Apr 5, 2018
Frances Robinson '18 and Lisa Jervey Lennox, CIPA Assistant Director for External Relations & Communications
In Cornell Institute for Public Affairs

Ideally, what should the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Government look like in 2031? Second-year CIPA students Ranissa Adityavarman, Courtney Miller and Vanisha Sharma; and first-year students Cara Pratt, Katherine Egan and Sanan Zaman were presented with this query at the 2018 Global Universities Challenge at the World Government Summit (WGS) in Dubai in February.

The CIPA team was one of fourteen university groups—including teams from Harvard’s Kennedy School, the London Business School, and Wharton—which accepted an invitation by the UAE to participate in the Global Universities Challenge. All expenses, including travel and food and lodging, were covered by the UAE. In addition to the six-member team and advisor from CIPA, three alternates attended the general conference: Frances Robinson ’18, Yeareen Yun ‘18 and Palina Gurung ‘19. 

CIPA Lecturer Rebecca Brenner, who served as the organizer and faculty adviser for CIPA’s team, was delighted to lead the effort. “Policy competitions take students out of the classroom and pit them against other top schools. They require students to work within a high pressure setting with intensity and drive to develop new ideas and innovation,” she explains.

CIPA team and advisor in Dubai

CIPA’s 2018 Global Universities Challenge Team included (l to r) students Sanan Zaman, Ranissa Adityavarman, Vanisha Sharma, Cara Pratt, Katherine Egan, and Courtney Miller, led by CIPA advisor Rebecca Brenner.


The Global Policy Challenge is just one facet of the WGS, an annual global event hosted by the UAE Government.  Dedicated to shaping the future of governments worldwide, the WGS is focused on harnessing innovation and technology to solve universal challenges facing humanity.  To that end, the Summit serves as a type of knowledge exchange and networking platform, bringing together more than 3,000 international thought leaders in policy, practice, research and innovation.

Likewise, the Global Universities Challenge brings together some of the brightest minds from top graduate schools of public policy and business administration around the world to help shape the future of government. By day, university teams gained inspiration from a packed program of presentations, panels and exhibits. During breaks and in the evenings, they raced to analyze their client (the UAE Government), to strategize about how best to capitalize on the country’s strengths and position it globally, and to create a coherent presentation that clearly articulated their proposed model.

Cara Pratt ‘19 said she found inspiration in a speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. “He represents the largest democracy in the world,” she said, “and he offered his  vision for what government looks like in the world’s largest cities.” She was also inspired by fellow competitors who shared her passion for government. 

Ranissa Adityavarman ‘18 was taken with a presentation by theoretical physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku.  “He inspired me to think about truly altering new developments in education, infrastructure and technology that we will see on a global scale in the next 20 years,” she said. One concept presented by Kaku, which resonated with the team as they were sculpting their presentation was, “never before has the speed of change been so fast as it has in 2018 and never again will it be so slow as it is in 2018.”

For the competition, CIPA students designed “Naas” (“people” in Arabic), an app and a digitally integrated government system that allows citizens to provide real-time feedback on public works. Citizens of the UAE would be able to request, review and respond to government services – from transportation to public areas to voting systems – in order to let the government know what was working well and how services could be improved.

“With our backgrounds in public administration, we wanted to merge governance and technology innovation… and envisioned Naas as a unique tool for a futuristic administration,” said Country Miller, who expertly delivered the six-minute pitch to a panel of judges and a packed room of competitors and conference attendees.

Student presenting in Dubai in front of three judge. A large presentation screen is behind her

Courtney Miller ’18 delivered the CIPA team’s pitch at the Global Universities Challenge.


“We didn’t win, but it was an amazing experience,” said Brenner.  “Our students represented Cornell very well, both in the competition and in their attendance at events.  They were very interested and engaged. I would do this again in a heartbeat.”

With special thanks to Frances Robinson ’18, who oversaw CIPA’s social media campaign while in Dubai.