to one’s peers at a foreign university with different standards and expectations is undeniably difficult. The process of adjusting plans to circumstances while maintaining a firm commitment to the underlying course goals is not easy; we all learned valuable lessons within this realm over the course of our AITI experience. At times, it seemed that despite all our efforts, it would not be possible for them to achieve the course goals within the six-week timeframe of the program. We continued to encourage the teams. In the last few weeks of the program, they came in on weekends and dedicated every spare moment to building their understanding of the material and implementing their ideas in code. It was elating and gratifying to watch as each of the nine teams experienced the thrill of sending a text message and receiving a response from their application. These moments are the essence of why teachers teach. The experience of impacting in some way the lives of students who truly understand the problems and opportunities in Rwanda was one that, in my life and career, goes unparalleled. I eagerly await the opportunity to return.
Technical Assistant, Kenya Summer 2011
So many of my interests, hobbies, and goals coalesced in this past years AITI program. I have always had a strong passion for outreach programs, specifically those that provide a group of people with a skill that they will be able to use for the rest of their careers and their lives. The programming and entrepreneurship skills that we helped develop in these individuals are especially beneficial, considering the demand for such services in east Africa. Although I’ve help multiple teaching and tutoring positions in the past, none were nearly as rewarding as AITI. The students surpassed all of our initial expectations. The selection process was rigorous, and it showed in their experience, work ethic, and character. I’m confident that these students, and others like them, will be the future leaders of ICT in the area. They showed not just a great understanding of the material, but also a real desire to put what they learned into action. It was evident at the final event, from their engagement with businesspeople and others in the industry, that the students loved what they were doing and were excited to do it on a larger scale. Even now I receive email from the students with questions about Django best practices and various APIs to make their applications more powerful. Rarely does one see such lasting impact from a program, and I fully expect to hear success stories of these businesses years from now.
Entrepreneurship Lead, Rwanda Summer 2010
Crystal Mao, Rwanda, Entrepreneurship Lead, Rwanda 2010 Who knew I would ever make it to, let alone teach, an 8AM class. But my experience with AITI Rwanda was nothing short of transformational. I saw myself, a sleep-deprived recent grad with nebulous plans to do something good for the world, create a six-week curriculum, run a business plan competition, and advise numerous startups with an international network of entrepreneurial colleagues and friends to show for it. I saw my AITI team develop from casual acquaintances to dear friends, as we shared an incredibly bonding summer teaching together, living together, traveling together (exploring every corner of Rwanda, camping on safari in Kenya, hiking volcanos overnight with armed guards in the Congo). Most importantly, I saw our class of shy students, many of whom had never implemented a single line of code, transform into programmers and entrepreneurs who by the end of our program were confidently pitching their own mobile prototypes to an auditorium of investors and business leaders. Today, these students have traveled the world (ITU Telecom World Summit, Pivot25, Inspire Africa), created the first ICT innovation hub in Rwanda, founded successful companies that focus on solving locally-relevant problems, and are role models for the next generation of African tech entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship Assistant, Sri Lanka Summer 2013
AITI had a big impact on my future career plans. I had always been interested in business and international development, but I didn't know how what I wanted to do after finishing my degree. I wanted to start a company or do field research, but in all my travelling, I had never found somewhere that felt like home. Sri Lanka was like home for me, and the connections I made through AITI, both with students and with the entrepreneurial community in Sri Lanka, had a tremendous impact on my upcoming plans. I hope to return to Sri Lanka long-term to do education research, and to support and work with students now pursuing their careers in entrepreneurship.
Undergraduate / M.Eng, MIT
Technical Lead, Sri Lanka Summer 2012
AITI was an incredibly rewarding learning experience for me, through not only my first exposure to entrepreneurship, but also my daily interaction with the students. Our students continually amazed me with how adept they were at finding great technical solutions to their software problems. My software skills improved everyday through technical discussions with students. I knew all of the team's hard work was worth it upon reading the slew of final thank-you emails from various students, students saying this was the best experience of their educational career and students promising to never give up their entrepreneurial pursuits.