What if anyone with the skills to code could find a good job in their chosen field? What if millions of people –from Kenya to India; Myanmar to Missouri—had affordable mentors and apprenticeships readily available to guide them into the tech economy? What if all of this and more were already being offered by a select group of innovative leaders?

It is.

The finalists in our 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge are among that elite group. Specifically, in the category of matching skilled workers with technology jobs, our four finalists each have impressive track records at eliminating barriers to entry—even where upheaval, oppression, and discrimination are the norm. They are proving that labor shortages, skills gaps, and a lack of diversity in the science and technology fields, can be corrected –and it’s already happening with the help of technology-driven tools.

Here is a brief profile of each of the four finalists in this category:

iHub

Kenya-based iHub recognizes that the country has a talent challenge, for both employers and workers. Unemployment is a critical issue and qualified people with raw technical skills are seeking opportunities to prove themselves and earn a living.

One problem is that the education system is unable to keep up with trends in technology and adequately equip students for the jobs of the future. At the same time, companies are not prepared to train on the job. It’s the classic problem of how to gain professional experience when you don’t have any to begin with.

In 2010, iHub stepped in to provide future developers an opportunity to work in teams alongside more experienced engineers on real projects. It serves as a trusted intermediary between companies—including industry leaders like IBM, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Oracle–with products to be developed or talent demands, and developers with limited industry experience.

iHub hopes to replicate its model across the African continent and continue to offer consulting services and an investment fund to support new tech entrepreneurs.

LaunchCode

In the U.S., while the growing tech economy is creating a huge number of well-paying, upwardly mobile jobs, most Americans still lack access to the training that would allow them to enter tech careers and benefit from its bounty.

LaunchCode wants to help those with the fewest resources and the most to gain by providing free, accelerated job training in high-tech skills. Using a low-cost, scalable model that replicates in-person coding classes across the country, LaunchCode aims to train, verify, and place graduates in jobs quickly.

It has already placed graduates into paid apprenticeships with hundreds of companies—including MasterCard, New Balance, and Boeing– to help them transition into full-time jobs despite lacking traditional credentials. LaunchCode partners with employers to determine their needs and establish itself as a trusted source of talent.

The data proves the point: Eighty percent of those who go through the program begin a career without a degree in computer science, and more than four-fifths of apprentices were converted to permanent employment after an average of three months. On average, LaunchCode placements double their previous salary.

That’s making dreams come true.

Leap Skills Academy

Sometimes, awareness is the critical first step in empowering a new workforce. As an impact-oriented skill development organization, Leap Skills Academy focuses on training motivated youth from small towns in Indian. In the past four years it has directly worked with close to 5,000 students- primarily low income -in Haryana, Himachal, and Uttar Pradesh through mentoring, training, and employment support services.

Leap Skills faces challenges from lack of awareness about how to obtain training, an absence of requisite capability, and a dearth of opportunity. The program combines the strengths of a classroom environment with the convenience, flexibility, and engagement of a mobile learning platform to match students to jobs and “inculcate skills imperative to succeed in the digital economy.”

Besides basic skills, students can participate in engaging experimental activities designed to develop their teamwork, leadership, communication, and critical thinking. It uses interactive learning methods to deliver high-quality course content.

New Day

The Digital Economy takes different forms in different places. In Myanmar, Southeast Asia, where nearly 80% of the population own smartphones, a natural platform exists to build inclusive, scalable, fast digital services for the mass market, including the low-income population.

Despite this smartphone saturation, digital employment services have not caught up to this newfound capability. Low-income job seekers still rely on anecdotal information from friends and family when looking for work. New Day is changing this dynamic by developing a smartphone-centric employment platform. It enables profound improvements in job-matching, skills-building, employer transparency, and professional growth. The commercially viable product will impact millions of people by offering efficient, transparent means to find a job—from entry-level to senior-level.

New Day lowers the barrier-to-entry with a six-minute sign-up via Facebook. Representatives reply instantaneously and can place applicants in a job within 24 hours.

Making Inroads

Renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead, famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

At the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, we believe that groups large and small must harness technology to create more jobs and improve the future of work. But more importantly, we aim to accelerate this reality. That’s why we’re offering $1 million in prizes to promote and celebrate technology-based solutions that drive greater economic prosperity worldwide.

For the past six months, our expert panel has judged Inclusive Innovation organizations from across the globe. And now we are bringing our 16 top-scoring finalists to Boston. On October 12, the IIC will celebrate these change-makers and announce four grand prize winners at a gala Celebration at HUBweek.

We know that our IIC Finalists are making significant inroads. At HUBweek, their contributions will also be acknowledged publicly by experts such as: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet; Leila Janah, Founder & CEO of Sama Group and LXMI; Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner, and others.

Other IIC finalists, such as AID:TechTala,  Nomanini and EFL, are seeking broader Financial Inclusion for businesses and individuals.  IIC entrepreneurs also are targeting the problems of Income Growth and Job Creation (HogaruLogistimoSkillSmart, and Tuteria)  And in the Technology Access category finalists– AdmitHubAfrican Renewable Energy DistributorDigital Citizen Fund, and Dot Learn — are offering sophisticated solutions to complex problems, as well.