Food for Thought is a speaker series that welcomes a distinguished lineup of EMPA Faculty approaching the Covid-19 crisis and social justice reform. Each week a speaker will present their recommendation paper, highlight their perspective on the crisis, and engage in a dialogue with EMPA students, alumni, and other faculty members.

We are in a pivotal moment - full of opportunities for policymakers to transform lessons from the crisis into concrete benefits for their communities. While we cannot come together physically to exchange ideas, we believe we can leverage the virtual tools at our disposal to activate stakeholders and build out practical and innovative solutions to the crisis at hand.

Guest Lecture Series

Upcoming Events


Increasing Access to Public Benefits Amidst the Pandemic: BDT’s Integrated Approach

Bridget Gibbons, Benefits Data Trust


In the United States, even before the pandemic, more than 39 million people lived in poverty, 40 million faced hunger, and nearly all felt the impact of rising healthcare costs. This doesn’t need to be the case – help is available. Millions of people struggling to pay for food, housing, and healthcare are eligible for assistance but are unaware or are deterred by the complicated processes required to enroll in public benefits. Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is a national nonprofit that helps people live healthier, more independent lives by creating smarter ways to access essential benefits and services. Each year, BDT helps thousands of people receive benefits through the use of data, technology, targeted outreach, and policy change. BDT provides enrollment assistance to individuals in six states (including New York City), and policy assistance to states nationwide. Through our integrated strategies, we have submitted over 948,000 public benefits applications resulting in more than $7 billion in benefits delivered to families and individuals.


In this conversation, BDT’s New York Engagement Manager, Bridget Gibbons (EMPA ’19), will discuss how existing government programs are critical stabilizers for households experiencing economic shock. We will cover how BDT’s model diagnoses barriers to benefits enrollment, and addresses them through its integrated strategies because now, perhaps more than ever, expanding participation in public benefits is of the utmost importance for the health, equity, and stability of our communities.


Wednesday, December 2  12:00 PM

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Election Primer Mini-Series

Kristian Denny, Adjunct Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs


Part 3: Campaign Review, Role of Congress, What’s Next

The final lecture in this mini-series will serve as a post-game analysis of the election. We will discuss the bad and good bets the candidates made, starting with the primary. We will use hard data and also dig into the "nuts and bolts" of campaigns which includes polling, media, money, messaging and targeting. Some topics will include: target selection; messaging; selection of and rationale for battlegrounds; proactive vs reactive; when and why to go negative.


Finally, we will discuss the role of Congress going forward; how and why should the filibuster be eliminated; the death of bipartisanship; and what happens next. We will discuss individual personalities and examine key players like AOC, who are perceived to have much more power than they actually do. We will also tackle the future of the parties and if there will ever be room for a third party.  


Wednesday, January 20  12:00 PM

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Past Events

Prateek Awasthi.JPG

Prateek Awasthi
Prateek Awasthi

Minority Report: The Political Economy of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan

Prateek Awasthi, Former Executive Director at Green Party of Canada


In the immediate aftermath of a nationwide lockdown imposed due to Covid-19, the Canadian government launched an unprecedented programme of spending to bolster the economy and avoid the worst consequences of economic collapse. Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan included support for individuals, businesses, organizations, including a taxable benefit of $500 a week to individuals, a wage subsidy for employers, and a rent subsidy for commercial property owners This paper examines how the dynamics of a minority parliament impacted the economic response of a centrist government, with support from a social democrat party holding the balance of power, and suggests some implications for electoral reform and proportional representation.


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The Impact of Intellectual Property Theft on American Innovation and Prosperity

John H. Austin, President at iMask Intelligence


The scale of international theft of American IP is unprecedented. The effects of this theft are twofold. The first is the tremendous loss of revenue and reward for those who made the inventions or who have purchased licenses to provide goods and services based on them. The second is that illegal theft of intellectual property is undermining both the means and the incentive for entrepreneurs to innovate, which will slow the development of new inventions.


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Milena Gomez.jpg

Milena Gomez
Milena Gomez

Food for Thought | Venezuelan Refugees in Colombia and the COVID-19 Crisis


Venezuelan Refugees in Colombia and the COVID-19 Crisis

Milena Gomez, Visiting Research Scholar at School of International and Public Affairs


The approximately five million Venezuelans, who have left their country in recent years, represent the largest exodus of migrants in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The arrival of Venezuelans to Colombia began at the beginning of this century when highly educated professionals fled the country, fearing the policies of Hugo Chavez. By 2014, many more decided to leave as the Venezuelan economy continued to collapse and the bolivar, the national currency, went into free-fall leaving a large percentage of the population without basic necessities. This second cohort, mostly low-income residents, were not fleeing a war, but were leaving a country mired in insecurity and lacking access to services, food and medicine.


By the beginning of 2020, Venezuelans continued to arrive to Colombia, overwhelming Colombia’s capacity to absorb and settle them. They joined the close to 1,800,000 compatriots, who call Colombia their home. With the arrival of Covid-19 to the region, the situation deteriorated greatly and swiftly for all, and the Venezuelan population residing in Colombia was hit particularly hard. Since March, many opted to return voluntarily to their country out of fear of the pandemic, as well as mass unemployment, lack of access to health services and forced home evictions. Confinement gave them no other choice and over 100,000 have returned to Venezuela by bus, humanitarian flights or by foot. Venezuelans today are invisible victims of the pandemic’s externalities and, regrettably, have been disproportionately displaced, further exasperating their socioeconomic distress.


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Food for Thought | Separation of Governmental System of Powers in this Millennium


Election Primer Mini-Series

Kristian Denny, Adjunct Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs


Part 2: Separation of the Governmental System of Powers in this Millennium

The talk will start with an emphasis on the forefathers and the fact that they didn't write the Constitution or any laws with a Trump-like figure in mind as President. We will talk about how and where the system was stressed by Trump and what may happen to remedy that in the future by making laws to contain someone who is amoral. Here we will discuss the role of SCOTUS. We will delve into the individual personalities and take a look at the 9 circuits. The session will close with a review of how our system differs from a Parliamentary system and why the independence of a Judiciary Branch is essential for a thriving democracy.


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Hines-Johnson, Lisa.JPG

Lisa Hines-Johnson
Lisa Hines-Johnson

Lisa Hines Johnson


EMPA Panel: Creating Food Secure Communities: A View from Leaders in the Fight Against Hunger

Lisa Hines-Johnson, former COO of the Food Bank For New York City


Lisa Hines-Johnson, former COO of the Food Bank For New York City, will facilitate an engaging and informative discussion with Dr. Melony Samuels, Executive Director and Founder of The Campaign Against Hunger and Linda Goode Bryant, Executive Director and Founder of Project EATS - leaders with significant experience in the fight against hunger in NYC. This talk will address practices and policies critical to creating food secure communities and why understanding food justice is imperative in responding to food insecurity. While the need is great, there are ways that you can get involved and make an impact. We will discuss how to make your mark during this session.


Panel will consist of:

Lisa Hines-Johnson, former Chief Operating Officer of Food Bank For New York City

Dr. Melony Samuels, Founder and Executive Director of The Campaign Against Hunger

Linda Goode Bryant, Founder and President of Project EATS


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Prof Rumela Sen Role of Bureaucracy in Successful Coronavirus Strategy The Case of Kerala


Role of Bureaucracy in Successful Coronavirus Strategy: The Case of Kerala

Rumela Sen, Lecturer in the Discipline of International and Public Affairs


What makes some governments more responsive to citizens than others? This question of government responsiveness, a key question in political economy, gains special significance in the context of heterogeneous performance of various state governments in the face of a life-threatening pandemic like Covid 19. Usually diversity and representation in governments have been advocated as key explanations for government responsiveness. However, these explanations tend to focus on elected governments, and virtually ignore the significance of bureaucratic representation. This paper examines the role of bureaucratic representation as a key factor in the successful coronavirus strategy.  It uses the Indian state of Kerala, which has been widely applauded as a ‘model’ for effective government intervention in mitigating this public health crisis, to illustrate this argument. This paper also speaks to the debate of embedded v autonomous bureaucracy in public policy making in developing countries, and highlights some of the policy lessons learned from the Kerala model. 


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Daniel Naujoks Multilateralism for Mobility


Multilateralism for Mobility: Cooperation among UN Agencies in a Post-pandemic World

Daniel Naujoks, Interim Director of International Organization and UN Studies Specialization, Lecturer of International and Public Affairs


The last decade has seen considerable growth in multilateral approaches to and partnerships among international organizations on human mobility, a term that refers to the broad spectrum of movements associated with migration and displacement. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its global and wide-reaching impacts on virtually all aspects of life, has affected these modes of cooperation and will continue to do so in the future. The talk unpacks five key dimensions of interagency cooperation, and highlights structural factors and trends for interagency cooperation on human mobility. Drawing on lessons from the immediate response to COVID-19, the talk provides a projection of how future features may impact cooperation in the times ahead


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Food for Thought | Role of Media in 2020 Election and Voting Issues in the COVID-19 Era


Election Primer Mini-Series

Kristian Denny, Adjunct Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs


Part 1: Role of Media in the 2020 Election and Voting Issues During the COVID Era

This talk focused on presidential politics in the COVID era. We discussed voting by mail, why there should be federal guidelines for voting and how that may be accomplished, and touched on the ongoing debate of popular vote vs electoral college and the challenges and benefits therein. We also got into gerrymandering, voter suppression and fraud.


The second part of this interactive lecture focused on the role of media in the Trump era. This was NOT a critique or survey of journalism, but rather how and why media is consumed and how it has changed during Trump's presidency. We also defined and discussed "tribalism" and its effects.


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Joseph Pfeifer
Joseph Pfeifer

Food for Thought | Leadership for a Pandemic


Leadership for a Pandemic

Joseph Pfeifer, Chief of Counterterrorism and Emergency Preparedness for the FDNY


Extreme events like 9/11 and the coronavirus throw us into a global state of trauma. Worldwide, we collectively experience anxiety about the future and turn to crisis leaders to lessen this fear and uncertainty. To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can apply the principles of crisis leadership learned from 9/11 and other major crises.


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Food for Thought | Communicating in Conflict & Crisis


Communicating in Conflict and Crisis

Joann Baney, Adjunct Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs


Challenging times call for exceptional leadership, and much of leadership is about communication.  We will drill down to explore some of the fundamental elements upon which exceptional leadership is built.


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Food for Thought | Panel on Paycheck Protection Program PPP Loans


EMPA Panel: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans

Robert Walsh, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs


The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans: Who Got What,  How Well Did The Loans Perform, What are the Lasting Impacts and Where Do We Go From Here?


Covid-19 has been devastating for the small business community.   Part of Congress’s $ 2 trillion Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Stimulus Package, PPP was touted as a lifeline for small businesses suffering from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.


The launch of the PPP Loans was bedeviled by problems where the Federal government released ever-shifting rules and regulations, systems crashed, banks were not prepared, and many small business waited -  many of them not having the cash flow to continue. In “Round II”, the U.S. Small Business Administration made extra efforts to help smaller businesses.


Rob Walsh, who served as the New York City Small Business Commissioner during the Bloomberg Administration, will lead a lively discussion with a financial experts who provides capital to small businesses; an owner of a long time, awarding independent small business; and two seasoned community based leaders who have been on front lines linking mom and pop shops to capital.


Did the PPP loans penetrate into our communities with the greatest needs?  What needed to happen to get resources into many fragile communities? Beyond the delays, what are some of the problems with the guidelines of this forgiveness loan?  What were some of the positive aspects of the Program? How did State and Local Government react to supplement these loans?  What needed to be done?  What needs to happen in a Round III?  What happens now when many small businesses exhaust their PPP loan? 


Panel consisted of:

Ken Giddon, Owner of Rothman’s Men’s Clothing (and PPP loan recipient)

Randy Peers, President of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce

Michael Roth, Managing Partner leading Strategy Partnerships & Products at Next Street

Lisa Sorin, President of The Bronx Chamber of Commerce


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Food for Thought | The Role of Education in Response to COVID-19


The Role of Education in the Response to COVID-19

Stanley Litow, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs


This talk will address the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a premium on innovative solutions by the government and the private sector to protect our most vulnerable Americans, ensuring that it doesn't increase income inequality. Instead, we need to identify specific actions that protect education both K-12 and higher education, ensure the stability of the social safety net, protect and grows women and minority owned businesses and commit to addressing the need for diversity and inclusion that advances social justice.


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Food for Thought | Lessons from COVID-19 to Improve Resiliency of NYC's Small Business Community


Lessons from COVID-19 to Improve the Resiliency of NYC’s Small Business Community

Brian Gurski, Social Enterprise in Community & Economic Development


COVID-19 is a disaster of unprecedented proportions for the small business community, but we know that it wasn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last form of major disruption it will face. This talk discusses the small business resource ecosystem in New York City and how it could be better aligned to improving the resiliency of the small business community. Topics will include city and state policies and programs, program funding and accountability, technical assistance and training, access to capital and small business networks.

This event is co-sponsored with the USP Program.

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Food for Thought | Welfare Policies in the U S During COVID 19


Welfare Policies in the U.S. During COVID-19

Paola Valenti, Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of International and Public Affairs;
Andrea Bubula, Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of International and Public Affairs


This talk discusses the effects of government spending in the U.S. during the Covid-19 epidemic, with a particular focus on income support programs. Topics include aggregate effects, individual outcomes, and issues in financing.

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Food for Thought | Ethics of Economic Development, High Finance, and Mortal Pandemic


At the Intersection of Economic Development, High Finance and Mortal Pandemic

Adela Gondek, Lecturer in the Discipline of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology


As the first reported raging epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic beyond China’s western border, what else did Milan, Italy, and Qom, Iran, have in common? Knowing this may lead us toward the institution of a high-level transparent form of social distancing as an ethical preventative of similar outbreaks. 

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Food for Thought | The Coronavirus and Information and Communications Technologies


The Coronavirus and Information and Communications Technologies

Zach Tumin, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs


As we struggle to emerge from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, we see vast changes all around, many the result of developments in information and communications technologies. In this paper and session, titled “The Coronavirus and Information and Communications Technologies: Operating Impacts, Policy Implications, and Managers’ Imperatives,” we explore the myths, facts and mysteries still of how information and communications technologies have transformed our world over the past several months, and what this transformation might mean for our futures.

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Food for Thought | Building Trust Between Police and the Communities They Serve

Building Trust Between Police and the Communities They Serve

A conversation with New York Attorney General Letitia James and State's Attorney for Baltimore City Marilyn Mosby, moderated by Basil Smikle

As part of the Food for Thought Lecture Series, this panel of experts will discuss opportunities for social justice reform, changes in governance and policing and the Black Lives Matter movement. Political Commentator and SIPA Lecturer, Basil Smikle, will be moderating a conversation focused on building trust between police and the communities they serve with Letitia James, Attorney General for the State of New York and Marilyn Mosby, State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, Maryland. Please join us in participating in this important dialogue.

Letitia James
Attorney General of New York State

Marilyn Mosby
State's attorney for Baltimore City, Maryland


Food for Thought | Restarting Global Trade after COVID


Restarting Global Trade After COVID-19

Francisco Rivera-Batiz, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs


The Covid-19 pandemic is having devastating effects on the world economy and some argue that it marks the end of globalization. This presentation discusses the current and likely future consequences of the pandemic in both high-income and developing countries and its potential short-term and long-run effects on global trade and finance, including the urgent policy implications.

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Food for Thought | The Role of Arts Education Programs in Post COVID-19 U.S.


Role of the Arts in post COVID-19 U.S.

Richard Greenwald, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs


This short paper introduces the value of arts education and its evidence-based role in a well-rounded education for a child. As well, it provides an overview of the vulnerability of these programs during the COVID-19 crisis and how arts and cultural institutions are responding. It also highlights the Soulsville Foundation in Memphis as a case study.  Finally, it address what advocates and public leaders can do to capitalize on the lessons being learned in arts education during this pandemic.

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Food for Thought | The Politics of Justice Reform with Professor Basil Smile


The Politics of Justice Reform: Thoughts on recent proposals and the politics of adoption and implementation

Basil Smikle, Lecturer of International and Public Affairs


Events surrounding the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked three weeks of protests and once again, police reform is front and center in American politics.  Democrats in the House of Representatives have proposed a slate of reforms, which mirror others already being discussed or advanced in state legislatures around the country.  We’ll take a look at legislation put forth in the House and here in New York and discuss their strengths, weaknesses and challenges for implementation.

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Food for Thought | The Sustainability of Sustainability with Professor Steve Cohen


Impact of COVID-19 on Current Sustainability Initiatives

Steve Cohen, Professor in the Practice of Public Affairs


In the face of COVID-19 challenges, many corporations have placed sustainability efforts on the backburner. In this talk, Dr. Steve Cohen will discuss the sustainability of sustainability in times of financial duress.

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Food for Thought | The Four Day Week with Professor William Eimicke


The Four Day Work Week

William B. Eimicke, Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs


The eruption of COVID-19 has completely altered the way that many people work, disrupting staff hours, location and commutes. Professor William Eimicke’s talk will discuss how this time presents an opportunity to revisit what the average work-week looks like.


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Contact Info

420 W 118th St Room 400 | New York, NY 10027 empa@columbia.edu

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The Picker Center for Executive Education