By Cyndee Miller
A wee bit desperate for some positive news? Well, I’ve got just the thing: Most Influential Projects is back!
No big shocker here that MIP 2020 is stacked with COVID-fueled innovations. With the coronavirus racing across the U.K., a team from the National Health Service transformed a London exhibit hall into a massive emergency medical facility—in just nine days. UNICEF, Microsoft, the University of Cambridge and Dubai Cares teamed up to transform a pilot project originally aimed at refugee children into a virtual learning platform for underprivileged students from Ukraine to Zimbabwe who’d been shut out of classrooms. Virgin Orbit shifted course to design and deliver emergency ventilators, while the organizers of Shanghai Fashion Week teamed up with Alibaba to produce history’s first purely digital fashion week.
Then there’s the project that tops the list, epitomizing a major theme of 2020: progress over perfection. The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator aims to identify, accelerate and scale seven of the most promising vaccine candidates by coordinating R&D efforts. Microsoft’s Bill Gates—a major financial backer of the initiative—acknowledged that the “few billion” U.S. dollars the project will waste will be more than worthwhile, considering the human lives it will save and the catastrophic effect the coronavirus has already had on the global economy.
The latest slate of Most Influential Projects goes way beyond COVID control, however. The Kangaroo Island Recovery project helped save one of Australia’s most iconic ecosystems from raging wildfires. Toyota is giving us its take on a fully autonomous world with Woven City, and Enel Green Power is helping Chile turn away from fossil fuels and bolster its unofficial role as Latin America’s clean energy leader with the Campos del Sol mega solar farm project.
And the excitement doesn’t stop there. This year’s adventures include 30 (!!) Top 10 lists broken out by sectors and geographic regions. (You can geek out over the data science list, gawk over the newly created wonders on the architecture list and smirk over Tiger King making the entertainment list.)
For me, one of the most interesting choices was Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. For the record, I’ve never even played the game. What struck me was the backstory. Katsuya Eguchi has said his work on the original Animal Crossing was inspired by the heartache he felt after leaving family and friends to move from Chiba to Nintendo’s home city of Kyoto, Japan. Fast forward a couple decades and much of the world was experiencing that very same sense of isolation and loneliness. Then along came New Horizons, offering community and companionship—even during The Great Lockdown. The really weird part? The release date may have seemed like impeccable timing, but it was actually due in part to project delays. New Horizons was originally slated for a 2019 release, but when Nintendo execs realized hitting that target would require a grueling schedule for the team, they pushed the date back to March 2020. In a deliciously ironic plot twist, a decision to help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance ended up producing windfall profits.
Your turn: Take a deep dive and let me know your MIP vote in the comments.