Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Preview of my MIT SDM Thesis

Be forewarned - This is a long post! 

Within a month I will be submitting my thesis, completing my requirements for a Master of Science degree in Engineering and Management at MIT.

I am at heart a technologist. Not only have I actively used technology throughout my life, but I always sought the individual "high" from finding innovative solutions to problems using technological products. This being said, I have felt right at home at MIT within the SDM program, surrounded by other true believers in the value of technology to innovative businesses and start ups. I'm even heading to New York City in a few hours for the first day of the Cloud Computing Expo.

The thesis topic would be considered unusual for an SDMer since it seems more appropriate for Harvard Kennedy School or Tufts Fletcher School for Diplomacy:


The Motivation
There is another side to my background, one that is not as readily apparent to acquaintances. I am the son of an engineer and nurse from Lima, Peru in South America. I was born and raised in the Boston area, but with a culture distinctly South American. Nevertheless, until I first visited Lima in 1999, after graduating from WPI, I had only visited Europe, never a developing nation. I was shocked by the level of contrasts between the upper middle class and poor that existed within the capital, Lima, and between Lima and its provinces, both of which had increased drastically in the past 50 years. Two questions tore at me for years:
  • Why has this decay occurred?
  • What could be done to reverse the process?

The Framework
While at SDM, I was introduced to the framework for sustainable development by Professor Nicholas Ashford in the MIT Technology and Policy Program. It aims to show how true holistic sustainable development towards national competitiveness must incorporate three interconnected core "pillars":
  • Balanced Environmental Protection
  • Economic Advancement
  • Development and Protection of Workers
 What is new about this? Most literature on this subject only addresses one or maybe two of these issues and is typically rooted in the myopic perspective of a single discipline whether it be economics, environmental science, or organizational science. Only a systemic view of the issues involved can start to resolve this issue.

The Question
This topic as a general subject is far beyond a Master-level thesis or even a Doctoral dissertation. Accordingly, I decided to examine one focused question:
"How has automotive multinational companies (MNC) impacted these factors of sustainable development towards national competitveness in three countries: Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico?"
Automotive companies have been in Latin America for 90 years. If there is a positive impact towards development, we should certainly be able to notice it. The answer is not so simple.

In reality, there are mixed results from the evidence. In fact, automotive MNC activity has been closely tied to government policy and technology advancement, as shown in the causal loop diagram below.

Why the question marks? At different times, in different countries, under different circumstances, MNCs have either advanced, destroyed, or stagnated national development. The details are naturally covered in my thesis and are beyond the scope of this post! Rest assured, the conclusions are NOT reassuring and in fact are quite depressing. Nevertheless, they do serve as a first step in viewing issues of national development in a holistic way, forcing a new approach to solving these challenges.

Epilogue - The Beacon of Light - Technology Transfer
I have found that one of the most powerful tools towards national development is the concept of technology transfer, as illustrated with this loop:
Technology can serve as a valuable vehicle for the advancement of a developing nation. The most crucial barrier to it being realized is that the nation, or its infrastructure, economy, or people are not able to properly take advantage of it when presented. This concept is known as "apsorptive capacity". For instance:
"Would the population of a village benefit from the use of a computer if there is no electrical grid nor communication network?"
Suffice to say that this is an unusual, complex, but relevant thesis in the spirit of the MIT Engineering Systems Division, of which the SDM Program is a part.

'Nuff Said - Until Next Time

1 comment:

  1. Did you publish the whole thesis online? Well, from the looks of it, your thesis was certainly great! It would be great if you can share your thesis online. That way, many people who also work on the same field can get information from yours. Anyway, what happen to your thesis?