Dual Degree GPPN Project made it to the semi-finals of the Geneva Challenge!

Dual Degree GPPN Project made it to the semi-finals of the Geneva Challenge!

  • Actualité Sciences PoActualité Sciences Po

A group of Canadian dual-degree students at Sciences Po’s School of Public Affairs and the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy placed in the semi-finals of the 2020 Advancing Development Goals International Contest for Graduate Students at the Geneva Institute. The international competition for Master students aims to present innovative and pragmatic solutions to address the challenges of social inclusion. Alessandra Cicci, Amelie Fabian, Jad El Tal and Sharika Khan’s policy proposal, “Project GAIN: Greenhouse Advancement In Nunavut”, focuses on reducing food insecurity in Northern Canada through the development of sustainable year-round greenhouse infrastructure. 

Summary of Greenhouse Advancement in Nunavut (GAIN):

Grocery shopping in Canada’s largest territory, Nunavut, is a significant financial burden to its population, which is predominantly Indigenous. Compounded with its low quality, consumer acceptability, and preferences, access to food is vastly limited in this fly-in territory. As a result, Nunavut’s level of food insecurity is three times more than the national average of 17.7%; more than 57% of the population is food insecure, and roughly 3 out of 4 kids go to bed hungry. Geographical isolation, climate change, high costs of importing nutritious food, as well as the long-lasting effects of colonial policies on Indigenous peoples’ way of life have led Nunavut to this breaking point. 

Our project, GAIN: Greenhouse Advancement in Nunavut, aims to reduce food insecurity in Nunavut by tackling the aforementioned issues through a community-driven business model that develops sustainable greenhouse infrastructure with Indigenous communities at the helm. GAIN seeks to provide greater access to affordable, healthy and nutritious foods that can be integrated into Indigenous dietary food culture. It aims to not only reduce food insecurity, but to also invest in the communities in Nunavut with the vision of creating jobs, empowering communities to be self-sufficient, and fostering social inclusion. 

What inspired you to work on the topic that you chose for your project? 

We considered a number of social inclusion issues, but felt that it was important to bring to light a pertinent issue in Canada. One of our group members, Alessandra, had always thought about food insecurity as a major societal issue. As a child, Alessandra would help pack lunches for her mother’s students as many of them lived in food insecure households and didn’t have access to three meals a day. Furthermore, we were all shocked to find out that the food insecurity rate in Nunavut is three times higher than the national average. We fear that this rate has been accepted by governments and the media as the status quo due to centuries of colonialism and disenfranchisement against Indigenous peoples. But, in a high income and democratic country like Canada, no child should go to sleep hungry. This is why it was important for us to put forth a policy that aims to reduce this inequality.

How did your different backgrounds contribute to the team and coming up with your own policy innovation? (feel free to include your different academic/professional experiences here and your current interests/policy streams, etc.)

Amelie leveraged her background in Accounting and Finance to conduct the financial analysis and financial feasibility of the policy proposal. One of the most recurring questions that policymakers face is how they intend to finance new policy proposals. Therefore, we visualized the project from beginning to end, its logistical and technical needs and what the financial implications of it all would be.

Having previously worked with the City of Toronto’s Environment & Energy division as well as an environmental NGO, Sharika leveraged her knowledge in environmental policy to consider the externalities of GAIN. In formulating a policy solution that involves the development of greenhouse infrastructure, it was important to address environmental externalities in order to minimize social costs.

Working in public affairs before beginning graduate studies, Alessandra had learned about NGOs and private companies that were active in helping to reduce food insecurity, particularly for youth in all parts of Canada. Having knowledge of organizations and private entities helped us develop a thorough understanding of the other actors working in this space. 

Jad brought in his policy experience from working in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario before starting his masters. Knowing how legislation and intergovernmental relations operate in Canada is crucial when it comes to cross cutting policies like GAIN because of the delegated responsibilities that different levels of government have. 

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? 

One of our main challenges was that we lacked an Indigenous perspective as none of us had ever been to Nunavut. To mitigate this lived experience gap, we conducted extensive research, cost-benefit analyses, faculty consultations etc. Still, we were conscious that this is inadequate as it is important to consult with the community who will be impacted by the proposed policy. Moreover, taking into account the sensitive relation between the Canadian Government and its Indigenous communities, we were mindful of not being perceived as paternalistic. Therefore, we reached out to Indigenous Services Canada and conducted stakeholder relations to receive feedback and constructive criticism of our thought process.  

How did opportunities like the GPPN Conference and the Geneva Challenge help push your project forward? 

GPPN gave us the chance to work together on a policy issue that we care about in our home country. Although we were unfortunately not able to participate in the 2020 GPPN Conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were still able to engage with stakeholders in the lead up to the conference. For example, a few days before the conference, we pitched GAIN to the Canadian embassy staff in Paris, and received excellent constructive advice on how to further enhance our policy. In the subsequent months, we applied that advice in our proposal for the Geneva Challenge, and ultimately placed as semi-finalists. 

What advice would you give to future students interested in these types of opportunities?

There are a number of resources on campus that allow students to apply what they have learned in their studies. We would tell future students to take advantage of the opportunities Sciences Po provides and utilize the broader university network which includes fellow students, professors, and alumni. School can pick up quickly and it’s easy to miss out on participating in these unique opportunities, make it a goal to have a one-on-one discussion with professors, academic advisors and other SciencesPo faculty to learn more about ways to apply your knowledge outside of the classroom and engage in professional development.

Do you plan to continue working on this policy innovation and what are the next steps you see ahead? 

We intend to continue working on this innovative policy. Food insecurity in Nunavut is still extremely prevalent and has now been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that we are back in Canada, we have greater access to contacts and resources that will be useful in further developing our policy proposal. Going forward, we plan to connect with and gain insight from experts, professors, policymakers, and community members in Nunavut. We also plan to reach out to PROOF, a research program based at the University of Toronto that works towards finding policy solutions to reduce household food insecurity in Canada. Our aim is to further refine and build our policy so that it can be implemented to effectively reduce food insecurity in Nunavut.

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