In a 48-hour Harvard competition, students from around the world pitched policy solutions to some of our world’s most daunting issues.

By Audra Heinrichs.

Last weekend, for 48 hours, students around the world convened online to write policy proposals that addressed today’s most pressing challenges pertaining to public health, economic equity, criminal justice, and international affairs, at Harvard University’s first annual Pandemic Policython.

Co-sponsored by the Harvard Institute of Politics Policy Program, Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, NYU Public Safety Lab, and over 20 other organizations who supplied their specialized expertise, the nonpartisan competition was open to all high school and college students with an interest in public policy. Speakers and mentors from non-profits including the International Public Policy Association, academic institutions including the Harvard Kennedy School, and international NGOs including the World Health Organization, advised the participants as they wrote their proposals.

One of the things that I was concerned about [when planning the event] was how connected the participants would feel given it was all online. But all worry vanished when I saw mentors and participants from diverse backgrounds coming together to discuss some of the most pressing policy issues,” student-organizer Usraat Fahmidah told Mission. “Apart from that, I would like to think the event is a win-win situation for every participant irrespective of whichever field they’re in – me, especially as a high school senior from Dhaka, Bangladesh who learnt a great deal about policy proposals.”

Over the course of the competition, teams of one to four members heard from partners, received guidance from leading academics, and submitted their policy memos to policymakers. Over 1,000 applicants, 400 participants, 150 submissions, 50 mentors, and 10 events later, all five winning teams were given a $200 seed grant to continue the pursuit of their plans.

Winners included: 

Public Health: A Right To Housing: a Radical Solution to Domestic Violence

Runner-up: Extreme Isolation: The Intersection of Female Navajo Essential Workers and Domestic Violence

Economic Equity: Moving US Forward

Runner-up: Promoting Indigenous Employment Through Improved Education for Economic Equity 

Criminal Justice: Rethinking the Prison-Community Pipeline: a case for green reintegration

 Runner-up: It’s About T.I.M.E.(Tribunal Immigration Motion for Equality)

Voting: Proposal for Informed Students Voters Program

Runner-up: A Digital World Demands a Digital Option for Voting Registration

Technology: Zooming In On Remote Learning: How To Protect K-12 Students’ Privacy In Virtual Classrooms?

Runner-up: Bridging the Digital Divide: Improving the state of ICT in Rural Philippines

Lucas Chu, the lead organizer of the competition, said he was initially inspired by the Stanford/MIT COVID-19 Policy Hackathon when conceptualizing the event. Chu, however, had a few changes in mind.

“Our [event] would be completely open-sourced, so that anybody with an internet connection could benefit, and impact-focused, where proposals would actually be sent out,” Chu explained. “We value participation, inclusion, transparency, and accountability because we appreciate the power students have.”

It’s also really encouraging to work with a team that I know is just as invested in the mission of platforming change as I am,” said Priscilla Maryanski, another student organizer, who also said she felt grateful the event existed at the intersection of data, analysis, and writing.

“We wanted to create an inclusive resource-rich space for policy learning and innovation for under-represented and marginalized students to feel like they belong in a better world and it belongs to them,” echoed Chu.

Click here to learn more about the event.