As a business innovation engineer in MITRE Labs, Tammy Freeman uses design thinking and process engineering expertise to help our government sponsors find innovative approaches to achieving their missions. Freeman is a Lean Six Sigma green belt who has supported the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies, noting the similarities of the problems they face. Today, she leads the social innovation focus area of MITRE’s Social Justice Platform. Its mission is to create and scale equitable, sustainable solutions that bring about positive change for a more just society.
I work in MITRE’s Enterprise Strategy and Transformation Innovation Center, using approaches like design thinking to help our government sponsors achieve their missions. Right now, I’m applying that knowledge and experience to MITRE’s Social Justice Platform. We focus on equity and equitable outcomes, identifying ways to use inclusive design practices rooted in social innovation principles to achieve social justice.
Designing Solutions for Equity
“Social innovation” recognizes problems that market innovation can’t solve or won’t solve—and even problems where market innovation has created or exaggerated social inequity. Our team is looking at disrupting processes and structures that hinder social justice. We’re working to scale solutions that bring about positive social change.
MITRE has started a Good Trouble Lab for social justice and equity. It’s a virtual lab, where we explore ideas and solutions such as social financing frameworks. The lab name comes from John Lewis, the late civil rights icon and congressman, who said, “Get in good trouble … and help redeem the soul of America.” We tackle entrenched social issues and design solutions that mitigate implicit bias so that we don’t unintentionally cause harm. The focus is on equity and equitable outcomes.
We’ve accelerated our work on social innovation and have partnered with others within MITRE to have immediate impact. For example, the social innovation team and the team that manages the Innovation Tool Kit (ITK) are examining the tools with an eye toward equity.
The ITK can prompt users to ask better, more holistic, and inclusive questions about the problems they’re trying to solve. “What assumptions and biases around this problem exist?” and “Do we have the right people in the room?” Framing the questions this way gives voice to those who are historically underrepresented and don’t normally have a seat at the table.
Expanding the Field of Solution Providers
Our team is also working with MITRE’s Bridging Innovation initiative, looking specifically at the issue of economic justice and the wealth gap. Founders of start-ups in underrepresented communities receive a fraction of venture capital funding, according to Project Diane, a nonprofit that works with Black women and Latina entrepreneurs. Of the total venture capital investment in 2018, 2.7 percent went to women-founded concerns. Black women and Latina founders, combined, got 0.64 percent. How do we extend the bridge? How do we work to close this gap? By participating and cocreating an ecosystem that brings opportunities, as well as information for growing a successful start-up and securing seed capital.
Fundamentally, MITRE’s mission is to solve problems for a safer world. According to the tenets of design thinking, we must allow the end user to define what “safer” means, and that includes how they experience “safer.” If people don’t feel they’re protected by the people who are here to protect them, then they’re not safe. We cannot have a safer world if we have rampant inequity, injustice, or unfairness. We must ask ourselves how can we highlight the range of what safe means? “Safer” is not just military might, but also equity, opportunity, access, and participation—the four key pillars of social justice.
MITRE is a great place to do this work. I’m happy to have the opportunity to help build what social innovation at MITRE can accomplish now and in the future to bring about a safer and just world.
—As told to Molly Manchenton
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