Imagine a multi-million dollar quest for advancement transcending moon-travel, robots, and energy self-sufficiency.
On October 13th, XPRIZE challenged the world to change the future of education. Specifically, to develop open-source software capable of enabling children to teach themselves how to read and write. The goal? To empower this generation to “positively impact their communities, countries, and the world.”
Let’s back up.
What’s an XPRIZE?
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh and The Spirit of St. Louis flew across the Atlantic Ocean in one, direct trip, a feat that had never before been accomplished. Charles Lindbergh’s flight is renowned for igniting the trans-Atlantic travel system. A lesser-known fact is that this effort was in direct response to a $25,000 competition, the reward offered by Frenchman Raymond Orteig to the first person able to successfully travel the Atlantic Ocean in one fluid trip.
In 1927, incentivized competition was born.
The brainchild of entrepreneur and space enthusiast, Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE was formed 75 years later on the premise that competition can empower breakthroughs and solutions once deemed impossible. Unthinkable. That highly leveraged incentives can encourage actions that surpass the boundaries of human potential – to change the world for the better.
The Architects Behind the Scene:
“We believe in the power of competition. That it’s part of our DNA. Of humanity itself. We believe that you get what you incentivize. And that without a target, you will miss it every time. Rather than throw money at a problem, we incentivize the solution and challenge the world to solve it.”
Among a highly intellectual, inspiring 31-member Board of Trustees, you may recognize some of these masterminds: Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla Motors, CEO of SpaceX, and Chairman of SolarCity), Larry Page (Google’s founding CEO), James Cameron (film director & screenwriter, most commonly known for The Terminator, Titanic, and Avatar), Jeff Shames (Executive in Residence at MIT Sloan, former CEO of MFS Investment Management, & former U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer,) and Will Wright (visionary in interactive entertainment, most commonly known for the franchises, “SimCity” and “The Sims”).
The XPRIZE Board of Trustees suffers no lack of innovation, inspiration, or success. These masterminds have put forth such competitions that have challenged the world to fly to space, land robots on the moon, create fuel-efficient cars, clean oil-spills – you name it.
Robotic missions and enhanced space-crafts undeniably push beyond the perimeter of what’s deemed “possible”. That being said, by and large, XPRIZEs are projects that could have – should have – been accomplished by innovative businesses. It is abominable that $10 million dollars was needed to entice the world to build a fuel-efficient car (The Progressive Automotive XPRIZE), or that $1.4 million was needed to encourage the cleanup of oil spillage (The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XPRIZE).
The existence of the XPRIZE suggests a nearsighted focus on the short-term, highlighting a colossal deficiency in corporations worldwide.
On October 13th, the XPRIZE squad extended their reach and swung for the long ball. The visionaries introduced their newest competition, not a one-time technological achievement, but a contest with the potential to result in true, sustainable change.
The Global Learning XPRIZE: a $15 million competition to change the future of education.
To date, 250 million children world-wide have incompetent, or non-existent, reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. Most, located in developing countries, do not have access to adequate school systems. The major impediment to education in the developing world is that demand has outpaced the scale of conventional models. Recognizing a true need, the Global Learning XPRIZE is a marked change of direction for incentivized competition.
There is a vital question that must be asked.
Why is education falling into the hands of the XPRIZE? Indubitably, this innovative think-tank is addressing a serious social deficiency. At the extreme, the Global Learning XPRIZE is nothing more than a representation of the failure of government. Whereas previous XPRIZEs have addressed gaps in business innovation, the focus has shifted.
The distinction between failure of government and failure of business is stark.
It is the exact distinction between excellence and equity.
Excellence and innovation is the responsibility of business. Government is entrusted with education, security, and social justice. Yes, both government and business produce crossover effects. Effective government creates technology which becomes a positive externality for business. Effective business contributes social justice as a byproduct of fair treatment of employees. But, it is the responsibility of government to intervene when business fails to provide enough jobs. The reverse is simply not true. It is not, or it should not be, the responsibility of business to step in when government fails its core mandate of social justice.
Evidently, when government fails, when the safety net is not available for social justice, targeted philanthropy is one of the few viable solutions that remain. The world should be ever so grateful that XPRIZE exists at all.
Featured Photograph by Robert Joseph.