Photo: UN Women

UN SDGs Global Challenge Think-a-Thon

UNICC collaborates with Columbia University in a continued partnership to bring students and participants together to act on key UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As an extension of UNICC’s commitment to fostering partnerships with academic institutions, UNICC has collaborated this year again with the Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) to expand their Think-a-Thon partnership. This partnership builds upon the inaugural 2021 Think-a-Thon challenge with this year’s Think-a-Thon Challenge expanding internationally bringing together students, alumni and teammates from across the world for the first time.

Participants worked together throughout the summer to come up with ideas that actively advance human welfare and address the UN SDGs with a final competition in September after months of work.

This Think-a-Thon has helped us bring together cross-functional collaboration from academia, industry and UN experts to think through digital solutions with a focus to solve societal problem. We are proud of the distance we have covered between our first Think-a-Thon and today’s UNICC’s global Think-a-Thon in collaboration with Columbia University.

Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and Analytics Services, UNICC

Up close and personal (SDG thematics)

Think-a-Thon challenge participants worked on solutions to confront two great challenges of our time: Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Climate Action (SDG 13). 108 participants came together in teams of 3-5 people from 15 countries. After reviewing 22 team submissions, judges selected eight teams to compete in the final competition in September. The final teams had the opportunity of mentorship from subject matter experts (SMEs) to address real-world solutions related to Gender Equality and Climate Action SDGs.

Credit: UNICC/Pang
Credit: UNICC/Pang

Teams worked on real-world innovative solutions to global issues, with a chance to win cash prizes to realize their projects and an opportunity to present their solutions to UN, Columbia and industry SMEs.

The value of UN mentorship

The Think-a-thon offered a welcoming environment for participants to learn from mentors at the UN as well as other industry SMEs in areas of data and analytics and other innovative technologies. Participants had opportunities to network and collaborate with other teams, competition participants and UNICC colleagues. By leveraging data sourced by UNICC from UN Women, competitors were able to hone their analytical skills, participants refine their problem solving and data analysis skills, which they then applied to the two UN challenges.

Think-a-Thon 2022
Photo: UNICC

The work by the final eight teams culminated in a live hybrid event on 29 September 2022, with over 140 worldwide attendances. Hosted by the Career Design Lab at Columbia University’s SPS, the event showcased team members presenting their projects from the challenge with mentors, UN and Columbia University colleagues, as well as participants from around the world tuning in to cheer on their fellow classmates.

On Climate Action

Team Athena, Team CARL, Team Coolers and Team One Tribe Indigenous presented on SDGs Climate Action solutions. Climate Action solutions included:

  • Team Athena developed a platform that dedicates a space for stakeholders to engage in direct communication to minimize transaction costs in the agricultural space as well as aiming to implement and scale Regenerative Ocean Farming through a tech-empowered non-profit brokerage model.
  • Team CARL created a professional skill development and community platform to provide regular workers at corporations learning resources about sustainability to initiate climate-led and bottom-up corporate and cultural change.
  • Team Coolers highlighted an innovative business model deploying strategy, analytics, and technology that focuses on changing incentives at the individual level to develop cooler habits to slow down global warming.
  • Team One Tribe Indigenous showcased ‘Tr [1]be,’ a partly indigenous-owned company with the aim to protect biodiversity in partnering with indigenous communities to create a transparent market for purchasing and selling carbon credits at zero cost.

On Gender Equality

Team Achieve, Team Atelier for the Future, Team Khusharth and Team Women Ride Well presented on SDGs Gender Equality solutions. Gender Equality solutions included:

  • Team Achieve (The Advancing Community Healthcare Initiatives to Empower a Vision for Equality) proposed a program targeting female-identifying individuals to provide employment and professional development for improved community healthcare.
  • Team Atelier for the Future shared two solutions: first, they emphasized the need to implement safety features to create safe mobility environments for women and second, their app, Nanny Toda, a one stop shop app for navigating childcare needs to mitigate the accelerated inequality COVID-19 has had on women’s labor force participation due to gaps in childcare support.
  • Team Khusharth proposed a social enterprise that delivers care facilities to children aged 1.5+ from middle income urban families after normal school hours.
  • Team Women Ride Well worked on women’s labour force participation in India by proposing a women-run transportation company that matches women with the desire to work with drivers ready to drive women to their far away jobs with stops at major institutions/metro stops.

Judging the innovative solutions

Dean Argier, a member of the winning team Agritech from the 2021 Think-a-Thon, hosted by Columbia’s SPS and UNICC, opened the judging session with a keynote speech. As an alumnus of the Technology Management program at SPS, Argier highlighted how the team used the momentum from the competition to keep their innovative work alive.

The prize money from last year’s award helped commercialize their technology solution, Cardinal Fresh, which reduces pathogens from agricultural processes to reduce food waste in the food security space. Argier wrapped up by reaffirming that all presenters are winners and have demonstrated their commitment to implementing the SDGs.

Marco Liuzzi, Chief, Digital Delivery at UNICC, then took the floor for the awards ceremony to reiterate UNICC’s essential support in enabling the work of the UN ecosystem towards a more prosperous and just world.  Teams were evaluated for:

  • Clarity and innovation
  • Social impact
  • Capital investment requirements and financial forecasts
  • Viability (both operationally and technologically), feasibility and sustainability
  • Delivery presentation.

Recognizing the exacting deliberation by judges Shivam Kishore, Senior Advisor of Digital Transformation and Sustainability, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Ginette Azcona, Senior Research and Data Policy Specialist, UN Women, Liuzzi awarded Team CARL as the Climate Action winner, Team Atelier for the Future as the Gender Equality winner and Team Women Ride Well with the Audience Choice Award.

Photo: Columbia/Arndt

I am grateful for the opportunity to judge the Think-a-Thon Challenge. As a society, we have many challenges to work through and being exposed to the participants’ enthusiasm and innovative ideas to address some of these challenges was a truly rewarding experience.

Shivam Kishore, Sr. Advisor, Digital Transformation Programme, UNEP

I was truly honored to be part of this year’s UNICC Think-a-thon. What a phenomenal, inspiring group of young people, commitment to making a difference. The presentations were well-researched and a delight to listen to. I only wish I didn’t have to pick just one winner!

Ginette Azcona, Research and Data Policy Specialist, UN Women

Team CARL and Team Atelier for the Future were both awarded $10,000 each to split between their team members and Team Women Ride Well was awarded $5,000 to split between its team members.

My heartiest congratulations to the UNICC Think-a-Thon Audience Choice Winners: the WRW (Women Ride Well) team, with their proposal for practical and sustainable transportation to support women. Anything that can support inclusion and reduce gender inequality in all its aspects is refreshingly welcome. I was impressed by the analysis of the problem presented by this team as well as the interesting ideas they put on the table.

Marco Liuzzi, Chief, Digital Delivery, UNICC
Photo: Columbia/Arndt

The event concluded with a thank you to mentors and members of the eight teams for sharing their solutions. As well, for the UN mentors and colleagues involved, inspiration and innovation were words used to describe the whole experience.

Fantastic proposal and a great idea to get the youth involved find practical solutions to the crisis facing humanity. I was really honored to be part of the exercise and enjoyed reading the innovative proposals.

Chhaya Kapilashrami, Senior Director, Operations Coordination, UNFCCC


  • Julia Bruachle, Research and Data Consultant, UN Women
  • Asa Elisabeth Tynell, Project Manager, Sustainable UN, UNEP
  • Jacob Halcomb, Sustainable UN team, UNEP
  • Diane Confurius, Senior Data Scientists, TNO
  • Fleur Heyworth, Head of Secretariat, International Gender Champions
  • Amos Doornbos, Director of Strategy and Systems, World Vision
  • Antra Bhatt, Statistics Specialist, Research and Data Section, UN Women
  • Sonay Aykan, Associate Director ESG & Sustainability, Colgate-Palmolive

Team Achieve

  • Ashley Privette
  • Antony Nguyen
  • Caroline Ba Doe Lwin
  • Sydney Bridewell

Team Atelier for the Future

  • MinYoung Son
  • Sanggyu Jung
  • Soohyun Kim
  • Young Kim

Team Athena

  • Gigi Sariddichainanta
  • Ada Wang
  • Lavan Param
  • Janice Bi
  • Zach Russell


  • Joshua L Herrig
  • Melissa Hsiung
  • Saba Gebreamlak
  • Shruti Chander

Team Coolers

  • Karatpetch Jiwachotkamjon
  • Rekha H. Jayalakshmi
  • Valentina A.G Rojas

Team Khusharth

  • Ashwin Dubey
  • Arushi Mishra
  • Mansi Agarwal

Team One Tribe Indigenous

  • Christopher Starr
  • Galia Orme
  • Robert Fincati

Women Ride Well

  • Alison Garibay
    Geet Chawla
    Ghazal OZAIRI
    Sai Jahnavi Gamalapati
  • Nikunj Sharma

Photo: Columbia/Arndt
Photo: Columbia/Arndt

The 2022 Think-a-Thon was made possible with the support of a myriad of people from partners at the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University, to UN Women and UNEP champions, as well as colleagues at UNICC, UNEP, and UNFCCC. Shivam Kishore, Senior Advisor of Digital Transformation and Sustainability, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Ginette Azcona, Senior Research and Data Policy Specialist, UN Women contributed extensive amounts of their expertise and time in judging the challenge.

Azcona and her team members also worked on sharing the challenge, providing mentorship, and sharing relevant data for solution development. Chhaya Kapilashrami, Senior Director, Operations Coordination, UNFCCC helped put together the Climate Action challenge and supported the development of judging criteria for the Climate Action solutions. The partnership was initiated by UNICC with Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and Analytics Services and her Data Team for support including Chiara Rucco, Data Management Junior Analyst (for UN Women involvement), and Meredith Kravitz, Senior Outreach & Strategic Partnerships Officer, and David Damian Sandoval, Innovation and Outreach Officer for strategic partnerships. Lastly, a special thank you to Marco Luizzi, Chief, Digital Delivery with his support for the judging panel and the UNICC Communications team.

un women
Photo: UN Women/Amanda Vard

Columbia University – UNICC Thinkathon

Team Agritech wins with its ozone-based disinfection system to address disaster preparedness and advance human welfare

Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) and UNICC have collaborated to bring students and alumni together to advance human welfare, accelerate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and confront the great challenges of our time in the first-ever Columbia University SPS – UNICC Thinkathon. Teams proposed solutions to three social challenges:

  • Gender equality: Using data and technology to address violence against women during and beyond COVID-19
  • Cybersecurity: Understanding risks that arise from our reliance on the Internet, focusing on regulatory, policymaking and/or technological solutions in areas of Artificial Intelligence, personal data, automatic decision making and victims of data breaches
  • Disaster preparedness: Reporting on the manner in which COVID-19 has impacted vulnerable populations, to inform solutions and strategic planning to recover and reverse deterioration trends.

A summer-long Thinkathon to advance human welfare

Seven teams have been working all summer on real-world solutions with live data, mentored by subject matter area experts from Columbia, the private sector and UN Agencies.

In June, 17 teams of 3 to 5 people submitted their proposals with a statement of interest, with answers to one of the three challenge prompts and optional supporting documents. Among the initial participants there were 45 Columbia University students or alumni from five different schools, with 38 external students or professionals. Up to ten countries on four continents were represented.


A review committee studied the submissions and selected seven final teams that moved forward to the Thinkathon competition. These teams have been working throughout July and August together with expert university, private sector and UN mentors to refine their proposals and final presentations.

Three of the teams selected the Gender Equality challenge, two teams worked on the topic of Disaster Preparedness and the last two teams chose the Cybersecurity challenge. Mentors who provided guidance and support included:

  • Edna Chun, Lecturer, Human Capital Management Department, Columbia University
  • Shouryadipta Sarkar, Information Management Senior Specialist, UNDP
  • Shahryar Shaghaghi, Chief Technology Officer, Quantum Xchange
  • Tima Soni, Chief, Cybersecurity Section, UNICC
  • Lizzette Soria, Women’s Policy Expert, Safe Cities, UN
  • Jay Kesavan, Data Science Expert and Partner, Bowery Software.

Final presentation and winners

On 24 August 2021, finalist teams had the opportunity to present their ideas in front of a global audience and a panel of preeminent judges, in a live event that featured initial remarks by Columbia University SPS Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Zelon Crawford and presentations from UNICC’s Chief of Data and Analytics Anusha Dandapani and Data Scientist Dishti Gurnani.

Then each team had five minutes for their final pitch, after an introduction by their mentors. The judges had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. After long deliberation, UNICC’s Chief of Data Analytics Anusha Dandapani announced the winners.

Team Agritech was the first-place winner, receiving a $3,000 cash prize, with its solution of a newly-developed, sustainable, proprietary ozone-based disinfection delivery system to tackle the disaster preparedness challenge. The system addresses the matter of food loss and food safety by dramatically minimising the effect of malicious pathogens on agricultural products across the entire supply chain, while at the same time considerably increasing shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as seafood, meats and edibles greens.

Our unique ozone delivery system is designed extensively to be applied in the form of dry or wet methods determined by sensitivity, delicateness, fertility of the treated products.

Agritech Team

Logista Emergency Response was the runner-up. Their solution addressed the Disaster Preparedness challenge with a rapidly deployable and scalable field-based logistics system that gives emergency responders accurate, data-driven insights in order to make the right choices when time and resources are in demand. The cash prize for the runner-up team was $2,000.

The audience-chosen team was The Bulb, which was awarded a $1,000 cash prize for their Gender Equality solution of virtual networking against violence. The team proposed a virtual networking solution to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women. Their solution contains two major networking platforms, a group chat using a popular communications app and a blog site.

The teams were evaluated for their clarity and innovation, the social impact of their solutions, the capital requirements and financial forecast, the viability, both operational and technical, feasibility and sustainability of the solution, as well as the presentation delivery. The panel included the following judges:

  • Pavan Pidugu, Chief Technology Officer, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Rodrigo Hernan Prado Cordova, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Primus AI, RPA
  • Reda Sadki, President, The Geneva Learning Foundation
  • Ursula Wynhoven, United Nations Representative, International Telecommunications Union
  • Friederike Schüür, Fellow, AI Ethics and Digital Governance, United Nations.

Solutions proposed by other teams were also great:

  • The SafeTeal team proposed an inter-sectional mobile app for gender-based violence prevention and response. The app is intended to engage across the educational space, advocacy circles and the healing space.
  • The Merakhi team also had a solution to the Gender Equality challenge, proposing a smart jewelry and education program.
  • The CV2 team proposed a global, encrypted communications platform to tackle one of the biggest challenges in the cybersecurity space, by collecting and dispersing information in a timely and secure manner
  • The World ID team proposed a distributed ledger Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providing digital identity solutions designed to immutably protect sovereign, institutional, and citizen-level data and information, increasing scale and integrity in global information systems.

Thanks to this Thinkathon to advance human welfare, participants have been able to sharpen their critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. The challenges have heightened their awareness of global challenges, allowing them to build capacity and share knowledge, and work in collaboration with people with different perspectives.