Public Sector Innovation Award Winners

ALEX Transforms Access to Higher Education

2016 Winner of the Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award

The burgeoning sharing economy has transformed markets such as transportation and lodging through services like Uber and Airbnb. Can it also transform higher education? The demand is certainly there: The rising cost of college, which has long outpaced inflation, makes it inaccessible to many. Meanwhile, colleges regularly lose millions in potential revenue due to excess capacity— “unfilled classroom seats” that can result from shifting demands for certain types of courses, declining enrollment, and other factors.

Anyone’s Learning Experience (or ALEX), winner of the 2016 Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award*, will leverage this excess by filling those seats with working professionals who lack college degrees and can increase their earnings through individual, in-person courses. This new online marketplace, which is preparing for a pilot launch this summer, will partner with colleges and employers to connect employees to courses that complement their line of work. “In a...

Quickhelp Affordably Connects Tutors with Students on Demand

2015 Winner of the Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award

Private tutoring can be a vital supplement for students, and it’s an important source of income for the individual instructors. It’s also a thriving industry, approaching over 100 billion dollars globally.

Private tutors are usually vetted and matched with clients through an intermediate company, which substantially drives up costs and makes the service less accessible to cash-strapped students. Moreover, the process of advance scheduling rarely suits the immediate, specific needs a student has (e.g. an obstacle that emerges the day before a paper or exam). Travel requirements can impose additional costs and limitations.

Quickhelp, winner of the 2015 Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award*, addresses these challenges through a robust smartphone app that directly matches students and tutors using precise data about location, availability, subject area, and specific request details from the client.

Founders Hikari Senju and Mazen Elfakhani—a computer science...

RapidSOS Modernizes Emergency Communication

2014 Winner of the Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award

The rise of smartphones and precise location data creates an opportunity for faster and better emergency response. The challenge in harnessing these technological advances is integrating them with 911 legacy systems developed decades ago.

RapidSOS, winner of the 2014 Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award*, is a platform designed to transmit data from smartphones into any existing 911 architecture. Founders Michael Martin and Nick Horelik bonded over their personal experiences with emergency communication and a mutual desire to integrate modern technology with the existing system. They began designing the platform while consulting with dozens of emergency dispatch centers. “We had to dispense with many preconceived notions,” Martin said. “If not for our partnership with the 911 community, today we’d have really cool technology that simply doesn’t work.”

An FCC study reports that over 10,000 lives are lost annually due to inadequate location information on emergency...

OpportunitySpace Invigorates the Market for Public Real Estate

2013 Winner of the Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award

Land and building assets make up a large chunk of government portfolios. Experts claim it is the largest source of public wealth, far exceeding cash in treasury. These assets also constitute a tremendous financial opportunity for economically strapped governments. Reports estimate that OECD governments may be sitting on up to 9 trillion dollars in saleable real estate, much of which is under- or un-utilized.

Alex Kapur, co-founder of the technology startup OpportunitySpace, said most urban areas have a large amount of real estate that isn’t being used productively. “This has several negative impacts,” he said. “For starters, it directly erodes the tax base on which towns and cities rely for revenue, and it further decreases surrounding property values.” Neglected properties can also degrade the quality of life in a neighborhood, as when blighted buildings result in higher crime and public safety hazards, like fires and contamination.

OpportunitySpace is the 2013...

Instiglio Ties Development Financing to Results

2012 Winner of the Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award

A new generation of performance-based finance models, such as social-impact bonds, are earning widespread attention by effectively tying the funding of social programs to results. These tools are increasingly applied in the U.S. and other developed economies to help governments, foundations, and service providers ensure that every invested dollar goes toward achieving the best social outcomes.

Instiglio, winner of the 2012 Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award*, is now applying these funding models to programs that address poverty in the developing world. The founders observed that international development money often didn’t flow to the best programs, so they began designing a plan to deploy modern finance tools, such as performance-based contracts and impact bonds, in developing countries like India and Mexico.

An impact bond combines flexibility and constructive accountability. A private-sector investor provides upfront capital to a service provider, and receives...

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