What I learned as the Practical Impact Alliance intern at MIT D-Lab

Bryan Cleveland.
Bryan Cleveland.


Walking out of the office on my last day as the Practical Impact Alliance (PIA) intern at MIT D-Lab was a lot like leaving the office on my very first day of work: my head was spinning with ideas and goals for the future. D-Lab is the kind of place that makes you feel like anything is possible. It’s an environment where in just five minutes you’ll get a sense of the bona fide passion for all things innovation, design, and most importantly sustainable development that makes D-Lab special. Even after spending six months with D-Lab, I can still feel overwhelmed by all the different projects and innovations that are occurring simultaneously in various parts of the world whether it’s Morocco, Ghana, Colombia, or another country.

I joined D-Lab this year as an intern in order to explore a practical application of my studies in International Relations and French at Tufts University. I have a passion for sustainable development and non-profit work, but before joining D-Lab, I didn’t know too much about the field of sustainable development. Through my work with the PIA program this year, I’ve discovered the intricacies of sustainable development as an industry, one that doesn’t just include NGOs and small non-profits but also expands to incorporate large corporations as well as governmental organizations. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from the participatory design online course and read through PIA working group outputs. I’ve been able to participate on calls about blended finance and intrapreneurship, and all of this has contributed to a broadening of my perspective and given me tools to continue working towards the goal of MIT D-Lab: designing for a more equitable world.

On my first day of work, I had the opportunity to sit in on a call that talked about how to better reach BoP consumers. I spent most of the call confused because in my International Relations courses at Tufts, BoP had always stood for balance of power, and I couldn’t quite figure out why anyone needed to better reach balance of power consumers. I have since learned that in this context BoP stands for base of the pyramid and refers to low-income consumers who are often not considered in business plans or given entrepreneurship opportunities. It’s in this respect that I think I’ve grown the most through this experience. MIT D-Lab has been an incredible place to learn and develop skills whether that is a vocabulary of industry terms relating to sustainable development, or experience in aggregating, analyzing, and presenting a set of impact data.

Now that I’m finishing my internship, I’ll miss the constant creativity and activity that buzzes around the D-Lab offices every day. I’ll miss hearing case studies from PIA members and working with data from the Co-Design Summit. I’ll miss learning about new concepts that focus on giving others the resources and tools they need to create and innovate for the good of their community. Nevertheless, I am so happy to have had the opportunity to grow and learn from my time with the PIA program at MIT D-Lab, and I know I’ll continue to use what I’ve learned, whether it’s specific concepts or even just the passion and dedication to this work, in all of my future endeavors.