Student Spotlight

SIPA Students Win GPPN Policy Competition

Posted Mar 07 2022
GPPN Winning Team - Spring 2022

A team of three SIPA students won top honors last weekend at a competition among representatives from the seven member schools of the Global Public Policy Network (GPPN). The winning project, known as Sourceable, would make it easier to document and verify human-rights violations that might otherwise be ignored, suppressed, or challenged.

Students Lena Arkawi MIA ’22, Namir Ahmad MPA-ESP ’22, and Silvana Zapata-Ramirez MIA ’23 are building their online subscription-based platform and mobile application for journalists, human-rights activists, legal advocates, and others.

Arkawi told SIPA News about her experience working with citizen journalists and activists in Syria, who would document atrocities to help inform the media. But photos from crisis zones are sometimes misrepresented or altered, she observed, and it erodes journalists’ credibility if they use content that is later shown to be false.

“Our research shows that the the biggest thing we can do for journalists is help protect their reputation,” she said.

To address this, Sourceable provides a way to verify documentation like photos, videos, texts, and audio recordings —helping the service’s customers to validate, share, and archive human-rights-related content in real time. Sourceable plans to launch a pilot project in northern Syria in coming weeks, possibly by the end of March, and is exploring opportunities to test the platform in Ukraine as well.

The GPPN competition, part of the organization’s annual conference, was hosted by Berlin’s Hertie School and conducted online March 5 and 6. It drew more than 150 students and faculty from SIPA, Hertie, and their GPPN peers in London, Paris, São Paulo, Singapore, and Tokyo, along with guests from policy schools in Beijing and Toronto. 

“One of the most rewarding elements of the conference is that one leaves filled with ideas and optimism about the wealth of possibilities that still exist in public policy,” said Mark Hallerberg, acting president of the host Hertie School. “The ideas presented in the conference have the potential to go much further, and we have all witnessed what can be achieved through teamwork and partnerships.”

All told, 28 student teams — including five from SIPA, comprising 20 students — competed to develop proposals that addressed policy challenges of their own choosing. While some previous GPPN competitions have focused on specific themes, the 2022 competition gave students discretion to address public policy in any international, national, or regional context.

Following two rounds of competition, SIPA’s Sourceable team bested 27 others to win the best project award named for Henrik Enderlin, the Hertie School’s late president. The competition also recognized two runners up — one of which also received the audience award — and honored a third team for best presentation. The honorees and other finalists were chosen by leaders of member schools (including SIPA’s interim dean, Thomas Christensen) and other administrators.

“I salute the competitors who represented SIPA and their counterparts from around the globe,” Christensen said. “It’s gratifying to see a team of our students develop a prize-winning proposal in the face of such impressive competition, and I think the Sourceable project is especially noteworthy.”

All the SIPA participants convened in Morningside Heights March 5 for a networking and social event with Christensen and several of SIPA’s concentration and specialization directors.

As for Sourceable, the team is also competing in the current Dean’s Public Policy Challenge — joined by teammates from Columbia Engineering and and Columbia's MA program in human rights studies — and its project is progressing quickly. 

“We incorporated in December,” Arkawi said. “We’re so grateful to SIPA for helping to shape things up and get it to where we are now.” 

Additional coverage: Hertie School hosts Global Public Policy Network Conference 2022 online