UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon 2024

UNICC and Columbia University partner to engage students and alumni in addressing pressing global challenges

6 May, 2024

Credit: UNICC

The United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC) and the Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) have successfully concluded the UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon 2024. The three-day online live competition, held from 5 to 7 April 2024, brought together talented students or recent graduates from across the globe to address pressing global challenges using Digital Public Goods (DPGs). This Thinakthon represents a significant milestone as UNICC introduces its inaugural publication of the Thinkathon’s outcomes to DPG.

In celebration of the fourth year of partnership and collaboration with Columbia University, The UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon 2024 aimed to harness the power of digital technologies and data to develop innovative solutions aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations. Participants engaged in collaborative problem-solving, leveraging DPGs to tackle two critical challenges: Digital Diplomacy and Quality Education.

Digital Diplomacy emerged as a key focus area, emphasizing the strategic enhancement of digital tools and capabilities to foster international collaboration and achieve the 2030 Development Agenda. Quality Education, another significant challenge, highlighted the transformative potential of technology in revolutionizing learning experiences and increasing accessibility.

We were genuinely impressed by the creativity and dedication exhibited by the participants throughout the Thinkathon. The students’ innovative approach and their recognition of the significance of leveraging digital and AI methodologies to address complex global issues were truly commendable.

Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and AI Section, UNICC

The competition attracted teams of current or recent graduates from accredited universities worldwide, with at least one member being a Columbia University student or alumni. Ten Shortlisted teams showcased their expertise during the live competition, where they engaged and received guidance from prominent UN mentors, diplomats and experts from various industries, focusing on data analytics, innovation and other emerging technologies. Participants had the chance to network with fellow teams, competition participants and UNICC professionals. With access to data provided by UNICC, competitors refined their analytical abilities, honed problem-solving skills and applied these insights to tackle the Thinkathon’s two challenges.

Digital Diplomacy Mentors:

  • Ms. Katia Carballo, Diplomat, International Trade Expert
  • Ms. Asia Aguiar, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Embassy of Mexico to Canada in Ottawa
  • Mr. Felix Wanner, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland
  • Mr. Oscar Encinas, Permanent Mission of Malta to the UN
  • Ms. Valentina Grossi, Associate Product Delivery and Development Officer, UNICC

Quality Education Mentors:

  • Mr. Massimiliano Falcinelli, Digital Solution Strategy Lead Officer, UNICC
  • Ms. Franca Vinci, Training Officer, UNICC
  • Mr. Kafui Kutsinyah, Chief Operating Officer, ClemTech LLC
  • Mr. Arif Padaria, Columbia University Founders Society
Photo of the 5 mentors of the UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon
Mentors of the UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon 2024. Photo: Columbia/Arndt

This competition continues to serve as a catalyst for creativity and collaboration, empowering participants to transform innovative ideas into tangible, and sustainable solutions. Year after year, I am amazed by witnessing the power of collective intelligence in addressing global issues and hope that all of our efforts can contribute to lifting our local and global communities.

Kelly Ahn, Associate Dean, School of Professional Studies-Columbia University

The work by the final ten teams culminated in a live virtual event on 9 April 2024, with 70 worldwide attendees. Hosted by the Career Design Lab at Columbia University’s SPS, the event showcased team members presenting their projects and solutions to mentors, UN and Columbia University colleagues, as well as participants from around the world tuning in to cheer on their fellow classmates.

After the culmination of presentations from the ten competing teams, the judges convened to deliberate and select the winning team in each category. Each team’s performance was evaluated across a spectrum of criteria, including clarity and innovation, social impact, feasibility and sustainability, capital investment requirements and financial forecasts, operational and technological viability and delivery presentation.


  • Mr. Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC
  • Mr. Kapil Gupta, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of State
  • Ms. Alexis Wichowski, Program Director for the M.S. Technology Management, Columbia University
  • Ms. Dimitra Staikou, Digital Governance and Communication Officer, UNESCO
  • Ms. Rosie Chawla, Director of Global Education Projects and Partnerships, UNESCO Centre for Peace
Photo of the 5 judges of the UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon
Judges of the UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon 2024. Photo: Columbia/Arndt

Following the deliberations, Mr. Chauhan, Director of UNICC, stepped forward to preside over the awards ceremony and announce the winners for each challenge.

For Challenge 1: Digital Diplomacy, the esteemed panel of judges awarded the top honor to Team DigiSolvers, consisting of Mr. Vladislav Shepelenko, Ms. You Wu, Mr. Sam Kadouh, Mr. Yazan Zeeshan Ali and Ms. Maria Ramírez Ruiz-Bailon.

Team DigiSolvers, winner of the Digital Diplomacy challenge. Photo: Columbia/Arndt

Team DigiSolvers proposed a unified global graph database to store information collected from nations’ main news outlets. Utilizing a network structure, each node represents a news article with metadata, while edges denote relationships like citations or references. Accessible to the public, with a primary audience of diplomats, academia, NGOs and journalists, this database will facilitate source verification and fact-checking.

For Challenge 2: Quality Education, victory was claimed by Team RAYN, consisting of Ms. Faten Froukh, Mr. Sulaiman Mustapha and Mr. Salahadin Mustapha.

Team RAYN, winner of the Quality Education challenge. Photo: Columbia/Arndt

Team RAYN proposed an AI-driven online immersion school for refugee students. Using a secure platform, students select their native language, and the system determines the language needed based on their location. After initial assessments, the AI Pal guides students through a personalized curriculum, gradually transitioning them from their native language to the learning language. Milestones are marked with assessments, leading to a completion certificate and integration into local classrooms. The adaptable AI PAL ensures tailored language immersion and curriculum, accessible via web, mobile, or desktop apps. Its eco-friendly design allows for use on reused or affordable hardware, while scalability is built-in for wider adoption.

I can tell you from the UNICC perspective, as the largest strategic partner for digital solutions and cybersecurity within the United Nations system, you’re inspiring us. You’re encouraging us to think boldly, to address tangible issues and to envision practical solutions. It’s truly exciting to hear your visions. I must extend my gratitude to Columbia University for their invaluable partnership and for bringing us together in this endeavor.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

The participants and winners were awarded digital badges, serving as a mark of distinction to enrich their LinkedIn profiles and resumes.

The UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon 2024 was made possible with the support of a myriad of people, from partners at the Career Design Lab at Columbia University’s SPS to colleagues at UNICC. Their dedication and hard work have been instrumental in bringing together diverse talents and driving innovation for global progress.

Project team of the UNICC-Columbia University Thinkathon 2024. Photo: Columbia/Arndt