Hunger and food security are two of the most pressing issues for the UN – issues only made harder by climate change and armed conflict. Against this backdrop, UNU-MERIT joined a global challenge: to draft and debate a plan in support of SDG#2 — and end hunger.
Higher education is changing: traditional lectures and teaching remain important, but they are increasingly complemented with state-of-the-art technology. The study of public policy is no exception. Future policymakers have to be taught how to apply theory and how to overcome political and socio-economic challenges at every level of government.
With this in mind, UNU-MERIT continued its partnership with the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, serving as the European site for the NASPAA-Batten Student Competition 2017. This global event was hosted by eight universities (five in the USA, and one in each of China, Colombia and the Netherlands) which dealt with the same challenge and came up with concrete and actionable policy proposal.
Our students used advanced software developed by the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. It included a pre-written case study, which allowed them to review projects in a similar manner to the UN and its specialised agencies. The simulation therefore provided a realistic snapshot of the day-to-day work of policymakers.
Each site had two or more teams evaluated by judges with broad academic and policy experience. At the end, the eight site winners were further reviewed by a panel of ‘super judges’ who then selected a global winner. At UNU-MERIT we had the privilege to welcome back as our site judges Dr Valerie Graw from the University of Bonn in Germany and Dr Dorcas Mbuvi from UNU-MERIT. Furthermore, we welcomed for the first time Dr Chase Sova from the World Food Programme USA.
All told, we hosted 40 students from universities across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, randomly divided into two teams. Part of the challenge of the competition is that students have to work together with new faces from different backgrounds.
Hunger and food security: Solvable problems?
This year’s topic was food security and how the world can achieve SDG#2. This goal aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. The head of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin, has described the goals as “a once in a generation chance for all of us to come together, to journey together, towards our shared destination: A world where nobody has to endure the misery of hunger and poverty anywhere.” She noted, however, that “crises are becoming more protracted and consequently we are serving the same population for longer.” This sums up why the UN must foster events like this, where students can define bold, creative and innovative ideas, to help achieve the SDGs.
Participants were assigned to different regions of the world and were able to experience the challenges of regional and international tensions. During the day we saw the participants confront their ideas with realities, negotiate terms and work as a team. For the final assignment, each team prepared memorandums and a final presentation. The judges were impressed by the level of detail of the written component and highlighted the quality of both pitches.
The aim of the competition was to give participants a glimpse of the complexities of international negotiations, as well as the management and assessment of development projects. Students were also challenged to “think outside the box” and come up with fresh and plausible ideas. These types of teaching methods provide an indispensable complement to graduate degrees in Public Policy and Administration.
Last year, a team from UNU-MERIT was the global winner. This year a team from the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia claimed the global title. For the last two editions, we were honoured to serve as the European site. We now look forward to sending a student delegation to the 2018 competition.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / S.Brodin