SIPA hosted the annual conference of the Global Public Policy Network (GPPN) in late February, welcoming peers from around the world for a two-day program devoted to “Innovative Solutions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Administrators and students in attendance represented SIPA and the network’s six other member schools: the Sciences Po School of Public Policy (Paris), the LSE Institute of Public Affairs (London), the Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP) at the University of Tokyo, the Hertie School of Governance (Berlin), the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (Singapore), and the Fundação Getúlio Vargas School of Business Administration (São Paulo).
The conference began with a welcome from Dean Merit E. Janow and Professor Glenn Denning, who is GPPN’s scientific advisor. Students later heard keynote addresses from Peru’s Glauco Seoane, who serves on the second committee for the Reform of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, and SIPA’s own Jeffrey Sachs, a University Professor at Columbia who directs the Center for Sustainable Development at the Earth Institute.
As in previous years, the conference featured a competition among participating students to identify creative applied solutions to a pressing policy challenge. In particular, the 2018 competition asked student teams to apply ICT, policy innovation, and/or data analytics to some issue related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 36 participating teams responded with enthusiasm, proposing innovative solutions to a variety of challenges. Some targeted their programs at the country level—in Argentina, India, Japan, and elsewhere—or in cities like New York and Paris. Others pursued more general applications that could achieve success in varied locations.
On the agricultural front, for example, one team sought to monitor irrigation to achieve more efficient use of water in general farming, while another specifically called for a pilot program to shift from the water-intensive cultivation of cotton to less thirsty hemp.
Proposed health and wellness initiatives called for improved safety measures to prevent motorcyclist deaths, tools to detect and address postpartum depression, and better education of teens around family planning issues.
All told, the dizzying range of ideas included proposals to reduce food waste, promote renewable energy, more efficiently match aid to disaster victims, and much more.
This year’s winners were Shanna Crumley MIA ’18 and Gemma Torras Vives MPA ’18, who comprised one of the several teams that addressed refugee-related issues. Their proposal called for “a digital backpack for refugees” that would preserve educational records and other formal and informal credentials, making it easier to attend school or pursue work.
“Refugees don’t have a good way to carry their learning—their achievements—with them,” said Crumley. “That’s why we came up with the idea to use credentials that are verifiable and transferable.”
Competition judges included administrators from GPPN schools along with three guests—Patricia Georgiou, head of partnerships and business development for Jigsaw, the technology incumbator created by Google; Ronaldo Lemos, director of the Institute for Technology and Society of Rio De Janeiro; and Andrew Rasiej, founder and CEO of Civic Hall and chair of the New York Tech Alliance.
Associate Dean Cory Way helped facilitate the rounds of student presentations, while Denning and assistant professor Anja Tolonen of Barnard provided feedback as the competition advanced.
— Neha Sharma MPA ’18