Archive for events

And now, we wait!

(Though with the SIPA application deadlines passed, it’s more like you wait — and we thank you for your patience.)

For those applying to the Fall 2019 term for the MIA and MPA programs, the February 5th deadline has passed. What happens on our end: The joy of reading applications, and putting together events for the spring! You can look forward to signing up for SIPA class visits, events for admitted students to meet the global SIPA community, and opportunities to chat with SIPA students and alumni about their experiences one-on-one. For those of you looking to apply in the future, keep an eye out! It’s good to spread out your research instead of cramming all the events into one.

In the meantime, the Spring 2019 semester is in full swing and we’ll continue updating you on the blog on events happening at Columbia University SIPA, scholarship opportunities, and more. If you want us to address something on the blog that you haven’t seen yet, please shoot us an email. We’ll have takes from SIPA students throughout the next few weeks about looking towards life after SIPA, how to decipher the numerous SIPA course offerings, and advice on learning languages for your future career.

For now, here’s a taste of what’s happening on the SIPA campus: Discussing entrepreneurship with a social missions with Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal.

One billion people in the world don’t have access to eyeglasses.

That’s the statistic that led Neil Blumenthal to co-found Warby Parker, the e-commerce eyeglasses retailer now valued at $1.2 billion.

Blumenthal, who today is the company’s CEO, visited SIPA on January 28 to explain “How We Turned $120,000 Into a Billion-Dollar Eyeglass Brand.” The lecture was sponsored by SIPA’s Management specialization; specialization director Sarah Holloway introduced Blumenthal, and Inés Dionis MPA ’19 mediated a Q&A session following his remarks.

After graduating from Tufts, where he studied conflict resolution, Blumenthal — a native of New York City — was connected to a doctor running a program that trained low-income women to give vision screenings and sell eyeglasses.

The next thing he knew, Blumenthal said, he was working with a foundation doing the same work in El Salvador, where he first learned that fashion matters.

“No matter where you live, you care about your appearance,” he said.

The idea to turn this nonprofit idea into a private company came while Blumenthal was enrolled in an MBA program at Penn’s Wharton School. His friend (and eventual co-founder) Dave Gilboa was complaining about losing a $700 pair of glasses on a plane. As a banker, before he attended business school, Gilboa could easily afford a new pair; as an ex-banker and current student, his circumstances were a little different.

As Blumenthal recounted, e-commerce was just beginning to take off at that time, but no one had tried selling glasses online yet. And so the idea cutting out the middleman — the distributor — in order to sell less expensive glasses was born.

The idea was tested for a year at Wharton, where the founders flooded their fellow students with focus groups.

“The ecosystem [at graduate school] is great for building a business,” said Blumenthal. “Entrepreneurship is about testing in a proactive way.”

Testing and experimentation became a core value of the company that would become Warby Parker, Blumenthal said.

In their first rounds of testing, the founders developed what became the central tenets of Warby Parker’s business model. They quickly discovered that prospective customers wanted to interact with the product before buying. This led to the practice for which Warby Parker became known — giving customers the chance to try on five pairs of glasses at home.

A mentor at Wharton suggested that customers would perceive their planned price of $45 as low-quality and cheap. After determining that people were equally willing to spend $100 for a pair of glasses, the team ultimately landed on $95.

But the founders also never forgot their nonprofit roots. From the beginning, for every pair of glasses Warby Parker sold, the company donated to those in need.

Almost immediately, Warby Parker’s social mission got attention. GQ and Vogue magazines came knocking, each seeking to do a piece on the internet e-tailer with a cause.

Blumenthal, Gilboa, and two other co-founders launched Warby Parker in 2010 amid a flurry of great press. Within 48 hours, they had run out of inventory of the try-on sets. They hit their first-year sales goal easily.

From there, Warby Parker only grew. The company expanded quickly to brick-and-mortar stores, opening up their first showroom in Blumenthal’s Philadelphia apartment, using his wife’s mirror. After discovering a shortage of optometrists, Warby Parker started offering screening done entirely on personal screens, phones, and computers.

By 2018, Warby Parker was valued at $1.2 billion.

To Blumenthal, the company’s social mission and profit goals have always been intrinsically linked. It was obvious, however, that to successfully scale both, they couldn’t do everything.

Instead of managing the a nonprofit and private company at the same time, Warby Parker started partnering with outside nonprofits, like VisionSpring, to provide funding. This took the fundraising burden off of the nonprofit partners and allows them to devote more time to the cause. At home in New York, where the company is headquartered, they have partnered with the office of the mayor to provide screenings and glasses to all New York City kindergarteners.

Blumenthal’s message to entrepreneurial SIPA students is to know their brand and customer base — to “test, test, test” and be driven by a clear purpose and mission.

“We believed in the power of brands to influence culture and society. Brands can stand for something much more than the individual product.”

— Claire Teitelman MPA ’19

On this date: November 1

Columbia University’s School of International Affairs (SIPA) was founded in 1946.  But did you know since that year on November 1, this happened:

1947 UN trusteeship for Nauru granted to Australia, NZ & UK
1948 Mao’s Red army conquerors Mukden, Manchuria
1954 India takes over administration of 4 French Indian settlements
1954 US Senate admonishes Joseph McCarthy because of his slander campaigns
1954 The Front de Libération Nationale fires the first shots of the Algerian War of Independence against France
1956 Nobel for physics awarded to Shockley, Brattain & Bardeen
1960 Benelux treaty goes into effect
1960 John F. Kennedy announces Peace Corps idea while camping
1962 Greece enters European Common Market
1969 The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album goes #1 in US & stays #1 for 11 weeks
1974 UN affirms independence of Cyprus
1977 US President Jimmy Carter raises minimum wages of $2.30 to $3.35
1998 The European Court of Human Rights is instituted
2012 Google’s Gmail becomes the world’s most popular email service
2014 SIPA MIA/MPA (inaugural) EARLY ACTION Deadline

Don’t miss it.  Apply Now.


What’s going on at SIPA? Monday, September 8 – Friday, September 12

Classes have begun and we already have a set of events planned at SIPA next week. You can find a full list of events on our website. But here’s a short list of what you could find yourself doing next week:


The Being Young Forum: From Silicon Valley to Zhongguancun: Who Will Be More Innovative, Young People in the U.S. or China? Dean Merit E. Janow of the School of International and Public Affairs and President Debora Spar of Barnard College invite you to participate in a special televised discussion on campus.

Architecture and Diplomacy: Transatlantic Approaches: The presentations and panels of professionals in architecture, history, and government explore the “architecture of diplomacy” across the Atlantic. A reception and an exhibition of Columbia architecture students’ works will follow the event.


Origins of Environmental Law Lecture Series: The Structure and Role of Congress in Environmental Policy

This lecture by Leon G. Billings and Thomas C. Jorling will provide a comprehensive overview of the factors that influence environmental policy and the political climate, such as the structure and personalities of the members and staff of the Senate subcommittee, and the role of lobbyists, administration staff, and the media. It will look specifically at how the media portrayed major environmental legislation and how commentary from figures such as Rachael Carson and Barry Commoner may have influenced Congress in the 1960s and 1970s.

The New Brazil: Achievements and Challenges: A talk about Brazil’s need for more savings and investment, better education, and a reduction in the “Brazil cost” of doing business. This talk is part of the course Political, Social, and Economic Development of Brazil (Instructor Sidney Nakahodo).


Perspectives on Public Integrity: Ben Olken Maximizing Illicit Profits: Understanding How Corrupt Officials Choose How Much to Charge for Bribes: Professor Benjamin Olken of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab will discuss the quantitative methods employed by leading economists to tackle corruption worldwide.


ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and the U.S.: Saltzman Institute members and frequent media contributors Austin Long and Stuart Gottlieb will discuss the growing regional and global threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

A Talk by Ambassador Ian Kelly: A talk by Ambassador Ian Kelly about his experiences dealing with Russia during his foreign service career; he’ll also discuss opportunities at the State Department.

Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien: A discussion about the work of Taiwan’s celebrated filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien in conjunction with the Museum of the Moving Image’s retrospective “Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien.”


Before you make plans for Monday

Instead of our standard display of  our weekly event schedule, today we’ll leave you with a taster for Monday, April 14.  One day at SIPA will enrich your life but if you are looking for more, you can check out our event calendar.

The Art of Life in Ürümchi: Development Aesthetics and the City in Chinese Central Asia

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm, International Affairs Building, Room 1219

A discussion with Darren Byler, University of Washington

Sponsor: Harriman Institute, OASIES


Dean’s Seminar: Governance of the Internet

12:00 pm to 1:15 pm, International Affairs Building, Room 1501

Join Merit E. Janow, Dean, School of International and Public Affairs; Professor, Practice of International Economic Law and International Affairs and an all-star panel of technology experts to discuss regulation and supervision of the internet. Panelists include Gordon Goldstein, Managing Director, Head of External Affairs, Silver Lake Group; Ambassador David Gross, Partner, Wiley Rein, LLP; Eli Noam, Professor of Economics and Finance and Garrett Professor of Public Policy and Business Responsibility at the Columbia Business School; Laura DeNardis, Professor and Associate Dean in the School of Communication at American University; Director of Research for the Global Commission on Internet Governance. Watch live at

Sponsor: School of International and Public Affairs.


Financial Innovation in International Development for Africa

1:00 pm to 2:00 pm, International Affairs Building, Room 407

A talk by Benoît Chervalier, African Development Bank Group

Sponsor:  International Finance and Economic Policy Concentration, Alliance Program, Economic and Political Development Concentration


SAI: Mary Keatinge Das Lecture with Muzzafar Alam (Chicago)

4:00 pm to 5:30 pm, Knox Hall, Room 208

A talk by Muzzafar Alam, University of Chicago

Sponsor: South Asia Institute

Varieties of Backyard Management: EU Integration and the Evolution of Economic State Capacities in the Southern and Eastern Peripheries of Europe

4:00 pm to 5:00 pm, International Affairs Building, Room 1201

A talk by Laszlo Bruszt, European University Institute

Sponsor: Harriman Institute, Blinken European Institute


Strive to Thrive: Redefining Success in the Modern World

6:00 pm to 7:15 pm, Uris Hall, Room 301

A lecture and book signing with Arianna Huffington.  Registration required.

Sponsor: Columbia Business School’s Chazen Institute of International Business


How the “Putin Project” is Affecting LGBTI Human Rights in Russia’s Near Abroad — Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova

6:15 pm to 8:00 pm, International Affairs Building, Room 1219

A panel discussion on LGBTI Human Rights with Olena Shevchenko, Anna Kirey, Matthew Schaaf.

Sponsor: Harriman Institute, Freedom House

Come visit us at SIPA.  We’re sure you will be hard-pressed to find nothing of interest.

For details on future SIPA EVENTS, go to:

Kick Start the Semester

There is something going on all the time at SIPA, this week is no different (classes begin today).



The Sustainability Essentials Training Program (SET) Online Information Session (DETAILS)

12:30 pm to 1:15 pm Online

Sponsor: The Earth Institute



The Relationship Between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the African Union: What Went Wrong?

A panel discussion with Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae, Permanent Representative of Botswana; Ambassador Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya; and Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein, former President of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC.  (DETAILS)

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm in the International Affairs Building, Room 1501

Sponsor: UN Studies Program



Establishing Effective Labor Oversight in Honduras

Holly Hammonds, Co-Founder of GlobalWorks Foundation and Member of Honduras Labor Framework Oversight Committee, and Jeff Hermanson, Director of Global Strategies, Workers United and Member of Honduras Labor Framework Oversight Committee, will discuss their labor standards project in Honduras.  (DETAILS)

12:45 pm to 1:50 pm in the International Affairs Building, Room 802

Sponsor: Economic and Political Development Concentration



Reception for SIPA Dean Janow in London

SIPA Dean Merit E. Janow cordially invites you to a reception for SIPA alumni and other invited guests in London. Join us to welcome the new dean and hear what the future holds for SIPA.  (DETAILS)

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at the Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych WC2B 4DD, United Kingdom

Sponsor: Office of Alumni Affairs



CGEG: Challenges to Democracy and Rule of Law in Central Europe – A Lecture by Gordon Bajnai, Former Prime Minister of Hungary

Lecture by Gordon Bajnai, Former Prime Minister of Hungary and Leader of Together 2014 Electoral Alliance; with Victoria de Grazia, Blinken European Institute, Columbia University; Jan Svejnar, Center on Global Economic Governance, Columbia University; and Alan H. Timberlake, East Central European Center, Columbia University. Registration required.   (DETAILS)

3:30 pm to 5:30 pm in the International Affairs Building, Room 1512

Sponsor: Center on Global Economic Governance



Women, Soft Power, and the New Diplomacy: From the Cold War to Hillary Clinton

As political leaders increasingly rely on dialogue and normative power versus sanctions and warfare in inter-state relations, women have risen to the forefront of international affairs. A panel of diplomats, military officers, and historians will investigate the accelerating use of soft-power solutions in diplomacy and female leaders’ role in the trend.  (DETAILS)

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm in the International Affairs Building, Room 1501

Sponsor: European Institute



BP Global Energy Outlook 2035

A presentation by Mark Finley, General Manager, Global Energy Markets and U.S. Economics, BP. (DETAILS)

6:00 pm to 7:30 pm at Faculty House, 4th Floor Skyline Room

Sponsor: Center on Global Energy Policy



Nuclear Weapons Effects, Proliferation and Policy

An event with Col. Robert Spalding, United States Air Force, on the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise to include ICBMs and Bombers, as well as briefly discussing submarines.  (DETAILS)

12:15 pm to 2:00 pm in the International Affairs Building, Room 1302

Sponsor: Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies



Turkey and the EU: The Future of a Complicated Relationship

Meltem Müftüler-Baç is Professor of International Relations and Jean Monnet chair at Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey and an Affiliate Professor at the University of Stockholm from 2013 to 2016. (DETAILS)

4:00 pm to 6:00 pm in the International Affairs Building, Room 1512

Sponsor: European Institute



Nuclear After Fukushima: Policies, Practices, and Problems

A public lecture by Lady Barbara Judge CBE, Former Chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and currently Deputy Chairman of TEPCO’s Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee and head of its task force on nuclear safety.  (DETAILS)

5:30 pm to 6:45 pm at Faculty House, 4th Floor Skyline Room

Sponsor: Center on Global Energy Policy



Russian Law and Judicial Reform: Think Again

Kimberly Marten will chair a panel discussion with Timothy Frye, Kathryn Hendley, William Partlett, and Maria Popova on Russian law and judicial reform.  (DETAILS)

6:00 pm to 7:00 pm in the International Affairs Building, Room 1501

Sponsor: Harriman Institute


"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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