Cuba and entrepreneurship: An MIT MBA’s reflections — Alanna Hughes

MIT Sloan MBA Student Alanna Hughes

MIT Sloan MBA Student Alanna Hughes

Soñar no cuesta nada. Dreaming doesn’t cost anything.

As I conclude a study trip to Cuba, I am reminded of this expression that a Dominican colleague frequently used. Whenever I would “think big” – first as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and later as a social enterprise director in the Dominican Republic and Haiti – my friend Hector Romero had the ability to both encourage my idealism and remind me of the challenging reality with this simple phrase.

As someone who came to business school directly from entrepreneurship work in other parts of the Caribbean, I want to dream for Cuba. I want to hope that it is on the brink of something groundbreaking for all those in the island nation with an entrepreneurial bent. However, after having studied it more in-depth, and after having spent time in Havana, my optimism is tainted by some of the skepticism I’d perceive in Romero’s voice years ago. While Cubans as a society should dream big, the prospect of larger-scale innovation driven entrepreneurship, still feels like…well, a dream.

If Cuba truly wishes to become more entrepreneurial, it will need more than its bright minds’ aspirations. It will need to financially invest and politically change – both of which undoubtedly generate significant costs.

Like many dreams, increasing entrepreneurship in Cuba is grounded in some reality. When conducting behavioral science research to prepare for our time in Havana, I stumbled upon several examples of Cuban “hacks” to provide solutions to problems resulting from scarcity, isolation, and censorship. One common example is the paquete semanal – a collection of illegal classifieds, music, and TV series, among others – that is distributed on Cuba’s black market as a substitute for broadband internet. Other examples include metal meal trays repurposed as antennas and chargers built from non-rechargeable hearing aid batteries.

Beyond grassroots creative capacity, Cuba also possesses a highly educated populace that includes thousands of trained STEM graduates well suited to contribute to high tech businesses. Only about 200 miles separate Havana’s inventive and technical minds from Miami’s growing start-up scene and its gateway into other American innovation hubs. From a talent perspective, Cuba appears to hold a lot of untapped potential.

But will this human capital really be so easy to engage? Although our flight from MIA to HAV only lasted 45 minutes, it was clear as soon as we stepped out of Havana’s small airport onto its antique car trafficked streets that we had landed a world away. In spite of the hype we had heard in the American press about Cuba’s ability to “open up,” a lot of the gates currently remain under lock and key.  So few Cubans have regular access to the internet; they have only been allowed to own personal computers and cell phones since 2008, and wifi is only available in a handful of CyberPoints and hotel lobbies – at $5 per hour through pre-purchased cards.

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$1 million to create a more inclusive, productive, and sustainable future for all — Devin Cook

Devin Cook, Executive Producer of the MIT Inclusive Innovation Competition

Devin Cook, Executive Producer of the MIT Inclusive Innovation Competition

From Forbes

Two years ago, in their groundbreaking book The Second Machine Age, Professor Erik Brynjolfsson, Director, and Andrew McAfee, Co-director, of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, described digital technology’s transformative effect on business, the economy, and society.  With productivity, wealth, and profits at historic highs, digital innovation has created unprecedented bounty for a great number of people. However, not all people have shared equally in this prosperity. In economic terms, overall GDP is growing but median incomes since 1999 have actually fallen. While technology has created greater wealth for society and for innovators at an unprecedented pace, changes in our economy are actually leaving many people — especially middle- and base-level earners — worse off.

This is the great economic paradox of our time, yet at the Initiative on the Digital Economy, we know this disparity will not define our future. Rather we are technology optimists, and we believe that the future of work can be better for all. However, we cannot ensure that people will enjoy prosperous working lives, if we just stand by and watch these trends unfold. Thus to celebrate, support, and inspire solutions to this challenge, the MIT IDE launched the Inclusive Innovation Competition (IIC). We will award a total of $1 million in prizes to the world’s most inventive organizations that are enabling more people to fully experience the prosperity of the Second Machine Age.

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American children need to stop being taught to fear the topic of race – Evan Apfelbaum

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Evan Apfelbaum

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Evan Apfelbaum

From Quartz

The killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager from Florida—and the jury’s subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman, the white man who shot him. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager from Ferguson, Missouri, by white policeman Darren Wilson—and the decision by a grand jury not to indict the officer. The massacre of nine African Americans by a white supremacist at a Charleston church in June 2015. These are just a sampling of violent racially charged incidents that have taken place over past three years.

These episodes have sparked rage, disillusionment, sorrow, resentment, and confusion. According to a New York Times/CBS News pollconducted last month, nearly six in 10 Americans, including majorities of both white and black people, think race relations in the US are generally bad, and nearly four in 10 say the situation is worsening.

Yet in spite of this awareness and introspection, our country is still incapable of a coherent, intelligent national conversation about race. Indeed, the subject of race is so sensitive and so volatile that most people are apt to avoid it altogether. Why is that?

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Charlie Baker is an effective manager, but is he a leader? — Bill Aulet

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet

From the Boston Globe 

In the fall of 1977, the aspiring Harvard varsity basketball players used to play pickup games every afternoon. All of us were vying for the limited spots on the team. The competition was fierce. I remember one not particularly athletic guy, less of a thoroughbred and more of workhorse, a Clydesdale. I did not see him making the team, but Charlie Baker surprised us. He not only made the team, but turned out to be a terrific teammate.

Governor Baker’s challenges now are much bigger and more significant, but the same attributes he showed back then — a hard worker who knows his limits, a guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, but is still comfortable being an enforcer when needed — have never left him. Read More »

MIT Sloan Experts Twitter Chat: #FailBetter – Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn

 

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Anjali Sastry

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Anjali Sastry

Smart leaders, entrepreneurs and change agents bravely push innovation to the limit, but do so with a key theme in mind: ensure every failure is useful.

Join Anjali Sastry, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan (@AnjaliSastry), and Kara Penn, MBA ’07 (@kara_penn), on Tuesday, December 8, from 7 pm to 8 pm as they discuss the research and inspiration behind their book, Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner.

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