Archive for MPA-DP – Page 3

MDP Professor Glenn Denning discusses gene editing, food

SIPA Professor Glenn Denning was featured on Popular Science’s website in, “GENE EDITING SHIFTS FOOD POSSIBILITIES FORWARD”. Here’s the beginning of the piece, and make sure you take a look at the rest of the article, too!

The aisles of your corner grocery may look mundane. But as you walk past the stacks of cherries and blueberries, the ears of corn and bottles of white wine, consider that you are witnessing a race against time.

Every day, our planet grows a little hotter and a little more crowded. Every day, we need to grow more food in the face of more hostile conditions. Every day, scientists are racing to develop tougher crops that can withstand growing heat, drought and ferocious storms to feed a growing population.

“Our existing varieties of crops, our existing seeds, are not necessarily well-adapted to the new environment,” said Glenn Denning, a professor of development policy at Columbia University. “We have to look elsewhere.”

The race never stops. It plays out year after year, in our laboratories, on our farms and along the aisles of our supermarkets. We have managed to stay one step ahead largely due to human ingenuity.

The quest for a more perfect crop is about to take a quantum leap. Scientists have developed a breakthrough technology that will allow us to develop new crops built for a harsher climate.

It’s called gene editing and it could prove vital to our survival in a warmer world.


Learn more about MPA-DP on Facebook Live

Today I hosted a special Facebook Live session with MPA in Development Practice Director Glenn Denning. Professor Denning teaches the “Global Food Systems,” a required DP course, and has been with DP since its inception in 2009.

For those of you who have been following me on the blog and social media, you know this isn’t the first time the Admissions Office has used Facebook Live, but we’re still testing out the waters. Glenn was kind enough to test out the platform with me so we can give applicants like you the opportunity to connect with us on another platform.

MPA-DP has the same deadlines as the MIA and MPA programs, but it’s essay prompts and characteristics of the students are a little bit different. To learn what I mean by that make sure you watch the recording of the session below (or click here). If you have any questions about the program, feel free to email the program directly at As always, send admissions questions my way to

Oh, and if you’d like to get reminders about future sessions, check out the Recruitment Calendar. (I’ve got lots of great stuff in the pipeline!)


MPA-DP students survey digital media in Cuba

To support innovative analysis of ICT for development, students conduct 10 days of fieldwork in and around Havana

This spring a team of students from the MPA-DP (MDP) program took part in an innovative, collaborative research project to survey the use of digital media in Cuba. Now they have posted their extensive findings on the Internet, drawing widespread interest.

The study, known informally as ICT4Cuba, sought to provide an overview of the use of information and communication technologies in contemporary Cuba. It examines issues of connectivity, mobile telephone penetration, and digital platforms and explored the implications of digital technology in three areas of Cuban society: arts and culture, public health, and sustainable agriculture.

Beginning in January 2016, participating students conducted two months of research and interviews in preparation for a March trip to Havana, where they carried out 10 days of field research in the Cuban capital and surrounding region. There the students surveyed more than 200 Cubans on their use of the Internet and mobile phones, and gathered new information on the state of media infrastructure and connectivity.

The project was conducted under the auspices of a research seminar on digital media infrastructure in Cuba designed and led by Anne Nelson and Debi Spindelman MPA-DP ’13. Nelson, an adjunct associate professor, is a specialist in media development and has published widely on Caribbean issues, while Spindelman is a capacity development specialist who is also the MDP program’s practice manager.

“The MDP program was the perfect home for this research, given its emphasis on practical projects that address under-served populations,” Nelson said.

The idea for the project originated following an initial research trip Nelson took to Cuba in 2013. She and Spindelman advanced the project in consultation with Mariela Machado Fantacchiotti MPA-DP ’16. Machado, a Venezuela native and telecommunications engineer, had begun to research Cuban telecommunications in the summer of 2015 after an injury thwarted her plans to conduct fieldwork in East Timor.

“We were delighted to work with someone with Mariela’s knowledge and background,” Nelson said.

Six additional MDP students were selected to join the project based on their field experience and own expertise. Four of them (Machado, Ana Carolina Diaz, Laura Lehman, and Emily Sylvia) graduated with the Class of 2016 last month, while three students (Chiara Bercu, Tricia Johnson, and Gary Verburg) will return to school this fall for their second year of study.

The student researchers spoke with more than 200 Cubans, from government officials to ordinary citizens, asking about their mobile-telephone ownership, the expense of subscriptions plans, how they access data, and more.

“We were able to offer a unique update to the official story of Cuba’s digital media, and report what is actually happening on the ground,” Nelson said.

The team members began by surveying various aspects of Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure. They then explored the access to ICTs and the potential of digital media in the three designated areas (arts and culture, public health, and agriculture). Drawing on past work by previous students in other countries, they conducted interviews with leading figures in each field, and prepared recommendations for innovations in ICT for Development, or ICT4D, that could support each sector.

For Nelson, the findings underscored that “we need to understand the baseline of telecommunications infrastructure and behaviors before we can discuss future approaches.”

The project builds on SIPA’s growing contributions to the field of ICT4D (Information and Communications Technologies for Development). The Cuba research reinforces previous findings that, while advanced apps and Internet solutions serve areas where modern ICT infrastructure is in place, regions that lack such infrastructure can benefit from basic SMS services to deliver critical information on topics such as public health issues, weather conditions and transport.

The Cuba research results were highlighted in a pair of articles on the Foreign Affairs website — one written by Nelson and Spindelman and another written by the students.

The project also benefited, Nelson said, from a partnership with Omar Z. Robles, a prominent dance photographer who accompanied the team to explore how Instagram could broaden global awareness of Cuba’s vibrant dance culture. Robles’s project photos have gone viral, appearing on Mashable, the Huffington Post, Univision, and other websites around the world. (One particular photo featured on Instagram received 114,000 likes less than 24 hours after it was first posted.) (Follow SIPA on Instagram!)

Perhaps most impressively, the students have catalogued the extensive project findings and related materials, including links to the articles and photographs, using Columbia’s Wikischolars tool.

Harold Cárdenas Lema, who is considered one of the leading independent bloggers in Cuba, was enthusiastic about the results of the research.

“Many of my friends shared the articles published by the SIPA team, and the pictures of Omar Robles were seen by many people in the island,” he said. “I was really proud that I could give them some tips, because they were really professional and achieved a lot. Is not easy to catch the pulse of an island in few days, but these Columbia students did it!”

Nelson says there are many opportunities for ICT to benefit development, and observed that the communications needs of the world’s bottom billion should not be neglected in favor of first-world issues that are more visible to researchers.

For Machado, who is now working on technology for development at the New York-based NGO Engineering for Change, the project was a special one because of her passion for and expertise in ICT4D—and her involvement early on.

“This project gave us the freedom to explore and find out what is really happening in terms of ICTs in Cuba,” she said. “To be published in Foreign Affairs before even graduating, and have the opportunity to add to the conversation about such a hot topic as Cuba, has opened so many doors for me.

“The MPA-DP Program and Anne Nelson gave me the opportunity to contribute to this project from the start,” Machado added. “Students should remember they have all the doors open. With the right resources and support, they can also be a part of new initiatives and projects.”

MPA-DP Program Director Glenn Denning said that the Cuba project’s practical outputs and widespread recognition are further validation of his program’s unique approach to problem solving. MDPs, Denning argues, are uniquely qualified to undertake applied research and analyses that will enhance the impact of the digital revolution across multiple sectors.

“This is precisely what we prepare MDPs to understand and apply through their coursework and field practice,” Denning said. “We stress the importance of context, relevance, and impact of new technologies. We stress issues of scale—global, national and local. And we increasingly emphasize the need for partnerships within and across the public and private sectors, and with communities.”

Denning also said the Cuba ICT4D project is just the beginning of a deeper engagement of SIPA students and faculty with Cuba as the country opens to greater cooperation and partnership.

Students launch social enterprise accelerator

Although the concept of social enterprise—harnessing the power of market forces to solve social problems—is not new, the ecosystem to support such ventures in New York City is not very robust. Recognizing this gap, four SIPA MPA-DP students are running a five-day social enterprise accelerator this May. In partnership with the Unreasonable Institute (which co-founder Nicolas Toro MPA-DP ‘17 called “the gold standard” of accelerators), the students have launched Unreasonable Lab NYC to help budding social enterprises get ready to pursue venture capital.

“This is for people with social enterprise ideas that have gone from pilot to concept, and now they want to take that concept to scale, and they’re looking for the appropriate funding,” said co-founder Joe Heritage MPA-DP ’17.

“One of the biggest problems that social enterprises face is that they feel like they’re ready to receive investment, but they don’t know how to do it,” added Veni Jayanti MPA-DP ’17, another co-founder.

The program’s fourth founder is Josh Jacobson MPA-DP ’17.

The five-day accelerator, which will take place at SIPA May 19 to 22, will feature the Unreasonable Institute’s investment preparedness curriculum, Unreasonable’s network of social enterprise mentors, and expertise from Columbia’s Start-Up Lab, the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, SIPA faculty, and the four co-facilitators themselves.

“One of the best things about the lab,” said Toro, is “there’s a lot of exposure to other entrepreneurs that have gone through the process, that know how to deal with issues like how to create a funding plan, how to pitch, what type of investment you need.”

The program will culminate with a high-level capital investment session, where participants will have a chance to practice their pitch with actual capital advisers and investors.

The four students involved in the project all have strong backgrounds in social enterprise. Before attending SIPA, Heritage spent seven years managing a social enterprise in Kenya—a farm that employed refugees and used its profits to fund education scholarships for girls to attend school. Jayanti worked at Unlimited Indonesia, a social enterprise accelerator with branches all over the world. Toro was a serial entrepreneur with a penchant for social justice, having started a cosmetics retailer in addition to serving in the Peace Corps and working in economic development issues in Colombia. Jacobson founded his own social enterprise and serves as a mentor for Startupbootcamp, another social enterprise accelerator.

“We just are all very excited about the idea of creating sustainable solutions to poverty through best practices in business,” said Heritage. “That’s why I came to SIPA, and that’s what I want to gain, so I can leave and do that more effectively.”

Toro was drawn to pursue this project in addition to taking classes at SIPA and the Columbia Business School in social enterprise because “I wanted to make something bigger. I wanted to create a pilot, an experiment to see how these social enterprises can be supported to really grow and scale up, and become the new Warby Parkers, the new Toms, and really make amazing solutions, both in New York and across the world.”

“It’s going to be a great learning experience,” Toro said. “You’re going to meet great people, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

“And a lot of dancing,” Jayanti added. “There’s going to be a lot of dancing!”

— Lindsay Fuller MPA ’16

SIPA’s Development Practice Lab: Skills-based learning, from the classroom to the field

We’re sharing a guest post today from current student Eliza Keller, MPA-DP 2016. Below, she shares some great insight into why she decided to enroll in SIPA two years ago; and it had a lot to deal with curriculum.

Currently, students accepted at SIPA and elsewhere are deciding what the best program is for them. If you’re one of these admitted students, you’re probably asking yourself: Where can I learn the most? Where can I connect with like-minded people? Which school will advance my career?

I’ve been there. Two years ago, I was weighing my options, making endless pro-and-con lists, and studying faculty rosters. I was drawn to the practical, skills-based curriculum of SIPA’s MPA in Development Practice program, but wasn’t sure if it was right for me. After visiting on Admitted Students’ Day, though, the energy of SIPA’s campus and the openness and depth of experience of its Development Practice students won me over. SIPA was clearly full of smart, curious people doing interesting work—just the environment I was looking for.

A standout feature of the MPA-DP program is the Summer Field Placement, a three-month overseas internship tailored to students’ skills and career goals. This past summer, I traveled to Timor-Leste, where I worked as a policy fellow in the Ministry of Finance. While there, I found my SIPA education already essential.

In particular, the skills I learned in the Development Practice Lab, a core first-year course in the MPA-DP curriculum, enabled me to contribute substantively to my host organization. The Development Practice Lab, unique to SIPA, is a series of three-hour workshops carefully designed to deliver hands-on training in skills that are in high demand in the development community. From monitoring and evaluation planning to budgeting for a nationwide peacebuilding assessment and partnership building, these skills lent me important credibility—and opened up professional opportunities I would never have envisioned before SIPA.

Now, six months after returning from Timor-Leste, the last two years seem to have gone by in a flash. I’ve learned as much from my SIPA classmates as I have from the excellent faculty here, and I’ve come to understand the value of the well-rounded perspective and skill set cultivated in the MPA-DP program.

There’s no “right” decision for all prospective students, but if there’s any advice I have, it’s to think carefully about the added value that each program provides, both for your own knowledge and for your career—and, find your people. I found mine here at SIPA.

Pictured above (from left): Angela Kohama, Alexandra Americanos MIA ’16, Glenn Denning, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste Rui Maria de Araújo, Alexander Fertig, Arja Dayal, Eliza Keller.

Pictured above (from left): Angela Kohama, Alexandra Americanos MIA ’16, Glenn Denning, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste Rui Maria de Araújo, Alexander Fertig, Arja Dayal, Eliza Keller.

Feature photo courtesy of Arja Dayal, MPA-DP 2016: This is a part of the open defecation free sustainability study currently being conducted in Timor-Leste in partnership with Ministry of Health, Plan International, UNICEF and WaterAid. Factor analysis is a participatory ranking process where participants will indicate their motivation, factors or barriers in order to maintain or abandon use of latrine.

"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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