Archive for alumni

Congratulations to the winners of 2016 Public Policy Challenge Grant

SIPA seeks proposals from students for innovative projects that use digital technology and data to improve the global urban environment.

Affordable and clean energy access—opportunities for refugees to provide language services—reliable access to the Internet—these are the goals of the winners of this year’s Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant competition, announced by SIPA at the 2016 #StartupColumbia Festival on April 29.

The annual competition invites students to propose innovative projects and prototypes that use technology and/or data to solve important urban problems. The winning teams were allocated a total of $65,000 in prize money to support the implementation of their projects.

The first-place team, Azimuth Solar, aims to make clean energy affordable for low income off-grid consumers in West Africa. Its members are Nthabiseng Mosia MIA ’16, Eric Silverman MIA ’16, and Alexandre Tourre MPA ’16.

The second-place team, NaTakallam, is developing an online platform that pairs students learning Arabic with displaced Syrians who provide Arabic practice opportunities. Members are Aline Sara MIA ’14, Reza Rahnema MIA ’14, Niko Efstathiou MIA ’17, Aimee Wenyue Chen MIA ’16, and Sherif Kamal MPA ’15.

The third-place team, CIGONN, aims to develop an Internet device sharing system for students in developing countries. Members are Olivier Bennaim MPA ’16 and Columbia Engineering student Alexandre Zeitoun.

The current sequence—the third since the program was inaugurated in Spring 2014—began in September 2015, when 10 student teams were chosen as semifinalists from more than 30 applications. While participating groups must include at least one SIPA student, they are encouraged to blend students from different disciplines and schools at Columbia University.

Want to participate in your own Public Policy Challenge Grant? Confirm your seat in the Master of International Affairs program today!

Each semi-finalist team received seed funding and a wealth of programmatic support to aid in the development of their ideas. They met with a panel of industry advisors, participated in a series of boot camp-style seminars on topics such as financial planning, legal issues, and design thinking.

After three months of refining their project models and working with potential partners, funders, and users, semifinalist teams presented to competition judges in February 2016. Five finalist teams, selected by a committee of Columbia University faculty and technology entrepreneurs chaired by Dean Merit E. Janow, then received additional support funding and two more months to continue to develop their project or prototype.

The five finalists—which included Concourse Markets and Nansen in addition to the three winners—presented the final version of their ideas on April 28.

— Lindsay Fuller MPA ’16

Photos, clockwise from left: Azimuth Solar (from left, Tourre, Mosia, Silverman); NaTakallam (from left, Efstathiou, Sara, Kamal, Chen); Bennaim and Zeitoun of CIGONN flank Dean Janow. 


Alumni share how SIPA became a launchpad for their careers

I’m often asked about where SIPA’s alumni land post graduation. The answer is wherever they want! But don’t take my word for it. Here are four videos from SIPA graduates from the classes of 2013 and 2014. The videos are all about two minutes long, so take an 8-minute break to hear what our Seeples have to say about how they’re making an impact across the globe, and how SIPA helped them get there.

Alumni Perspective: Jitka Grundmanova ’13 – “Studying at SIPA and living in NY, made me realize that the best way for me to make impact is working in the private sector.”

Alumni Perspective: Pushkar Sharma MIA ’13 – “I’ve wanted to work at the UN since I was twelve years old.”

Alumni Perspective: Itay Gefen MIA ’14 – “Two years ago, I never would have thought I would work in the start-up scene in New York”

Alumni Perspective: Adam Scher MPA ’13 – “As a leader you’re not just trying to develop more followers, you’re trying to empower the people around you.”

Unpacking the Development Practioner’s Lab within the MPA-DP program

One of the key reasons why I chose the MPA-Development Practice program at SIPA was its focus on building hard skills through workshops and innovative teaching methods that I would use later on in my professional career. Read More →

We say goodbye to SIPA alumna Anita Datar

It is with unbelievable sadness to share with all of you that SIPA lost a wonderful family member this week. Anita Datar, MPA-MPH 2003, died during the terrorist attack in Bamako, Mali on Friday. Read More →

Post-graduation reflections from Boris Maguire, an MPA-DP alum in Tech4Dev

Part of what makes the MPA in Development Practice program so unique is the network you can build within your cohort and with the alumni. We always have a lot of #MDPLove for one another, and today alum Boris Maguire, MPA-DP ’15, shares with us his personal affection for the program and an update on his career post MPA-DP. 

SIPA Admissions Blog! Long time, first time. I write this from my balcony in Nairobi, Kenya, where I’m preparing to run part of the Nairobi marathon tomorrow. As an American running a Kenyan race, I’ve set my goal to “not last,” and I’m mostly just excited to see the Nairobi streets emptied of their usually horrific traffic. My wife and I moved here at the end of June, just a month after I received my MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP) from SIPA, so we’re still adjusting. Back in Spring 2013 however, we were both in DC, nervously preparing to move to New York so I could start the MPA-DP program.

I had chosen the DP program for its emphasis on practical skills and field experience, as well as for its balanced structure; combining a rigid focus on integrated approaches to development with the flexibility to design my own sector or skill-based track. I got exactly what I wanted. Coming to SIPA after five years administering non-profit media development projects from a DC office, I was eager to make some changes to advance my career and quality of life. I wanted to get back overseas, to move into a management role with a for-profit company, and to move away from television and radio projects. I remained fascinated by the use of communication tools to drive private sector development, but I had become increasingly interested in the massive enabling power of mobile and web-based communications technology. The MPA-DP program seemed like the best way to obtain the skills, knowledge and experience that would position me to design and oversee development projects that leveraged that power. I was right. My MPA-DP summer placement took me to Cambodia where I was an ICT Innovations Fellow for DAI. Working for a development consulting firm implementing a USAID project increased my exposure as to how technology solutions can be used for development challenges.

Two years later, I am a Project Manager for Echo Mobile, a Kenyan technology firm that builds and consults on the use of mobile tools (SMS, voice, Android and sensors). We help businesses, NGOs and international organizations to communicate with hard-to-reach markets and populations, enabling them to make better, data-driven decisions. I can imagine no better preparation for this job than my two years in the MPA-DP program.

[Photo courtesy of Boris Maguire]
[Photo courtesy of Boris Maguire]

I currently direct all of our consulting work, managing projects for clients that include the Kenyan Ministry of Education, a Rwandan integrated coffee company, The University of California, and multiple United Nations agencies. “Multi-sector” is right. For one UN client, I’m working with a dozen inclusive businesses all around the world to help them design impact measurement frameworks and use mobile data collection technology to align their business with the SDGs. With each of these companies, I am directly applying skills learned from the MPA-DP program: I am creating logical frameworks, theory of change maps, implementation plans and mobile survey forms, each of which was the focus of a different DP Lab during my first year. When new business opportunities arise for Echo Mobile and I need to write proposals, negotiate new contracts, or prepare project management plans and budgets, I apply skills and use resources directly from my Management for Development Professionals class, a second-year MPA-DP core course.

Yet, the most rewarding reminders of my time in the MPA-DP program come when I’m meeting with a client about how mobile technology can improve their work, or when I’m in the field training their staff on Echo’s technology. While I still get a rush from these experiences, they feel familiar now in a way they could not have two years ago. While at SIPA, the MPA-DP program enabled and empowered me to take on three distinct technology-for-development consulting projects, working for real clients in Mexico, Timor-Leste, and Cambodia on technology projects ranging across agribusiness, health and infrastructure. Each of those opportunities helped me learn the hard and soft skills required to assess whether certain types of technology could be integrated into a development project, business, or government process to enable social impact. They made me better at working with diverse stakeholders, ranging from bureaucrats to farmers, programmers, municipal workers, shopkeepers and whatever others were involved in making the right technology sustainable for the right context.

And best of all, my summer placement in Cambodia gave me the opportunity to travel to Myanmar, where I found the perfect stone to make a ring and propose to my then girlfriend, now wife. So, in just two short years, I landed my dream job AND my dream girl. At the risk of overstating things, I could not have done either without the MPA-DP program, and I’m forever grateful. #MDPLove

Thank you, for sharing your story Boris. As always, for more information on Summer Field Placements, Development Practice Lab, or alumni jobs please feel free to contact me

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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