As the leaders crafting Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games mull how the area’s colleges and universities can contribute, they should think beyond stadiums, swimming pools, and dorms and focus on academia’s most valuable resource: ideas.
If we’re seeking innovative solutions to the challenges of hosting the Olympics, there’s no better place to look than to our celebrated cluster of academic expertise, innovation, and brain power.
Our colleges and universities, after all, are our international calling card. What other area can claim a constellation of schools like Boston College, Brandeis, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, the UMass campuses, and Wellesley, to name just some of Greater Boston’s better-known institutions of learning?
Every phase of the games could showcase and benefit from these schools’ great ideas. No, Boston might not be in the global top 10 in population, wealth, or industry, but it has a strong claim to being the innovation capital of the world in asset management, life sciences and medicine, technology, and other R&D-intensive disciplines.
Leaders around the globe know that. In fact, many of them proudly display diplomas from Boston-area institutions in their offices. So as the Hub crafts its Olympics pitch, Boston’s reputation as a center for ideas and research should distinguish it from the competition in the eyes of the decision-makers at the International Olympic Committee.
How could the area’s schools contribute? Here are just a few possibilities.
The MIT Urban Planning Institute, its School of Architecture, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design could bring bold new ideas to the massive challenge of providing housing, athletic facilities, and transportation for the Olympic athletes and their fans.
The business schools at Babson, BC, Bentley, BU, Harvard, and MIT could tackle the challenge of figuring out the financing of the games. They could help design investments that allow private capital to shoulder some of the burden. There may be a role for the universities’ budgets and endowments, and perhaps even Boston’s vibrant asset-management industry, in facilitating Olympics-related investments. An army of MBA students and their faculty would be happy to help develop proposals and provide financial analysis.
All the local universities know their home communities and understand the importance of addressing the local stakeholders’ interests. Their community-affairs departments could help foster important conversations between the Olympic organizers and local communities. Harvard’s Kennedy School, for example, could come up with a model for open and effective engagement, human-resources management, and community development, while Tufts’ Fletcher School could provide critical international perspective.
The most measured Olympics in history could be better connected than ever to its audience, with help from the Big Data initiative at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, the MIT Media Lab’s cross-disciplinary storytelling program, and the journalistic expertise and ability of Harvard’s Nieman Foundation and the BU and Northeastern journalism schools. Statistics-loving sports fans and the various universities’ data scientists would be a match made in heaven.
The BU, Harvard, Tufts, and UMass medical school networks, the Harvard-MIT combined Health Science and Technology program, the many world-class hospitals and medical centers, and innumerable life sciences enterprises in the Boston-Cambridge ecosystem could provide state-of-the-art care in sports medicine. Case studies from the Olympics would provide abundant data for researchers and future breakthroughs, further solidifying Boston’s global leadership in life sciences and medicine.
And if the Boston Olympics requires additional clout to succeed, we would be hard-pressed to find a more influential alumni base than Harvard’s or a more ingenious one than MIT’s.
The leadership of Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid should seize this opportunity. The convergence of a great urban undertaking, a gathering of global elites, and Greater Boston’s amazing universities has truly Olympic potential to enrich the lives of people around the world.