The school’s reputation and the world-class faculty weren’t the only reasons I chose to attend SIPA. In fact, one of the main reasons I decided on SIPA was for the student body: it’s made of top talent from around the world driven by one goal – to make a positive impact. How does SIPA ensure you get the most out of this environment while contributing to society? Through social entrepreneurial competitions like the SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant and Global Public Policy Network (GPPN) Conferences.
The Dean’s Public Policy Grant Program allows students to propose self-designed projects and ideas that use ICTs (information communication technologies) and/or data analytics to address policy challenges in the world. It grants funding to winning teams “to identify and support projects that have high potential to be implemented and produce a meaningful impact on the target problem in relatively near term”. Competing teams are formed of students from across the schools (engineering, computer science, public policy, business etc.) of the university.
Past competition winners include:
In 2014, $25,000 was awarded to PaisaBack (Swami Ganesan and Jaivardhan Singh), a mobile application addressing public health issues in India by incentivizing health-care seeking behavior in women. “Women earn digital points for seeking preventative care such as immunizations and anemia screening for themselves and their children. They can then exchange these points at participating retailers for mobile talk time and other products and services. PaisaBack will generate revenue by monetizing this exclusive group of technology empowered women and the network of retailers who accept digital points. Maternal and infant mortality rates are 2-4 times higher in India than in other developing countries. 75% of Indian women are malnourished. PaisaBack will help break this status quo.”
Another $25,000 was awarded to Terranga (Tammy Lewin and Lindsay Litowitz), a “mobile app connecting travelers seeking unique experiences to locals offering insights into their lives. With Terranga, you can see the cities you visit through a local’s eyes: join a pickup soccer game, check out street food or go salsa dancing. But we’re much more than an app. Terranga believes in the power of tourism dollars. Instead of paying for a packaged tour, travelers have more meaningful experiences and can help fund locals’ dreams. [They] envision a world made better by travel and travel made more impactful by contributing to the lives of thousands of locals.” (Both teams are pictured above.)
In 2015, RemitMas (Maelis Carraro, Lina Henao, Daniela Hernandez, Felipe Pacheco, and Steven Pallickal ) team received $30,000, as first place winners, to support their project. “The team aims to build a cash-to-savings digital money transfer service that allows Latino immigrants in the United States to send money and deposit it into savings ‘wallets’ in their home countries; deposits can be designated for specific purposes like education or health care. Using a proposed tagline of ‘Send. Save. Support,’ the planned pilot program will focus on the 1 million Colombians living in the United States.”
The second place team, Spokey (George Hampton, David Santos de Padua, and Gemma Peacocke), received $20,000. The Spokey team envisions an “online hub that will allow social, sporting, charitable, and community groups to list their vacant spaces that can be rented for special events to generate extra income. The team is developing an application with a two-way rating system—first in New York, with plans to expand to Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington by 2016.”
[Photo courtesy of SIPA | Team I-Care pictured (from left): Kasumi Sugimoto, Fang Liu, Yue Wang, Xinwei Gao]
SIPA students also compete in the GPPN Conferences, where student teams from the GPPN member schools (London School of Economics and Political Science in Paris, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, the FGV-EAESP in São Paulo, Graduate School of Public Policy [GraSPP] at the University of Tokyo, and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin) present ideas and approaches toward themed policy issues that vary each year. At this year’s conference in Paris, teams presented “solution-oriented ideas or prototypes” to address policy issues identified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A SIPA team, I-Care, won the competition this year for creating an online platform which connects senior citizens and their families to health care and social services through technology and medical data.
Even though I did not participate in these initiatives, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with these brilliant minds on class projects and problems sets and call them friends at the end of the day. I’m a firm believer in the idea that success is very much affected by the people you surround yourself with; the growth-fostering environment at SIPA is designed to provide exactly this.
[Featured photo courtesy of SIPA | Pictured (L-R): PaisaBack and Terranga]
 SIPA website https://sipa.columbia.edu/challenge-grant
 GPPN Website http://www.gppnetwork.org/conferences