Campus - 03.05.2024 - 13:07 

Funke Aderonmu from the USA wins the Global Essay Competition 2024

Oluwafunmike "Funke" Aderonmu from Princeton University called for repurposing U.S. agricultural subsidies to bolster food security and climate resilience at the award ceremony of the Global Essay Competition at the 53rd St. Gallen Symposium on May 2nd, 2024. Chan Wei Jun Sean and Andreas Kuster were also honored at the awards ceremony. By student reporter Victoria Lorenzen.
The three finalists of the Global Essay Competition 2024 (from left to right): Funke Aderonmu, Princeton University. Chan Wei Jun Sean, National University of Singapore. Andreas Kuster, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore.

On May 2nd, 2024, three young leaders were honored during a grand ceremony at the Global Essay Competition held during the 53rd St. Gallen Symposium. The three students were awarded a prize for their outstanding ideas and proposed solutions on the topic of "Confronting Scarcity" which they discussed in their essays. Open to students globally, the essay competition brings young leaders to St.Gallen to exchange ideas and engage in dialogue with 200 dedicated "Leaders of Tomorrow" from over 60 countries alongside 600 established "Leaders of Today".

What challenges do young generations encounter, and in what realms do they face scarcities?

This year, the St. Gallen Symposium received more than 750 essay submissions from ambitious talents all around the world. To spread the word about the competition, a team member from the organizing committee travels the world to speak to university students about the Symposium’s mission of fostering intergenerational dialogue. The authors of the best 100 essays are invited to St.Gallen as "Leaders of Tomorrow" to discuss their ideas with the "Leaders of Today". Following the conference theme, "Confronting Scarcity", this year's essay question was: "Striving for more or thriving with less – What pressing scarcity do you see, and how do you suggest to tackle it?" An award jury consisting of leading executives, journalists, and professors from all around the world and an academic jury headed by HSG Professor Heike Bruch and composed of young top academics from the University of St. Gallen and the ETH Zurich selected the winning ideas. One noticeable trend in this year’s top essays was the exploration of confronting scarcities with AI. However, the top essays reflected a multidisciplinary approach to understanding and solving a broad variety of scarcities ranging from resource, healthcare, information, social and knowledge, or technological scarcity.

Repurposing agricultural subsidies to conquer food scarcity

Oluwafunmike "Funke" Aderonmu, who is currently pursuing a master in public affairs at Princeton University, won this year’s competition with her essay "Cultivating Resilience: A Paradigm Shift in U.S. Agricultural Subsidies for a Food Secure Future ". Aderonmu discusses that climate change severely affects agricultural production endangering the global food supply. In return, agriculture is also a key driver of climate change. To tackle this mutual reinforcement, Aderonmu proposes three reforms for the U.S. agricultural subsidies: Investing in agricultural research and development, increasing conservation funding as a larger share of subsidies, and supporting sustainable, climate-smart agriculture. In addition, Aderonmu also advocates for broader agricultural subsidy reforms across the world. Aderonmu first became exposed to issues of food insecurity and hunger in the U.S. through an internship where she worked on a project with a local food bank in California. Aderonmu learned that “even though there is enough food produced to feed everyone in the U.S., people still face insecurity with regards to food because of how the food system is designed in ways that reflect a lot of economic inequalities, particularly people with low incomes often lack affordable food options”. Her internship also sparked her interest in the role of policies in shaping food security, leading her to complete a yearlong fellowship working on hunger issues in the U.S. after her undergraduate studies and work for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). After completing her master’s degree, Aderonmu hopes to work at the intersection of inclusive economic development and advancing food security. With her prize money, Aderonmu wants to support organizations that provide immediate food security relief in addition to supporting more of the global advocacy and long-term policy changes. Fitting to the essay competition, Aderonmu encourages young people to look for opportunities to write and ensure that their ideas are spread, stating that "no opportunity is too small, whether it's at your local school newspaper or writing a blog".

Boosting climate change-exposed health systems with AI

Chan Wei Jun Sean is a master’s student in public health at the National University of Singapore. In his second-ranked essay "Mapping the Future of Global Health: Leveraging GeoAI to Optimise Resources in Climate -Resilient Healthcare Systems" he writes about using advancements in AI to effectively address health vulnerabilities stemming from climate variability and change. Coming from a background in policy analysis and global health, Chan set his mind to tackling the problem that inaction on climate change weakens the global health resilience to infectious illnesses, heat-related injuries, malnutrition, and mental health issues. He previously worked on a research project on using observational spatiotemporal analysis of routinely collected malaria surveillance data to evaluate elimination objectives in Bhutan, sparking the idea for his essay. GeoAI uses artificial intelligence and geospatial data to optimize healthcare resource allocation. It combines various data sources such as satellite imagery, electronic health data, and social media content to develop innovative public health strategies. It aids in predicting disease transmission, optimizing resource allocation and access to healthcare in vulnerable areas, and informing policy decisions. "I wanted to test my idea on a global scale", Chan reflects on his motivation to apply, "I wanted to see whether there is an audience that would relate to healthcare scarcity resulting from worsening climate calamity, and if GeoAI would be an interesting tool to help governments and NGOs better manage such scarcity efficiently". Chan advises young people to look for good mentors, participate in community initiatives, and be open, empathetic, yet respectful. He specifically values intergenerational dialogue as “one can see optimism and hope in the eyes of leaders of today towards the future generation, and that’s where young people are motivated to strive to do the best in their field".

Tackling misinformation overlead

Third-placed St.Gallen native and PhD student at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore Andreas Kuster explores the challenges posed by the digital age's information overload, particularly regarding the verification of content flooding the internet. Titled "Beyond the Noise: Innovating Information Verification in the Digital Age", the essay argues for a multifaceted approach to combat misinformation. In a society where the rapid dissemination of news through social media platforms often prioritizes engagement over truth and where fake news websites and manipulated media content mislead audiences, Andreas sheds light on the critical scarcity of effective mechanisms for information verification. To solve this, Kuster proposes three solutions. First, Kuster advocates for leveraging the latest advancements in AI and machine learning to detect and flag misinformation. This includes the development of automated fact-checking tools and bots to verify information in real time. Second, Kuster suggests integrating digital and media literacy in educational curricula. Students should be empowered to assess the credibility of sources, understand the mechanisms behind the spread of misinformation, and evaluate the bias and intent behind content. Third, robust policy interventions can help bolster information verification. For example, policy interventions could promote transparency in digital advertising, hold digital platforms responsible for content they propagate, and mandate the adoption of verification technologies by these platforms. Kuster concludes by urging for a cultural shift towards more mindful information consumption and he envisions a more informed and resilient society capable of discerning truth from falsehood in the digital age. “Ensuring accurate information is one of the core pillars of research and essential to uphold the integrity of my work”, Kuster explains his connection to the essay topic. As next steps, Kuster shares that “at an individual level, reverting to a more deliberate approach to consuming and digesting information can be applied immediately, meaning shifting from short-attention-span videos and condensed information feeds to engaging with articles, books, or in-depth documentaries, allowing time to think critically about what you see, hear and read”. You can view and read the full winning essays and the top 25 entries here

Victoria Lorenzen studies Banking and Finance and International Management at the University of St.Gallen.

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