Student Research Series


In the fall of 2013, New Economy @ MIT invited students engaged in research or practice focused on alternative economic models to present and discuss their research among peers. Twice a month, over lunch, two graduate students from a range of MIT programs would present their work to an equally diverse audience of students, faculty, and community members.

Session 1: Rodrigo Davies on civic crowd funding and Jonathan Krones on industrial ecology

Session 2: Denise Cheng on the peer economy and Caroline Howe on civic consumption

Session 3: Eduardo Marisca on the video game industry in Peru and Zahir Dossa on sustainable business development

Session 4: Travis Sheehan on the future of micro grids


NOVEMBER 12 | 2013

Rodrigo Davies, Comparative Media Studies, on Civic Crowdfunding: Participatory Communities or Frontier Entrepreneurs?

Crowdfunding, the raising of capital from a large and diverse pool of donors via online platforms, has grown exponentially in the past five years, and is beginning to expand into the realm of civic and public space projects. This growth has led to the rise of specialist platforms, some of which explicitly solicit the involvement of government alongside citizens. While these new platforms and associations create new opportunities for civic organization, their emergence also raises important questions about the role of public institutions and public goods. Rodrigo will be discussing the historical context and intellectual paradigms within which civic crowdfunding can be located, and giving an overview of four case studies he’s studying in the US, UK and Brazil.

Jonathan Krones, Engineering Systems Division, on Closed-loop Economies in Industrial Ecology.

Industrial ecology is the study of the material and energy flows that underpin human activities. One evocative vision of sustainability promoted by many industrial ecologists is that of a closed-loop economy, in which a limited stock of material resources is cycled repeatedly through the economy, allowing a material-intensive standard of living while avoiding the significant environmental damages associated with large extractions of raw materials from and emissions of wastes and pollution to the environment. Jonathan will be discussing his work assessing the potential for closing material loops through the large-scale reuse and recycling of the billions of tons of non-hazardous industrial waste generated each year by the various manufacturing industries in the United States.

NOVEMBER 19 | 2013

Denise Cheng, Comparative Media Studies, on The Past, Present and Future of Work in the Peer Economy.

Since the 1950s, the American Dream has been tied to salaried, full-time jobs with benefits. But in light of changing company-employee relationships, the recession, unshakeable college debt and a jobless recovery of the economy, Americans have had to consider pursuing other work options with equal zeal.There has been a proliferation of peer economy platforms—companies that enable people to monetize their existing skills and assets. Yet, the peer economy (or sharing economy, to be broader) cannot sidestep issues that less visible movements have pursued for decades. When independent workers build a company’s brand, who deserves equity? How does camaraderie grow organically among independent workers, who are vulnerable to isolation? Does there need to be a workers’ bill of rights (hint: look to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the National Domestic Workers Alliance)? Who is responsible for liability insurance? How do full-time indy hustlers secure health insurance?

 Caroline Howe, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, on Civic Consumption: Increasing Access by Leveraging Demand

Caroline Howe is a Senior Fellow at Groundswell, a DC-based social enterprise that aggregates community electricity demand from residents and community organizations to be able to provide renewable energy at rates lower than conventional electricity. This model of civic consumption has been used in many different sectors — from health care to school books, from local food to home broadband — and Caroline will be sharing her research on how the model works, what direct and indirect co-benefits it creates, and how it could be used to create a more inclusive new economy.

NOVEMBER 26 | 2013

Eduardo Marisca, Comparative Media Studies, on Making Games in Peru: Lessons for Creative Industries in Developing Economies.

Based on field work with the Peruvian video game industry, this research looks at some of the main challenges this industry has faced over its two decade-long history and the lessons learnt that might be relevant to other emerging creative industries in developing countries. The Peruvian game industry has been able to evolve and grow for over two decades with barely any recognition from the local market or government, and it has come to a point where it is now growing self-aware of its own challenges and opportunities. The session will focus around the perception of risk around the industry, which affects the recognition and support it receives from government, interest from investors and clients, and willingness from young professionals to go into the industry and build a career. Digital creative industries offer new opportunities for developing economies to diversify into more knowledge-based economic activities; and because many of these industries are driven by creative communities, the incentives to develop the skills they need is often social and cultural, and not economic. Communities such as game developers are then introducing innovative skills that can be leveraged into larger industries; and gaming in particular offers a series of affordances that lend themselves especially well towards the strengthening of a local technology base.

Zahir Dossa, PhD ’13 from Department of Urban Studies and Planning, on The Argan Tree: A Sustainable Business Model.

The Argan Tree sells all-natural beauty products infused with argan oil that it sources from a 60-woman cooperative it founded in Morocco. The goal of The Argan Tree is to return profits to those that matter– its stakeholders, focusing on its producers and their communities. As part of his doctoral research, Zahir studied the argan oil cooperative movement in southwestern Morocco and decided to make a new business model that connected producers directly to customers through E-Commerce and espouse transparency to show customers where their money went.

DECEMBER 3 | 2013

Travis Sheehan, Department of Urban Studies and Planning ’13, on Resilient Cities via District Energy: A New Grid Paradigm.

The energy industry is experiencing a paradigm shift from a top down system to shared, local networks of cooperatively owned energy centers. District Energy is a mature technology and concept that enables peer-to-peer production and consumption of energy, enhances climate-preparedness, and enables innovative clean-technology development. There are monumental regulatory barriers that restrict its widespread deployment. Travis will present the City of Boston’s District Energy strategy and the political and regulatory context for shared energy networks in North America.