Beyond Government: Identifying the Next Generation of Policy Wonks

Posted by Thomas Debass
February 1, 2016
President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Two Major Foreign Policy Leaders of Today, Look Out Over the National Mall in Washington DC. Will You Be the Next Generation Policy Wonk of Tomorrow?

At the State Department, we have been exploring how we can engage the American people in the work of diplomacy and development, especially given the proliferation of today’s global foreign policy challenges. The Department’s global tasks have grown in both number and complexity, as we grapple with issues ranging from fragile states, conflict refugees, multi-regional trade agreements, and cross-border terrorism.

To meet these challenges we have turned to a largely untapped demographic in the United States: university students. National enrollment rates in post-secondary institutions increased from 16.6 million to 20.6 million between 2002 and 2012, illustrating the sheer volume of this untapped reservoir of bright minds. We have also witnessed the rise of competitions as a tool of innovation to crowd source solutions that governments need to address complex issues. With this in mind, we are pleased to introduce Wonk Tank, a Shark Tank-style policy pitching competition for college students in the United States.

The Secretary's Office of Global Partnerships, through our Diplomacy Lab public-private partnership (PPP), is coordinating a first-of-its-kind competition for university students across the United States to compete to be America’s next great policy wonk. Diplomacy Lab enables the State Department to “course-source” research and innovation related to foreign policy by harnessing the efforts of students and faculty at universities across the country. Wonk Tank flips this model by giving students the opportunity to pitch the policy issues and solutions to the Department’s policy experts.

The power of the competition is threefold:

  • it allows us as policymakers to move beyond our institutional fences to leverage fresh thinking from bright young minds across the nation;
  • it is a recruiting tool that can be utilized to promote public diplomacy and policy making as attractive careers for the next generation; and
  • it will serve as a premier professional development opportunity for students. The winning policy wonk will be awarded a paid summer internship at the Center for Strategic International Studies to pursue their policy research.

The deadline for Wonk Tank policy proposals closes on February 19, and we will announce four exceptional finalists during Global Partnerships Week 2016 (March 7-13). The four finalists will then be flown to Washington to test their policy wonk skills and pitch their proposed policy solution to officials on April 1 at the State Department. This event will be open to the public. All wonks are welcome.

About the author: Thomas Debass is the Deputy Special Representative for Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State

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