In March, Harvard wrapped up its 2012 Harvard College Innovation Challenge. The challenge is put on by the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), part of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. This year, TECH and the Innovation Challenge launched a new award – the Public Sector Innovation Award – which looked for projects that leverage technology to positively impact the public sector.
Several teams of Harvard students submitted applications to be considered for the award. One Degree, a project led by Rey Faustino was one of the applicants. The project won second place for the Public Sector Innovation Award, at an awards assembly held in Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 29, 2012. One Degree’s main platform is a Yelp-like web and mobile application for social services that aims to increase citizen access to support services and increase awareness of available programs in local communities.
“I am from an immigrant community myself, so I understand the difficulty involved with accessing these programs,” Faustino explains. “Schools try to help, and their main task is to educate students. But often schools do not have enough resources themselves to overcome of all of the out-of-school poverty-related issues to make students successful. This is especially true in low-income schools.”
The web platform allows users to access, review, rate, and share information about local non-profit, government and community resources in much the same way that individuals share information about restaurants and other venues on Yelp. By allowing information to be spread by the users of these programs and benefits, Faustino hopes to shift power back to low-income and immigrant communities.
He is also working to build a network of organizations, schools and other community institutions in order to support information sharing both about the app itself and about services in the app. “There is a 1 to 420 counselor to student ratio in this country, both students and advocates need help to find the resources they need,” Faustino said.
To that end, he has interviewed with over 150 business, technology, government, philanthropy, and education professionals to gain their feedback about how the new One Degree platform could work within the context of their work and what kind of information should be included in One Degree. Faustino has also been successful in setting up early partnerships with several schools in the San Francisco, California area for the initial launch of the application.
“One Degree exemplifies the innovation the nation needs in human services, and I’m pleased they were the second-place winner of the Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award,” said David Wilson, Managing Director, State, Provincial & Local Government for Accenture – one of the sponsors of the award.
“Open data and citizen engagement is the next wave of innovation in human services, and One Degree will push this form of innovation forward,” said Antonio Oftelie, Fellow, Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and competition judge.
The project is expected to launch officially in August 2012. Faustino is currently looking to add to his team of developers, volunteers and supporters. He can be reached directly at email@example.com.