Early years: Edgerton Center & Kim Vandiver
Founded in 2002 by Amy Smith, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, D-Lab began as a single class known as The Haiti Class. That first class - hands-on, project-based, and real-world - established many of the hallmarks of D-Lab courses to come.
Professor Kim Vandiver, Dean of the Office of Experiential Learning, was both a critical early champion of Amy Smith and of D-Lab as well as an ongoing advisor as D-Lab grew and evolved. As a result of its early association with Kim and the Edgerton Center, all D-Lab courses have an "EC" designation.
Over the next several years, one class grew to many, and D-Lab has developed more than 20 MIT courses to date, with 12-15 offered annually. Over the course of its history, D-Lab has enrolled more than 2,000 students in its classes.
In the fall of 2011, D-Lab received a transformative gift from Mohammed Jameel and Community Jameel. Over the course of three years, under the direction of Saida Benhayoune, this gift funded the launch of the Scale-Ups social entrepreneurship fellowship, the Harvest Fuel Initiative, the Practical Impact Alliance, the Scaling Development Ventures conference, and much of D-Lab's research program.
The following year, D-Lab applied to a new USAID program called the Higher Education Solutions Network to fund two major initiatives - the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN) and the Comprehensive Initiative for Technology Evaluation (CITE). With IDIN ultimately administered by D-Lab and CITE by the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the joint award totaled $25 million.
In 2010, Amy brought on board Victor Grau Serrat to share leadership of the growing program. Kofi Taha joined as Associate Director in 2011. Amy and Victor served as D-Lab Co-Directors from 2010 to 2016, when Victor left to pursue other career interests. Following his departure, D-Lab hired international development veteran Bob Nanes as its first Executive Director, while Amy Smith took the title of Founding Director. That same year, Professor Dan Frey joined D-Lab as Faculty Research Director and in 2017, Professor Maria Yang became D-Lab's Faculty Academic Director. In 2017, Kendra Leith was named Associate Director for Research. Full staff list.
On the move
Starting out with a shared office at the Edgerton Center for Amy and additional space by a loading dock in the basement of MIT building 3, D-Lab moved to what was E34 (now demolished) in 2009. In June of 2012, with support from MIT and from Shashank and Medha Karve, D-Lab was able to renovate and move into the third floor of MIT's Building N51, where the program now has a dozen office spaces, two large classrooms, a workshop, meeting spaces, and more.
Today, with its programs organized under three "pillars" - Education, Research, and Innovation Practice - D-Lab is a leader at MIT in:
- creating and delivering transformational student experiences in global poverty alleviation,
- advancing the scholarship and practice of global poverty alleviation and inclusive design pedagogy, and
- sustaining an ecosystem that supports the full life cycle of practical solutions, from needs assessment to ideation to validated impact.