Is America finally “Rising Above the Storm” to confront a new era of Global Competitiveness?

It’s been almost fours years since the announcement of the American Competitiveness Initiative, and nearly three years since the publishing of “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.” Much has changed since then. Amidst the current-day backdrop of looming economic uncertainties and extended unemployment, a few recently announced public / private partnerships demonstrate that some forward-thinking organizations are prepared to tackle these challenges head-on.

In November President Obama announced “Educate to Innovate, a new campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).” Increasing STEM literacy is something we’ve been talking about for a long time, but lack of funding for too few programs have failed to reverse the negative trends. That is until recently. Programs like Dean Kamen’s FIRST Robotics competition and CSTEM are exemplary models of STEM awareness and education. Media mainstays Time-Warner Cable, Discovery Communications and Sesame Street will spread the word as part of the “Educate to Innovate” effort, and a series of National STEM design competitions hope to inspire kids in scientific inquiry through games.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop also stepped forward with the inaugural Cooney Center Prizes for Innovation in Childrens Learning, a national competition to inspire and identify breakthrough ideas in digital media and learning for kids.

Launched last week during the Kids at Play Summit at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show, the program will annually award cash prizes and provide development and business planning support from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Innovators will be challenged in two main categories breakthroughs in mobile learning, and breakthroughs in literacy learning: innovate with the Electric Company. A distinguished jury including Bing Gordon of Kleiner Perkins, John Shen of Nokia Research Lab and Alan Gershenfeld of E-Line Media will vet the applications.

Competitions like the Cooney Center Prizes for Innovation seem to be gaining increasingly favorable attention for their high leverage and efficiency. In December the OMB circulated a memorandum on the Open Government Directive stating that within 90 days it would issue “a framework for how agencies can use challenges, prizes and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government.” Thankfully there are a handful of visionary organizations that have already heeded this call.

How else might we address the STEM awareness / literacy problem? What other organizations are investing in the future of American competitiveness?

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