Archive for human rights

MTV picks up SIPA-student-designed campaign to raise public awareness to maternal mortality

We’re excited to share this story about the impact of SIPA students’ work (L-R: Justine LaVoye MPA-DP ’19, Jenise Ogle MPA ’19, and Maria José Diaz MPA ’19). For reference, check out Stephen Friedman’s course “Art of Creating Social Impact Campaign.”

“It gave me goosebumps.”

That was adjunct professor Stephen Friedman’s visceral reaction to a pitch by three MPA students in his course on the Art of Creating Social Impact Campaigns.

The students’ idea—to raise awareness of the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality in the U.S.—was a “punch in the gut” Friedman was not expecting.

Over a 25-year career in media and consulting that included a stint as president of MTV, Friedman has repeatedly launched innovative, socially impactful campaigns, that helped bring awareness to many critical issues, including the genocide in Darfur.

The course, which he taught for the first time at SIPA in the fall of 2018, seeks to apply the principles of storytelling to, as the public policy academic Marshall Ganz has said, translate “values into action.”

“The most complicated part of the class is ‘How do you translate a complicated social issue into something that gets past your analytic framework and hits you in the gut?’” Friedman said. “Because you have a lot of students at SIPA who are trying to do great things in the world, and they come at it with an analytical rigor, an important rigor, but the most successful campaigns must also appeal to your emotions and values in order to change behavior.”

That fall day in class, Friedman heard a pitch from Justine LaVoye MPA-DP ’19, Jenise Ogle MPA ’19, and Maria José Diaz MPA ’19 that creatively used narrative technique to address what Harvard Public Health magazine recently called “a human rights crisis.”

According to a 2017 UNICEF report, “the global maternal mortality ratio declined by 44 per cent” from 1990 to 2015. However, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that pregnancy-related deaths in the United States “increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 18.0 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014,” a rate higher than any other country in the industrialized worldA 2018 report from nine U.S. states revealed that were 60 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths were preventable.

The disparity between white and black mothers is even more staggering, according to the CDC: 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women compared to 40 deaths per 100,000 live births for black women. A recent article in Harvard Public Health noted that for African American mothers, the “odds of surviving childbirth are comparable to those of women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, where significant proportions of the population live in poverty.”

“We have black women dying all the time from this and the community doesn’t really know why they are at risk,” Ogle said. “For someone like myself, who is African American, I didn’t know this, and I think the reason to focus on the social aspect of this issue is because there is a lack of awareness.”

Despite the dire statistics, the health of African American mothers has been under-reported, only recently gaining some media attention because Serena Williams’s story of a near-fatal birth experience and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to offer hospitals incentives to lower African American maternal mortality rates.

The reasons for this crisis are wide-ranging and, according to Ogle, stem from years of systemic racism and bias. A recent study done in Texas found that 8 out of 10 pregnancy related deaths in that state could have been prevented “one or more reasonable changes to the circumstances of the patient, provider, facility, systems or community factors.”

The students—all of whom had career experience in public health- and gender-related policy roles—said they were astounded by the statistics.

“Even at SIPA, where we are studying policy, this is still an issue that many people don’t know about at all,” LaVoye said.

The students researched other awareness campaigns focusing on the issue of maternal mortality, many of which targeted the medical community. They decided to aim their messaging at mothers and their support networks, emphasizing warning signs for the common causes of pregnancy-related deaths—like hemorrhaging, infections, and clots—and educating about self-care once new mothers leave the hospital.

“We saw in our initial research that most of the focus was on generating awareness among the medical community,” Diaz said. “It was interesting to see there was a gap when it came to the social aspect — pregnant women and people supporting them.”

The group’s creative proposal referenced recent pop-culture touchstones that blend cinematic storytelling with social activism—including Childish Gambino’s “This is America” and Beyonce’s “Lemonade”—along with powerful PSAs like “Sandy Hook Promise.”

Friedman was blown away by the approach, which employed a double narrative and a surprise ending. “The creative storytelling was elevated and palpable,” he said.

“We want to emphasize that even during very joyous moments, like having a baby, having a gender reveal, having a baby shower, that you also have to be wary and think about the warning signs as well. We want pregnant women to be there when their baby is born,” Ogle said.

The creative concept hooks the viewer by establishing a joyful tone as an expecting couple plans for the birth of their child. As the narrative continues, it becomes more somber, implying that the child is danger—only to reveal that it is the mother who has actually died during childbirth. After flashing back through a sequence of actionable opportunities to mitigate risks for pregnant mothers, the video concludes happily after all, with the mother alive and well and holding her new baby.

On the last day of the class, Friedman was talking to his successor at MTV, Chris McCarthy. He told him about the emotional student pitch he couldn’t shake.

He said, ‘You never get goosebumps,” Friedman remembers. Friedman initially did not think the campaign would be right for MTV, but he had piqued McCarthy’s interest. With television properties like Teen Mom and Dear Mama on VH1, McCarthy felt the demographics were perfect for a campaign focused on maternal health.

“When Stephen shared the creative pitch from the SIPA students, I knew it was something that would resonate with our audience because the topic intersects with so many of the issues in which our audience is engaged—family, healthcare, and the life stage of young parenthood,” McCarthy, who is president of the MTV, VH1, CMT, and Logo networks, said. “Stephen is a mentor and a pioneer in the field of social impact and with his guidance and the students creative campaign, I felt we had a powerful way to address this important issue facing our audience.”

As the project progressed, strategic partnerships were secured with Every Mother Counts, an organization founded by model and activist Christy Turlington Burns, and Black Mamas Matter, a collaboration between the Center for Reproductive Rights and Black Lives Matter.

Then, Lena Waithe—the actress and screenwriter who recently made history as the first African American woman to win a comedy-writing Emmy—signed on to produce and narrate the PSA.

The students have been on board as consultants to the project and hope to continue after the video launches during the lead up to Mother’s Day. The campaign will also feature an online engagement platform to encourage viewers to learn more about the issue.

“Not only did the students pitch us this breakthrough idea, they joined our team throughout the development of the campaign,” McCarthy said. “They helped with research and getting to know the nonprofits working on this issue. They were in lockstep with our team and the campaign partners as key decisions were made around the messaging and call to action. Before the launch of the campaign, we looked to the students to provide feedback on the final video treatments and online resources.”

“We’re still those [SIPA] policy students, but now we’re in this fast-paced television media environment and they are looking at us as the experts on the content and they’re guiding us through this whole creative world,” Ogle said. “It’s really exciting.”

The students’ ambitions for the campaign’s reach has grown as it evolved from a fictional project to a reality.

“I hope a lot of people see it and we can improve the community responsibility with women’s maternal health ” said Diaz.

“Over half of these deaths are preventable,” said McCarthy, “and our hope is that this campaign will help sound the alarm about this serious issue and help moms receive the care, services, and support they need.”

Before enrolling in Friedman’s class last fall, Diaz, LaVoye, and Ogle had never met. Now they are bound together in ways they never expected.

“Learning from Maria José and her experience in Chile and throughout the different public and private sectors, and from Jenise, a woman who is from U.S. but has a very different lived experience than I do, I think that’s a very powerful thing,” LaVoye said. “I know that they will be on speed dial.”

Friedman hopes that the students’ maternal mortality campaign is just the beginning.

“That’s what was great about the students in our class,” he said. “I think students, in every group presentation, had a creative nugget like that, which has the potential to find its way into the world and have a positive impact.”

A week before the campaign was to air, Diaz, LaVoye, and Ogle had a chance to see a close-to-final cut of the video. They were pleased to see their artistic vision was intact.

“I watched it, went into shock, and then cried,” said LaVoye.

— Brett Essler

Q&A: Moises Mendoza, MIA ’16, pursues project on statelessness

Moises Mendoza MIA ’16

Moises Mendoza (MIA ’16) sat down with SIPA News to discuss the limbo facing stateless people in the United States, the upcoming launch of his new multimedia project on statelessness (including the website Stateless Voices), and his transition from a career in journalism to a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Read More →

the flexibility (and foundation) of human rights and humanitarian policy

The Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy Concentration (HRHPC) provides a unique perspective into today’s moral normative framework affecting international politics and policies, to the extent that these are driven by a human rights value system.  Engaging issues of international security, development, and social justice, a rights-based perspective increasingly informs the work of international organizations and agencies, as well as politicians and policy analysts.  Thus, HRHPC focuses on conceptual, rights-based issues that shape public action.  It prepares students for careers within governments, international organizations, corporations, community organizations, as well as national and global NGOs.  The field is diverse, and this is reflected in the areas where graduates work: those specializing in human rights policy may address issues such as education, security, corporate social responsibility, economic development, and social justice; those who choose the humanitarian policy track may also find themselves engaged in advocacy, relief operations, or post-conflict recovery programs, often working in fragile states.

The concentration benefits from the proximity of some of the world’s most prominent human rights institutions, especially the United Nations (e.g., the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with its strong investigative and normative capacities, as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and the UN programs and agencies bringing human rights into the practice of relief and development, such as UNICEF, UNDP, and UNFPA.  Then, New York hosts several leading relief and advocacy NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, MSF, the International Rescue Committee, Care International, AIUSA, Human Rights First, Open Society, the International Center for Transitional Justice, Witness, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). All these provide ample opportunities for research and for networking, and that, in turn, facilitates internships, junior consultancies, and ultimately job openings.  Moreover, many of the concentration’s practitioners and adjunct faculty are drawn from this pool of knowledge and experience.

The Humanitarian Policy Track is widely recognized as a leader in its field, with a focus on the policies and practices of the major humanitarian actors represented in New York. It is unique among academic humanitarian programs by emphasizing human rights as a normative framework. The current trend in the humanitarian community is moving away from a stand-alone approach (i.e. neutrality, independence, and impartiality) to a rights-based approach, linked closely to early recovery and peace-building strategies. These ties in with humanitarian action in the context of long-term recovery and restoration of rights.

The HRHP Concentration offers a rigorous program combining analytical and skills-based training, including classes on diverse topics such as International Human Rights Law; Human Rights Skills & Advocacy; Gender, Globalization and the Human Rights of Women; History & Reconciliation; Conflict Resolution; Peacekeeping/Peacemaking; Business and Human Rights; Labor Rights; Human Rights & Development; Understanding Complex Emergencies; Managing Complex Emergencies; Psycho-social Impact of Complex Emergencies; and Education in Emergencies.  There is an option to complete a dual degree program with the Mailman School of Public Health’s Forced Migration program.

The flexibility of the HRHP concentration encourages students to frame their intellectual and professional interests, delving into any number of these.  The faculty combines both scholarly and practitioner perspectives, often drawn from the ranks of the many organizations in the city.

HRHPC students also benefit from Columbia’s rich and diverse offering in human rights outside of SIPA, including among others the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR), the Law School, Mailman School of Public Health, School of Social Work, and the School of Journalism.  There are numerous events outside the classrooms, including the opportunity to meet with many global activists in intimate settings.  In addition the concentration provides opportunities for students to develop their own interests through student working groups, off-campus activities, and meetings with alumni.

Students participate in Capstones, which enable them to gain experience working in diverse projects and with diverse clients globally.  HRHPC students can also choose to take part in the EPD Workshops. Each year, a group of students is selected to participate in a humanitarian crisis simulation, conducted by the European Union’s Network on Humanitarian Action, and hosted by the University of Bochum, Germany. These exceptional opportunities provide both stimulating learning experience and often networking possibilities.  The concentration offers many other simulations and practicums, which provide additional opportunities to bridge the analytical with the experiential knowledge, which is so critical for the field and for becoming a successful practitioner.

SIPA Events for the Week of September 23

The semester just began and we are already have a great roster of speakers and discussions scheduled. Below is a flavor of the events happening at SIPA next week.  Some of these events are opened to the public, so you are welcome to register for those events (if you are interested in a particular topic).  See more events on the SIPA Web Calendar.



CGEG: Reforming Europe Out of the Crisis — Nordic and Danish Perspectives and Solutions

10:00 am to 11:00 am

International Affairs Building, Room 1501

A conversation with Villy Søvndal, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Denmark. Registration required.

Sponsor: Center on Global Economic Governance



Ramush Haradinaj on “Challenges to Kosova’s Democratization and European Integration”

11:00 am to 12:15 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1219

Discussion with Ramush Haradinaj, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosova and Chairman for the Alliance for the Future of Kosova. Event facilitated by David L. Phillips, Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.

Sponsor: Institute for the Study of Human Rights


Moral Interventionism: The Gas Question and Syria

4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Heyman Center, 2nd Floor Common Room

A roundtable discussion addressing the issue of moral interventionism from the perspectives of political theory, international security, and the history of peacekeeping.

Sponsor: European Institute



China/Brazil: Two Tales of a Growth Slowdown

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 802

Talk with Octaviano Canuto, Senior Advisor on BRICS in the Development Economics Department.

Sponsor: Institute of Latin American Studies


CGT Undergraduate Film Screening: “Ten Years of Terror”

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 918

The Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought invites you to a film screening of “Ten Years of Terror” followed by a discussion with director, Brad Evans. The film explores the impact of 9/11 and reflects on the subsequent political and military responses.

Sponsor: Committee on Global Thought


Remembering Edward Said

7:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Lerner Hall, Roone Arledge Cinema

On the tenth anniversary of the passing of Professor Edward Said, we invite you to join us as we reflect on his legacy. We will also screen excerpts from documentaries on Edward Said.

Sponsor: Center for Palestine Studies with the Department of English and Comparative Literature, the Heyman Center for the Humanities, and the Middle East Institute


CGEG: FED Tapering and the Fortunes of Nations

4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1512

Panel discussion with Guillermo Calvo, Director, Program in Economic Policy Management and former Chief Economist, Inter-American Development Bank; Jan Svejnar, James T. Shotwell Professor of Global Political Economy; Director, Center on Global Economic Governance (CGEG), Columbia SIPA; Andrés Velasco, Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia SIPA; former Finance Minister of Chile; with introduction by Miguel Urquiola,Vice Dean of SIPA.

Sponsor: Center on Global Economic Governance



Effective Policies in Poverty Reduction Beyond the Millennium Development Goals

6:00 pm to 10:00 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1501

A lecture and discussion on effective policies in poverty reduction with José Antonio Ocampo, Professor of Professional Practice and Economic and Political Development Concentration Director at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and Esther Duflo, Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sponsor: Economic and Political Development Concentration



Geopolitics of the Global Energy Revolution

2:00 pm to 3:30 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1512

A presentation by Carlos Pascual, Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs at the U.S. State Department.

Sponsor: Center on Global Energy Policy



Comfort Women Wanted

2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 918

A video screening and panel discussion with Chang-Jin Lee, visual artist; Charles Armstrong (moderator), Professor of History, Columbia University; Elazar Barkan, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University; Pablo Castillo-Diaz, Protection Analyst, Peace and Security at the UN; Margaret Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Humanities, University of Delaware; Joyce Yu, UN Resident Coordinator. No registration required.

Sponsor: The Center for Korean Research


CGEG: French Proposals for the Future of Europe, with Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of France

2:30 pm to 4:00 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1501

CGEG: Lecture with Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Minister. Registration and ID required.

Sponsor: Center on Global Economic Governance



Abe and the LDP Are Back. Now What?

4:15 pm to 5:45 pm

Davis Auditorium, Room 412

Ninth Annual Lecture on Japanese Politics with Gerald L. Curtis, Burgess Professor of Political Science, Columbia University. Moderated by Hugh T. Patrick, R.D. Calkins Professor of International Business Emeritus; Director, Center on Japanese Economy and Business, Columbia Business School. Followed by reception. Registration required.

Sponsor: Weatherhead East Asian Institute


Russian Politics and the Sochi Olympics

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

The Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Ave 5th Floor Conference Room

A discussion among experts focusing on the influence that this global event has on Russian politics, and vice versa.

Sponsor: Harriman Institute


New Avenues for Global Illicit Drug Policies

6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1501

Presentation and discussion on global illicit drug policies with Otto Perez Molina, President of the Republic of Guatemala, and Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala. Moderated by Professor José Antonio Ocampo, Director of Economic and Political Development Concentration at SIPA. Registration required. CUID only.

Sponsor: Economic and Political Development Concentration, Institute of Latin American Studies



Building Resilience in a Climate and Resource-Constrained World: Investment Strategies and Policy Innovations

3:30 pm to 4:45 pm

Alfred Lerner Hall, Satow Room (5th floor)

A presentation by James Cameron, Chairman and Founder of Climate Change Capital on how investment in sustainable energy, low-carbon, and resource-efficient infrastructure is expanding rapidly and what this means for investors, policymakers, and entrepreneurs.

Sponsor: Center on Global Energy Policy



Development Workshop: Jan Christoph von der Goltz

4:15 pm to 5:45 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1101

As part of Columbia University’s Fall 2013 Development Workshop, Jan Christoph von der Goltz will discuss his latest paper. Topic and paper title to be announced.

Sponsor: Center for Development Economics and Policy


Do you want to make a profound difference on global poverty and climate change? A book talk with Sam Daley-Harris

6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Earl Hall, Auditorium

A book talk with Sam Daley-Harris, author, activist and founder of Results Global Microfinance Campaign and Citizen Climate Lobby on the 20th anniversary edition of his book Reclaiming Our Democracy.

Sponsor: Columbia’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, Economic and Political Development Concentration, Management Concentration



Cuba-U.S. Relations: Possibilities for the Future

6:30 pm to 7:30 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1501

Lecture with Dr. Josefina de la Caridad Vidal Ferreiro, Director, North America Division, Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations. Doors open at 6:00 p..m. Registration required. Seating is limited; first come, first seated.

Sponsor: Institute of Latin American Studies



Tadeusz Dabrowski: Twelve Poems From Black Square

4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1219

Tadeusz Dąbrowski will be reading from his book, Twelve Square. A discussion with Anna Frajlich will follow.

Sponsor: Harriman Institute


SIPA Events – Interdisciplinary Talks

SIPA is a very busy place.  Each week there are 10-15 events that feature interesting speakers and panels on a variety of topics.  The following entry was contributed by Erisha Suwal, a second year student at SIPA.  Erisha is working in our office this year and she, along with several other students, will be contributing posts throughout the year.


While having lunch over lamb and rice with hot and white sauce, my Pakistani friends encouraged me to join them for a talk titled “ Pakistan 2010: The most dangerous decade begins.” The talk was organized by the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion (CDTR). It is a Center that was founded after SIPA won a competitive grant and its main objective is to examine religion’s role in politics and international relations. The title was very intriguing and only the day before I had had a discussion   on how Pakistan seems to be in a constant state of turmoil. More than any other country. Perhaps even more than Afghanistan.  I joined them.

Christine Fair, Assistant Professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown, was one of the panelists. She was speaking on ‘India and Pakistan in Afghanistan: Opportunities and Constraints.’  She argued that India had a strong interest in staying in Afghanistan especially to monitor Pakistan. She questioned why no one talks about India running intelligence operations in Afghanistan and why no one challenges India when it build schools very close to the Pakistani border. She claimed that the Pakistani Army personnel, particularly those in the lower ranks, want the U.S. out of Afghanistan because they believed that the American presence intensified Taliban presence in Afghanistan. Her talk led to a rich discussion on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

At the talk, I found out that Terry Eagleton was coming to speak the same evening   on “The New Atheism and the War on Terror.” Eagleton is an influential literary theorist and Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster, who has written more than forty books. He gave an entertaining and insightful talk. The poster said, seating was on first come first serve basis. Usually I do not follow these warnings, but I’m glad I did this time. The room filled up very quickly and I ran into some SIPA professors. I saw Mahmood Mamdani, who teaches Political identities, State and Civil Wars in Africa and Theory, History, and Practice of Human Rightsand Professor S. Akbar Zaidi was also present. He teaches Political Economy of Pakistan: State, Society, and Economy.

Eagleton started off asking, “Why are atheists obsessed with religion as Puritans are obsessed with sex?”  He commented that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whom he dubbed Ditchkins, were engaged in anti-god diatribe with zero conception of faith and theology. He also argued that rise of Islamic fundamentalism was similar to “chickens coming home to roost.” Eagleton delivered provocative and controversial but witty statements and entertained his audience.

CDTR co-organized Terry Eagleton’s lecture with Heyman Center for the Humanities. I missed going to lectures outside of class. It is easy to immerse oneself in course-works and socializing, Wednesday’s two lectures reminded me of how being in Columbia exposes you to cutting edge discussions in whatever field it might be.

"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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