For nearly six hours on Saturday, 15 teams of Yale students tackled the problem of rebuilding the Iraqi city of Mosul in a new policy competition sponsored by the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs.
The Yale International Policy Competition, founded by Elisabeth Siegel ’20, Sophia Wang ’20, Alexander Jang ’19 and Yoojin Han ’19 last summer, gave teams of four to five students the opportunity to present a policy proposal about a real-world issue to experts in the field. This is the competition’s first year. According to the Yale International Policy Competition website, the competition aims to combine the team building aspect of hackathons with the international relations focus of Model United Nations conferences.
The problem that students were given centered on rebuilding one aspect of Mosul, a city that had been ravaged by three years of fighting and returned to Iraqi government control in July 2017. According to Siegel, students could choose any piece of the city’s infrastructure to rebuild and were encouraged to approach the problem from less conventional angles, such as by employing energy studies or global health studies in their solution.
“We wanted this competition to be approachable for people in all aspects of global affairs disciplines, not just the more limited fields of international security or international development,” she said. “We’ve posed a problem that is an umbrella problem with many dimensions to it.”
After students were given the problem at the opening ceremony, they had five and a half hours to draft a one-page policy memo and to prepare a presentation for a panel of judges. After the first round of judging, the panel chose the top five teams to advance to the final presentation round, which was open to the public. The top three teams at the end of the competition were awarded prize money up to $500.
The team of Anne Northup ’21, Kaley Pillinger ’21, Steven Orientale ’21 and Aakshi Chaba ’21, a staff reporter for the News, won the competition with a policy paper focusing on improving the renewable energy sector in Mosul. According to Pillinger, the proposal’s approach was two-pronged: a tax credit system to reward foreign renewable energy investors, as well as engagement with Mosul University to educate students about the renewable energy sector. She added that as part of the first prize, she and her teammates will get the chance to workshop their proposal with the Middle East Institute, a partner of the competition.
“When you spend a good six hours sitting and working on this project, you start to fall in love with it and think that it’s a great idea,” Pillinger said. “We just got very excited about the project, and it’s nice that now we have the opportunity to keep thinking about it and keep learning from people.”
The judging panel consisted of foreign policy experts from a variety of global affairs fields, as well as two student judges. Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, President of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy Rosemary DiCarlo and Morse College Head and Director of the Program on Conflict, Resilience and Health at the MacMillan Center Catherine Panter-Brick all served as judges. The student judges, Malina Simard-Halm ’18 and Stephen Mettler ’18, were selected to provide a more accessible peer aspect to the competition, according to Siegel.
Panter-Brick emphasized the importance of a central strategy in the teams’ proposals.
“I think the key question is ‘what do you rebuild and how,’” Panter-Brick said. “The concreteness of the plan is one thing, but I think it’s also the heart of the plan, what the strategy is … It’s really easy to sing the high notes of the plan and not have the basis, so I’ll be looking at the whole choreography of that.”
Mettler noted that the Yale International Policy Competition allowed students to focus on the “intense, nitty-gritty details of policy,” unlike Model UN competitions, which focus more on coordinating with people to garner support for less comprehensive policy.
Akhil Rajan ’21, one of the student participants in the competition, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I felt that the format of [Model United Nations] is less about policy and more about politicking, because you don’t actually need to craft sensible policy, you just need to craft policy that everybody votes on,” he said. “I was really attracted to the idea of a policy competition, so I sent a message to a couple of the people that might be interested and got involved [in the Yale International Policy Competition].”
Ryan Constable ’21, another participant in the competition, said that he enjoyed the fast pace of the competition, as well as the opportunity to present in front of notable figures in the international relations field. He pointed out that because of the expertise of the judging panel, his team was asked challenging, unexpected questions during their presentation and could not “make facts up on the fly.”
The Jackson Institute of Global Affairs was founded in 2010.
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