An idea for incentivizing citizenship gains currency as HKS students win Global Universities Challenge Award

February 24, 2017

A group of Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) students won an innovation award at the World Government Summit with their idea for a coin that could fuse the ideas of citizenship and governance.

The student team, part of a larger, independently organized group of HKS students attending the summit in Dubai in mid-February, beat out a dozen other teams from universities including Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics, Stanford, MIT, and IESE, representing six countries.

The competition, judged by a panel that included Silicon Valley entrepreneur Chris Schroeder and Ideo chief creative officer Paul Bennett, tasked the teams with developing an innovative idea for the future of government. Teams were given just eight hours to develop their ideas, culminating in a seven-minute presentation, and were judged on novelty, innovation, impact, comprehensiveness, and feasibility.

Meeting with HKS Dean Doug Elmendorf upon their return, team members explained the notion behind the winning idea as a way to incentivize citizens to engage in the process of government. The citizens would be rewarded for their work – which would range from recycling to community organizing – with a special government currency (the team used a symbolic coin in their winning presentation). The payment could be used to buy anything from food to health care to education. But it would also form a closer bond between the citizen and the government, by giving the citizen a “share” in the government.

“The coin doesn’t just give you an allowance ... it gives you a physical piece of the government,” Hamada Zahawi MC/MPA 2017 said during the team’s presentation.

The exchange would make the government accountable to the citizen and the citizen to the government. That idea of reciprocity was critical to the team’s success, the students said.

The students are eager to continue refining their idea. Summit organizers expressed an interest in exploring the concept further and team members are reaching out to the office of the prime minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasheed Al Maktoum, who presented the team with their award at the summit.

Connecting citizens to their governments is an important element in the Kennedy School’s work on improving the way democracies work, and the team’s idea fits perfectly in that space, Elmendorf told the students.

Twenty-seven HKS students traveled to the World Government Summit this year (eight other students decided not to travel following the uncertainty caused by the executive order on immigration issued by President Trump). The five-year-old event, organized by the United Arab Emirates, promotes dialogue on innovation in governance. Ayesha Alrayesi MC/MPA 2017, a UAE citizen and director of the Emirates Identity Authority, helped facilitate the trip, which was funded by the summit organizers.

HKS students win Global Universities Challenge Award

Winners of the World Government Summit’s Shaping Future Governments’ University Challenge shared their experiences and winning idea with Dean Doug Elmendorf. The nine members of the team represent eight countries. Top row (left to right): Hamada Zahawi MC/MPA 2017, Ayesha Alrayesi MC/MPA 2017, Luna Kim MPP 2018, Belinda Chanda MC/MPA 2017, Dean Doug Elmendorf, Luma Al Saleh MC/MPA 2017, Shikha Dubey MC/MPA 2017.

Bottom row (left to right): Yusuke Mori MC/MPA 2016, Gustavo Payan-Luta MC/MPA 2017, Andhyta Firselly Utami MPP 2018, Jonathan Mazumdar MPA/ID 2018.


Photo credit: Natalie Montaner


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