First undergraduate international policy competition held at Jackson Institute

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On Saturday, February 10th, the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs hosted the first iteration of the Yale International Policy Competition, founded by Elisabeth Siegel (MY ‘20), Sophia Wang (MY ‘20), Alexander Jang (JE ‘19), and Yoojin Han (BK ‘19).

At the opening ceremony of Yale’s first international policy competition (YIPC), former Ambassador Robert Ford energetically set the tone for the day-long event.

“If there’s anything you should know about foreign policy work,” he said, “understand this: it’s really, really hard.”

His words challenged all 14 competing teams to treat their subject—addressing an aspect of the reconstruction of Mosul, Iraq—with the depth of thought it demands and the seriousness it deserves. But they were also an invitation for undergrads to approach global affairs in a way offered by no other event or organization on campus up until that Saturday. Within 8 hours, the competitors set out to outline their policy for the reconstruction of Mosul and impress the distinguished judges of the inaugural YIPC.

All 14 teams had just over five hours to prepare a brief, one-page memo to serve as an overview of their focused policy recommendations, and they were required to prepare a more in-depth, 8 minute-long presentation on their initiatives. As a competitor, I felt the tension in the presentation room as the judges pressed us on the weaknesses of our policy.

Among those judges sat former Ambassadors Robert Ford and Rosemary DiCarlo, Professor Elaine Dezenski, Professor Julie O’Brien, and Professor Catherine Panter-Brick, as well as two undergraduates: Malina Simard-Halm (TD ‘18) and Stephen Mettler (SY ‘18). According to some competitors, the impressive credentials of the judges initially intimidated them, but they said they soon came to realize how precious an opportunity it was to receive feedback from skilled diplomats and experienced academics.

Once all teams had presented, the top five teams advanced to the final round of presentations in front of all the judges and other competitors. The second-round policy proposals involved complex approaches towards the aspects of renewable energy, electrification, and education, a theme stressed across many of the competing groups.

Elisabeth Siegel, founder of the YIPC, explained that she and the judges were “blown away, frankly, by the quality of the competitors’ policy proposals.”

The first-place winning team (Kaley Pillinger (TD ‘21), Aakshi Chaba (JE ‘21), Steven Orientale (JE ‘21), and Anne Northrup (JE ‘21)) argued for bold investment in Mosul’s renewable energy sector through international funding from nations like Saudi Arabia and Germany. They especially emphasized the need for vocational training at Mosul University to enable Maslawi citizens to support their initiatives, a point praised by the judges as a sign of a true “forward-looking vision.”

Amb. Ford applauded the winning project, which he said “combined a bold idea with a realistic action plan, and is precisely the kind of thinking we need in government and policy-making.”

As the teams began filing away after the awards ceremony, competitors commented on their experience and the success of the event. Anne Northrup, a member of the winning team, noted that she learned so much about not only Mosul, Iraq, but also the intricacies of the policy-making process. She especially appreciated the fact that “no experience was necessary to compete,” since all teams received the brief at the opening ceremony. This welcoming characteristic is strongly reflected in the composition of the top three winning teams: all consisted solely of first-years.

When asked what motivated her to design the competition, Siegel said she was inspired by “the model of a hackathon,” which emphasizes creativity and problem-solving in the field of technology. The same skills, she explained, are fundamental to the field of international policy-making, so a competition where teams grapple with real-world issues could “link talented people… [with] recruiters at organizations, firms, or even governments.”

Although this first event was open only to Yale undergraduates, future competitions are expected to invite teams from other colleges. In the long run, Siegel hopes to see “look-alike competitions spring up across the nation and world.” She is also eager to see partnerships with more think tanks and international policy-making institutions, like the State department and international NGOs.

This year’s YIPC was sponsored by the Jackson Institute, with the Middle East Institute as its thinktank partner.