Columbia University’s SIPA Challenge Grant Teams

Columbia University's SIPA Challenge Grant Teams

The SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Challenge is an annual competition of the School of International and Public Affairs created to inspire students to develop innovative uses of digital technology and data to address global policy problems.

The SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Challenge is an annual competition of the School of International and Public Affairs created to inspire students to develop innovative uses of digital technology and data to address global policy problems. The Challenge provides opportunities for graduate students to blend their policy passions with their desire to create entrepreneurial ventures that positively benefit society, and receive seed funding and mentoring through boot camps and pitch sessions with experts. Through the formation of small, cross-university teams, students collaborate over the course of the academic year to create projects and prototypes that leverage ICT and data, with an eye toward projects that address a real-world challenge and are implementable. This year’s cohort has 12 semi-finalist teams. 

Meet the teams!

Alley Spot

With the advent of autonomous vehicles, a vision of self-driving cars has emerged that constantly circulate streets, providing on-demand rides to people that need them.  This contributes to congestion, wasteful consumption of energy, and a deterioration of roads and municipal infrastructures. Alley Spot leverages data analytics, autonomous vehicles, and parking solution providers to create a more efficient urban traffic flow.

Members: Dustin Martelo, SIPA EMPA ’21 | Robert Reagan, GSB MBA ’20 | Brian Yang, CU Computer Science ’20

Main Contact: Dustin Martelo (Email)

Art for Africa

Africa is known for its rich artistic and cultural heritage, but traditional artisans in Africa have little institutional support and often live in extreme poverty. With few local clients for their work and without access to the international market, many artisans are forced to abandon their trade – and centuries of tradition – in order to survive. We envision Art for Africa as a platform bringing talented, passionate artisans together with socially conscious, culturally curious customers. This online platform will leverage e-commerce as a means for financial inclusion and economic development, building sustainable, inclusive communities in post-conflict countries.

Members: Brit Felsen-Parsons, SIPA MPA ’20 | Junghoon (Erica) Lee, SIPA MPA ’20 | Jiayi Li, SIPA MPA ’20 | Isabel de Katona, SIPA MPA ’20 | Mihret Moges, SIPA MIA’20 | Roshni Mukherji, SIPA MPA ’20 | Yao Wang, SIPA MPA ’20 | Brian Ilan Berezovsky, SIPA MPA ’20

Main Contact: Brit Felsen-Parsons (Email


City Climate Company (Ciclico) aims to serve the ideal of replacing currently vicious city climate cycles (urban heat leading to air-conditioning leading to greater heat), with virtuous cycles of natural cooling and lower energy usage. Central to Cilico’s mission is a technology solution that creates transparency into which urban cooling solutions create the greatest climate impact. Ciclico’s product overlays Satellite Geodata, Hyperlocal weather data, Community Survey data and data from a custom installed IoT sensors. Ciclico will target one specific use-case of urban cooling i.e. ‘Rooftop Urban Farms’ prior to expanding the product for other use-cases.   

Members: Pranav Ramkumar, SIPA MPA ’21 | Valerie Ho, GSB MBA ’21 | Jeremy Seah, GSB MBA ’21 | Perry Landesberg, SIPA MIA ’20 | Yian Ke, SIPA MIA ’20 | Wissam Abdel Nour, Eng MSc Civil Engineering ’20 | Jack (Zhe) Liu, Eng MSc Industrial Engineering ’19

Main Contact: Pranav Ramkumar (Email


DhanSahay (Financial-help) is a voice-based interactive system that uses speech recognition and natural language processing to help users make digital banking transactions. At a higher level, DhanSahay will promote financial inclusion beyond just bank account ownership, focusing primarily on rural women in India, who are at the receiving end of a variety of Direct Benefit Transfers from the government. Through innovative use of technology, DhanSahay will process the service requests from the users and provide these women with carefully drafted instructions in their regional languages to help them perform basic banking transactions. 

Members: Ananya Singh, SIPA MPA ’20 | Mandira Sharma, SIPA MPA ’20 | Mayank Saxena, Eng MS Computer Science ’19

Main Contact: Mandira Sharma (Email


E-Maharat – which means skills in Arabic – is a digital platform focused on increasing economic inclusion for refugees and forcibly displaced persons. We believe that empowering refugees with opportunities to both provide and seek services can formalize an already existing informal market that that is resilient and less reliant on external funding. To accomplish this, we are creating a platform that allows refugees in both urban and rural settings to share their skills with other refugees as a way to earn income, build social capital, and form a digital identity. With our model, E-Maharat helps to ease the pressure in host countries, as refugees build self-sufficiency and self-reliance by earning an income of their own and continuing to build the skills to offer to the host country’s labor market and economy.

Members: Natasha Bhuta, SIPA MPA-DP ’20 | Sabaa Notta, SIPA MPA-DP ’20 | Delfina Müller, SIPA MPA-DP ’20 | Alejandra Cordero, SIPA MPA-DP ’20

Main Contact: Alejandro Cordero (Email

Green It Up

GreenItUp believes that consumers will choose sustainable products, provided they are given the information they need to make environmentally-responsible purchasing decisions within their price range. Through a mobile app designed for both in-person and online use, GreenItUp will grant shoppers easy access to the hidden environmental costs associated with their purchasing decisions. By making sustainable consumption quick and easy, GreenItUp aims to unleash the purchasing power of environmentally-conscious consumers, sending strong demand-side signals to producers to adapt to a more sustainability-oriented marketplace.

Members: Maya Zamir, GSB MBA ’20 | Sophia Ng, SIPA MPA ’20 | Jesse Cahill, CU Data Science Institute, M Data Science ’20 | Kevin Karl, SIPA MPA ’20

Main Contact: Kevin Karl (Email

Knot for Profit

Knot for Profit is an Information Design Studio™ on a mission to enable impactful communication with a data-driven approach in the non-profit sector. Presently, the non-profit sector uses separate design, marketing, analytics, and research organizations to get their name out in the world. Often, these organizations do not have a sound understanding of the international development sector. We, at Knot for Profit, operate at the juncture of design, marketing, analytics, and policy research. Our carefully selected team members bring impressive experience and qualifications in the fields of international development, public administration, graphic design, coding, policy research, and video & motion design. With a cumulative experience of 80+ years, we offer a unique blend of technologies and in the market which, presently, does not exist.

Members: Shubham Tomar, SIPA MPA ’19 | Tarang Singhal, SIPA MPA ’19 | Mohammad Shadan Khan, SIPA MPA ’20

Main Contact: Shubham Tomar (Email


Offset is a mobile app that allows daily individual users to donate a small sum which would then be invested in user-selected portfolios of carbon scrubbing companies and consumer products that are produced with net-zero emissions.  If successful, this application will allow carbon scrubbing and sequestration to expand in scope, will accelerate the launch of zero-carbon consumer products, and will allow users to simplify their thinking, action, and guilt about climate change with one easy weekly payment. The premise is dispensing with expectations of behavioral change and substituting a simple donation solution that will provide large-scale funding for real carbon reduction technologies and products.

Members: Saif Rehman, SIPA MPA ’20 | William McMillan Plews-Ogan, GSAS PhD ’23 | Pietro Rocco di Torrepadula, SIPA MIA ’20 | Emma Cloyd, SIPA MPA ’20 | Melisa Tapa, SIPA MIA ’20 | Catherina Gioino, SIPA MPA ’20

Main Contact: Saif Rehman (Email)

Participa Brasil

Participa Brasil’s goal is to be the interface for social participation between citizens and congresspersons, as well as the main source of information for a broad overview of social demands priorities. Participa Brasil is an online tool that connects elected legislators to the citizens in an effective way to consult the population and to monitor legislators’ votes vis-a-vis their districts’ preferences. In order to achieve that, we will build a platform in which citizens will be able to vote for specific aspects of proposed bills, as well as propose new issues themselves, and the most representative outcomes will serve as the input for the district legislator’s vote on the matter. This platform will enable social deliberation and social engagement on the Legislative Branch of Brazil, in the Municipal, State and Federal levels.

Members: Bruna Credidio Camara, SIPA MPA ’21 | Tiago Amaral Ciarallo, SIPA MPA ’20 | Brian Kennedy, SIPA MPA-DP ’21

Main Contact: Bruna Credidio Camara (Email)


Sandbox is a mobile gaming platform that detects trauma in migrant children. Based on the Center for Disease Control’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) tool that identifies instances of trauma in children, Sandbox will identify if the child falls under one or more ACE categories. Mental healthcare providers will then use Sandbox’s results to evaluate a child’s risk for poor, long-term developmental outcomes. Sandbox hopes to enable nuanced mental healthcare for a vulnerable population with the potential for broader application globally.  

Members: Fernando Armendaris, SIPA MPA-DP ’19 | Katie Brehm, SIPA/GSB MIA/MBA ’21 | Martin de Aubeyzon, SIPA MPA-DP ’20 | Serena Tohme, SIPA/SPH MPA/MPH ’22

Main Contact: Serena Tohme (Email)

Tịnh Tâm

Tịnh Tâm (Pure Mind) is a comprehensive mobile application aiming to empower Vietnamese youth with mental health resources at their fingertips. It provides real-time assessment gauging the needs of each user, flags critical mental health scenarios, and connects individuals to appropriate mental-health resources (hotline, in-person therapy, “friend” counseling chatbot, and more). Tịnh Tâm seeks to support and build local Vietnamese healthcare capacity, overcome the burdens of cultural mental health stigma in Vietnam, and address the current need-gap for youth-focused mental healthcare. Through a comprehensive, youth-centered digital platform, Tịnh Tâm provides a  quality, personal, and cost-effective solution for a stronger and healthier Vietnam. 

Members: Loan Kim Chu, SIPA MIA ’21 | Khanh Vu, SIPA MPA-DP ’21 | Taylor Light, SIPA MPA-DP ’20 | Dan Poniachik, SIPA MPA-DP ’20

Main Contact: Loan Kim Chu (Email)


VocatiNest is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based online job platform that provides end-to-end services from integrated personality & cognitive tests, tailored digital resume, skill & personality job matching features. The objectives are to empower 5 million Indonesian vocational students and 1.7 million graduates annually to consolidate their competencies or take necessary actions to improve themselves to get fit in targeted jobs. At the same time, VocatiNest will deliver values to the employers through AI-based job matching features to increase the qualified candidate pool and increase the recruitment process’s effectivity & efficiency. We aim to create societal impacts on unemployment rate reduction, with the spill-over effect on the poverty rate alleviation.

Members: Edi Saputra, SIPA MIA ’20 | Lindi Anggrani, SIPA MPA ’20 | Daniel Oscar Baskoro, SPS MSc Tech Mgm’t ’19 | Rendy Sabardi, SIPA MPA ’19

Main Contact: Edi Saputra (Email)

Hear from Tricia Davies, Civic Hall member and SIPA Grad: 

As a SIPA grad (MPA95) who works with civic data and has taught a few Capstones on the utility of government open data with the Mayor’s Office and World Bank, I’m thrilled to hear that Civic Hall is opening its doors wider to welcome more SIPA students. CH is a unique place in NYC and ideal for making connections with others who care about data’s role in democracy and community development.

Tricia Davies has been a Civic Hall member for about two years and is the founder and CEO of The Public Good, an advisory firm that provides research and planning expertise using open data, community input, and financial analysis to improve social outcomes for all.