Georgetown graduate students Adam Bouyamourn (GRD ’18), Christian Conroy, (GRD ’18), Jacob Ford (GRD ’18), Rebecca Gerr (GRD ’18), and Kelly Schneider (GRD ’18) are each working find ways to enact meaningful and realistic change on global policies issues within a year with the $20,000 from the Baker Innovation Grant.
The Baker Center is housed within the McCourt School of Public Policy and focuses on promoting realistic and positive changes throughout the world. The graduate students were awarded the grant at the 2017 Baker Forum on Jan. 25.
This is the inaugural year for the Center’s Innovation Grant, which provides five students $20,000 each to be used over the course of one year to make a difference in Global Challenges which are areas where government and other systematic failures stymie progress. This year’s Global Challenge was “Restoring a Sense of Security” in light of decreasing national approval of core institutions like the media, government and schools.
Bouyamourn’s initiative involves finding a way to better connect people to food banks in Washington, D.C., so more individuals who need food can obtain it. Bouyamourn said he aims to alert individuals if food bank nearby is open and available for meals using the same text messaging company Uber uses to alert users that a car has arrived.
“D.C. has concentrated food insecurity. Wards 7 and 8 have limited access to grocery stores, fresh produce and overall dietary problems” Bouyamourn said. “Most people don’t want to or are unable to reach out to food banks so I’m working to connect them to food banks around D.C.”
Bouyamourn is also experimenting with increasing the services food banks offer. Keeping with the theme of nutrition, Bouyamourn is hoping to add diabetes screening and SNAP signup as services offered by food banks. Bouyamourn wants to increase food and health security by working with existing food banks and improving upon them.
Conroy is working to limit gerrymandering and increase the power of the average citizen in elections. His hopes to create better quantitative methods for drawing districts, increasing public transparency of voter districts using a website and working with local officials to set up independent redistricting committees.
“My proposal aims to relink our democratic institutions to the popular will,” Conroy said.
With his website, Conroy is also hoping to show how gerrymandering is affecting current U.S. politics while also presenting alternative district maps. In addition, Conroy will predict how key legislative outcomes would have been different if districts had been drawn fairly.
Conroy said he wants to ensure that everyone, including minorities who are constantly disenfranchised by gerrymandering, have a voice in government.
“At the heart of the proposal was the desire to help citizens feel secure from a range of threats by restoring their trust in the electoral institutions designed to protect them,” Conroy said.
Schneider is working in a similar arena as she hopes to address political polarization. Starting out with a pilot program in Blackhawk county, Iowa, Schneider will run a series of workshops to foster a sense of community to create a dialogue between a variety of demographics. Schneider said Blackhawk was chosen because the city has a wide range of demographics that her project can draw from.
“The county has a manufacturing plant, an Islamic Center, suburban areas, and a university, so there are many different communities that we have the opportunity to bring together,” Schneider said.
Ford’s project involves increasing the amount of internship opportunities available to today’s highschoolers. Ford plans to launch a pilot initiative at a local D.C. school. Ford believes that connecting youth to meaningful work will increase high school graduation rates and overall social well-being.
Currently, Ford is searching for the right place for his initiative and build the relationships needed to connect students to internship opportunities.
“I’m searching for a local school to start my program and I have meetings lined up to find the best place. I also am looking to build relationships so that we have an array of internship opportunities that we can connect students.” Ford said.
Lastly, Gerr is hoping to increase awareness about health care so more people can make well-informed health care decisions. Gerr said many Americans struggle with health care insecurity and have trouble navigating the current health care system.
“Most people do not feel secure in their health care, for example they won’t know how much a hospital visit or what their insurance covers. Many people don’t know how to go about choosing a doctor or even choosing their insurance” Gerr said.
She is hoping to work with a specific illness group and connect it to existing information and to educate consumers about it. The project has personal importance for her, because despite working in the health care industry, Gerr has also been a victim of surprise insurance billing.
“This summer I had two major injuries. For the first one I needed immediate help and went to the ER, my bill was $250. My second injury was less serious and I saw my primary care doctor the same morning as the injury. However, that bill was $400,” said Gerr.
Gerr hopes that by educating individuals on the healthcare system, she can make the system more equitable for those at risk, so stories like hears will not happen.
All five winners will work on their solutions over the year and they will present their findings and project results at the next Baker Forum in 2018.