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President Barack Obama, CC '83, speaks at Barnard Commencement in 2012.

Updated March 23 at 4:40 p.m.

Columbia World Projects, a new institution that aims to develop solutions to real-world problems, will bring scholars affiliated with Obama Foundation to Columbia through a new program, University President Lee Bollinger announced in an email to Columbia faculty on Friday.

According to the email, the University will now host an annual group of Obama Foundation scholars from around the world, on full scholarships, for a year-long residency program. The first group, consisting of about a dozen scholars, will arrive at the start of the next school year.

Bollinger’s statement also detailed the CWP’s inaugural project, dealing with climate change and food security, along with a new process for vetting project ideas. Led by Lisa Goddard, director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, the project’s team is collaborating with global partners to make improvements across the entire food system based on climate change predictions.

Going forward, the initiative will inspire classes, fellowships, conferences, and publications. Bollinger said that the University will continue to hold workshops for faculty on the implementation of academic research and other non-project activities. In the fall, CWP will move into its new headquarters at the Forum building on the Manhattanville campus.

“Our special area of interest is studying the ways in which academic research is successfully (or unsuccessfully) implemented, so that people outside universities can benefit from this knowledge,” Bollinger wrote in the email. “Our projects will inform, and be informed by, our thinking about this.”

Unveiled last spring, CWP calls for broad faculty participation in its mission to extend the University’s global influence through targeted, solution-oriented research. Despite this, many members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which focuses on more general academic inquiry, do not understand how their work will fit into the goals of the initiative.

Future projects will begin with the identification of a significant challenge, which will be evaluated by a forum made up of “distinguished leaders and experts from inside and outside the academy.” After the initial meeting, CWP staff will consult experts to develop project ideas, create academic teams, and generate funding. Bollinger said that faculty members may also submit suggestions to the director of CWP, Pulitzer Professor of Journalism Nick Lemann.Bollinger emphasized that the ideas will be original, not based upon existing developments.

“Columbia World Projects is a significant new initiative that we are starting from scratch. We are proud of the progress we have made in a short time, and confident that it will continue,” Bollinger said in the email.

The next topic to be addressed will be inequality.

Correction: The first version of this story’s headline incorrectly stated that CWP would collaborate with the Obama Foundation on research projects including food security. In fact, the one-year program hosting Obama scholars is the extent of CWPs’ partnership with the Obama Foundation.

Read the full email below.

Dear Faculty:

I am writing to give a progress report on the important work of Columbia World Projects (CWP), whose establishment I announced last April. The essence of CWP is to create within Columbia an institution that will work with partners to take scholars’ work out into the world in ambitious new ways, in order to address important challenges facing humanity.

I want to begin by highlighting an inaugural CWP project that is now underway, which will help us establish a process for managing projects and serve as an example of what we have in mind for CWP. The project represents the culmination of many years of extensive research and development of expertise in seasonal climate prediction, forecasting, and historical analysis at Columbia’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), led by IRI’s Director, Lisa Goddard, being brought to bear on one of the most important challenges facing humanity—food security. Together with an interdisciplinary Columbia team, Lisa and her IRI colleagues Walter Baethgen, Head of Regional and Sectoral Research, and John Furlow, Deputy Director for Humanitarian and International Development, are collaborating with global partners to embed climate knowledge into planning and decision-making that will translate into improvements across the entire food system, for example by optimizing relief efforts and enabling best farming practices.

This project has had a rapid launch because we think it is important to demonstrate what CWP can accomplish, but subsequent projects will be developed through a new process we are establishing. This process will begin by defining a significant challenge and, after careful preparation, convening a forum in which distinguished leaders and experts from inside and outside the academy will discuss the challenge, with a view to beginning to identify specific projects in which academic research and scholarship can be applied to the challenge in ways that can create effective, scalable solutions for the benefit of people around the world, while also enriching research and scholarship. After this initial meeting, CWP staff, in consultation with other experts, will work on developing the projects that have emerged as particularly promising—ones that CWP can undertake, with the help of partners, and carry out over a period of several years. CWP will convene academic teams, make arrangements with partner organizations, and devise the means of financing the projects. Columbia World Projects intends to be an institution that develops its own projects, not one that adds resources to projects that are already fully formed.

Last month, we convened the first of these meetings, on energy access. And later in the term we plan to convene a second meeting, on inequality. As with our first project, we are launching these meetings quickly in order to demonstrate and test our method. But we encourage members of the community, and others, to suggest topics for future meetings that begin the process of developing projects. We intend to operate CWP projects close to home as well as around the world, so we would like to hear ideas about challenges to be met both nearby and far away. Suggestions may be submitted to CWP Director Nicholas Lemann at lemann@columbia.edu.

I am also very happy and proud to announce another Columbia World Projects initiative that arises out of a new partnership with the Obama Foundation, founded by the former President and First Lady, under which we will host an annual cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars. These will be rising leaders from around the world, for whom we will design a special year-long resident program of education and training, on full scholarship, after which the Scholars will return home and continue their work. About a dozen Obama Foundation Scholars will arrive at the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year; in subsequent years there will be a larger number of Scholars, and we will have an open application process.

The Obama Foundation Scholars program will be one aspect of what we hope is a vibrant intellectual life at CWP, with classes, fellowships, conferences, and publications. Our special area of interest is studying the ways in which academic research is successfully (or unsuccessfully) implemented, so that people outside universities can benefit from this knowledge. Our projects will inform, and be informed by, our thinking about this. Later this spring we will hold a two-day workshop on implementation, organized by Patricia Culligan, Robert A. W. and Christine S. Carleton Professor of Civil Engineering; Wafaa El-Sadr, University Professor and Dr. Mathilde Krim-amfAR Professor of Global Health (in Epidemiology); and Samuel Sia, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, as the first of our non-project activities, and there will be a larger roster of these next year. We have also appointed an advisory committee, made up of Columbia faculty members and leaders from outside the University, which will meet this spring to help us set the overall course for Columbia World Projects and to select new projects.

In the fall, CWP will move into the new Forum building, on the Manhattanville campus, which is now nearing completion. Most of the building will be devoted to spaces for meetings and conferences, along with large open areas with desks, so it will not only be an impressive home for CWP, but also one with a design that is appropriate to the collaborative spirit of the enterprise.

Columbia World Projects is a significant new initiative that we are starting from scratch. We are proud of the progress we have made in a short time, and confident that it will continue.

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger

karen.xia@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

Columbia World Projects President Bollinger Food security Obama Foundation
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