The Impact Competition Focuses on AI at Columbia University

May 15, 2024 / 5 mins read

In 2024, the Impact Competition forged a new partnership with Columbia University, partnering with the Columbia Business School to run a competition called the AI Innovate Challenge, focused on the question: How can AI change the world?

The competition was put on by the newly-formed Artificial Intelligence Club, a group co-created by Benjamin Greenspan and Tanmaye Bhatia, two Columbia MBA students. The Impact Competition team was excited at this new application of our programming, as we have yet to partner with a graduate school. Considering the rising relevance of AI, it seemed an apt partnership to explore the ways that these emerging technologies can create positive change in the world.

The Columbia AI club worked with two non-profits to create a case focused on how AI could support the work of their organizations.

One of the non-profits, Foodbank for New York City, was concerned about the difficulty that many New Yorkers have finding relevant and timely social services. Despite the presence of numerous resources like soup kitchens, food banks, and other social services, many individuals find it challenging to access the information they need due to a lack of centralized and up-to-date resources. Especially in times of emergency, it is difficult to find relevant available resources in a timely manner. For this challenge, the students were tasked with developing an intuitive, comprehensive platform that guides New Yorkers in need to the nearest and most appropriate assistance services.

The other prompt was focused not on an existing non-profit, but an ongoing social issue, and was designed by Bradley Tusk, a philanthropist, former campaign manager for Mike Bloomburg, Columbia Business School Professor, and the CEO and Founder of Tusk Venture Partners. As someone professionally involved in politics, Tusk asserted that it would be helpful for the media to understand what percentage of campaign promises are fulfilled by politicians. The case for this issue focused on the question: Can advances in AI help keep politicians accountable?

The challenge to students was to develop a platform that evaluated the performance of elected officials against their campaign promises and public statements. This tool would assess the fulfillment of commitments made by politicians, thereby enhancing transparency and accountability in the political landscape, ultimately contributing to a more accountable political system.

For this competition, all the student teams applied for the first round by proposing a solution for one of the cases. A total of twenty teams registered, with sixty students total participating. After an inspiring opener from famed Columbia Business School Professor, Sheena Iyengar, six final teams presented their pitches, with the winning team, the "New York AI Labs," was Andrew Siah and Iris Meng. Their winning solution involved the creation of a phone number that anyone can text with an issue in NYC and within seconds a bot will respond with appropriate resources. The main objective is to connect New Yorkers to the proper agency in a timely manner.

Through this exciting first-year partnership, the Impact Competition brought together motivated, high-level graduation students with non-profit organizations in need of innovation. The impressive judging panel brought together Denise Adams, Director of Innovation for NYC; Lance Breitstin, Impact Competition Founder; Bradley Tusk, CEO/Founder of Tusk Venture Partners, Columbia Business School Professor, Philanthropist, and former campaign manager for Mike Bloomberg; Arnav Krishna, Analytics Director at Foodbank NYC; and Layla O’Kane, Senior Economist & Research Director at Lightcast, who has presented at the UN, OECD, and the World Bank.

By tasking students to come up with philanthropic applications of AI, they showcased the ways that emerging technologies can support a healthier world. We couldn't be more thrilled about this new partnership and look forward to seeing what students come up with next year!