December 21, 2017 News Katelyn Silva Seven Teams Chosen to Represent the University of Chicago and Harris Public Policy Alumna Hafsah Lak, MPP ’17, Named to Honor Roll at the Clinton Global Initiative University Seven teams from the University of Chicago participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) meeting in Boston on October 13-15, 2017— five from Harris Public Policy, one from the Law School, and one from the College. The CGI U was established by President Bill Clinton to support and convene students who are committed to becoming global change agents. The organization has an annual event for selected students who submit outstanding project plans, called Commitments to Action, to solve global challenges in education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, or public health. This year, approximately 1,100 teams from across the country were chosen out of 4,000+. Empowering girls and women was a focus area of the event this year with Harris alumna Hafsah Lak, MPP ‘17, named as an Honor Roll recipient by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton for her work to bring justice to Pakistani women who are victims of gender-based violence. “Hafsah is the embodiment of a CGI U applicant who turned her Commitment to Action into a powerful real-world lever for change,” says Ron Gibbs, CGI U mentor and liaison and lecturer at Harris Public Policy. “Students who are selected for CGI U have the opportunity to test policy ideas for social change and gain exposure to funders and influencers with whom they can network and fine-tune their projects. Hafsah’s recognition shows how a CGI U endorsement goes a long way in helping make projects a reality.” After graduating from the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lak set out to change the narrative and give voice to women in desperate situations. She worked for the Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit (SRU) at the Government of Punjab, Pakistan, where she co-drafted the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act of 2016 and the Punjab Women Protection Authority Act of 2017. To support this critical legislation, she worked with SRU and partnered with the Punjab Government to develop Violence Against Women Centers in the Punjab region of her country—a project that earned her one of only twenty spots on the 2017 CGI U Honor Roll. Lak’s work to provide justice for Pakistani women is personal, she says. “Growing up in Pakistan, I’ve seen people close to me go through psychological and physical violence. We live in a society, where as a woman, you face harassment and the threat of violence on a daily basis. Yet, women who have been beaten by their husbands, for example, won’t say anything because this behavior has been established as a norm,” explains Lak, who works for the Women’s Centers pro bono and is a research consultant at The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts, housed at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. She adds, “At SRU, my team and I are working to change societal norms over time with education, but in the nearer term, provide justice to women who are brave enough to speak out. We do this through 24-hour, one-stop centers that provide shelter, police reporting and investigation, legal services, medical treatment and examination, forensics to strengthen prosecution, mediation, and post-trauma therapy.” Lak hopes that increased reporting and convictions will act as a deterrent within Pakistani society. Since the first center opened in March of 2017 with an all-female staff, more than 1,300 women have been served and 900 cases resolved. More centers are slated to open across the province. The centers are funded by the Government of Punjab, but she is looking for international collaborations to provide technical expertise. Lak is quick to give credit to others, including her team in Pakistan, the CGI U, and mentor Ron Gibbs. “We are fortunate to have local political will in the form of continuous support from the Punjab Chief Executive, and I have an amazing team on the ground who persisted against all resistance. The CGI U gave me a small grant, a platform to connect with other funders and advocates, and an endorsement that lends further validity to our work, for which I am deeply grateful,” Lak says. She continues, “Ron Gibbs has helped me every step of the way, creating opportunities and connecting me with the tools and people to make the best of my CGI experience. I wouldn’t even have known about the CGI U opportunity without him.” While Lak’s Violence Against Women Centers provide support to women after they are victims of gender-based violence, the CGI U-selected project from Meghana Chandra, a current Harris MPP student, seeks to provide critical information to women before violence occurs through an easy-to-access mobile phone application. Chandra is a lawyer and a survivor of sexual assault and harassment. Disturbed by the pervasive violence against women in her home region of Bengaluru, India and the lack of information provided to them, Chandra’s CGI U Commitment to Action outlines a plan to provide women access to and understanding of their legal rights. “Most women don’t know what to do when they are victims of sexual or domestic violence. It’s hard to communicate this information to people who can’t read, which is the majority of low-income women in India, and to ensure women can access the information whenever they need it,” says Chandra. “My goal is to empower women at the time they need it most with critical information.” Chandra’s solution is to provide cell phones to low-income women with a pre-programmed mobile app that offers legal rights information on rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence. The app will deliver the information in multiple languages and through video, audio, and graphics for those who cannot read. Understanding that male heads of household may take the cell phones from female family members, particularly if they know its purpose, Chandra plans to make the phones hot pink and deliver them in an embroidered purse. She will also include additional family-friendly information on the app, such as food rationing and tenancy tips, in order to veil the women’s rights content and deter men from taking the app away. “These crimes are disproportionately borne by low-income women who have low levels of literacy and find it difficult to make their case. I hope to give women more individual control and hopefully, soon see a lot of pink phones,” says Chandra who is currently seeking funding for her project. Chandra was one of approximately 1,200 students chosen from over 4,000 applicants from 80 countries, 250 universities, and all 50 states to attend the CGI U annual meeting. The University of Chicago has sent more than 40 teams to the meeting in the past four years. Additional invitees included Harris Public Policy teams: Liang (Claire) Zhang and Manyi Wang; Teresa Wang, Shuhan Zhou, and Juliana Aguilar; Jack Coughlan, Uranbileg Enkhtuvshin and Rodrigo Guzman; and Madeleine Toups. Representing the Law School was Livia Maas and The College, Rimsha Nazeer. In recent years, Harris has expanded its involvement in policy competitions to include the Booth Social New Venture Challenge and the Penn Fels National Public Policy Challenge. At the SNVC, Harris won first place and a $30,000 award in 2015 with BallotReady and third place and a $5,000 award in 2016 with KicheNet. Also in 2016, Harris won first place and a $10,000 award at the Penn National Public Policy Challenge. “During Harris orientation this year, more than 140 students attended policy workshops to learn more about problem identification and solution development to participate in CGI U and the other competitions,” says Gibbs. “There is a high level of enthusiasm among students to engage in real-world problem-solving to bring about social change globally. 2018 will be an exciting year for Harris in the policy entrepreneurship arena.” Related Coverage: “International Human Rights Clinic to Provide Technical Assistance in Implementation of Law Protecting Women in Pakistani Region” Chelsea Clinton on “20 Years of Data, 1 Year Later: Where are we on gender equality” “4 Ways that College Students are Curbing Violence Around the World” “The Clinton Global Initiative Empowers New Leaders to Solve Global Challenges” Hafsah Lak, MPP '17 Harris CGIU students, Lect. Ron Gibbs and Dean Baicker Meghana Chandra, MPP '18 (expected) Faculty Spotlight Ronald Gibbs Program Director, Policy Entrepreneurship and Competitions Ron Gibbs is President of National and International Public Affairs Consulting (NIPAC) and provides strategic counsel to local governments, businesses, and nonprofits on public policy, legislative affairs, coalition building, and crisis communications.