There’s no substitute for learning from the real world, which is why IE University’s School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs created the 2023 Summer Research Program in collaboration with youth-led international think tank RAIA. In this year’s program, students spent two months investigating, analyzing and presenting the efforts of real global leaders in combatting the global environmental crisis.
Working in teams of two, students were tasked with conducting deep research into an influential individual in the environmental sphere. Following RAIA’s methodology, they were challenged to produce an executive summary of their own findings, a comprehensive profile of the subject of their research, a visual policy brief, a 20- to 30-minute discussion podcast, a social media post and a final presentation. With a focus on analyzing the effectiveness and impact of each leader’s climate policies, the project gave students a chance to apply their theoretical learning to real-life situations and outcomes.
We spoke to Chiara Cassina and Sofia Platonova, students of the Dual Degree in Business Administration & International Relations, and Maxima Riep, who’s studying the Bachelor in International Relations, to hear about their experiences in the Summer Research Program.
What attracted you to the program?
Chiara I believe that our generation has a responsibility to protect our planet for future generations, and my hope is to play a role—no matter how small—in scaling efforts to mitigate climate change. Although it’s an immense challenge, I want to use my knowledge and experience to develop solutions and research that can help combat global warming. I wanted to continue my journey in the professional world of sustainability and climate action.
Sofia genuinely believe that it’s crucially important to create awareness about the ongoing issue, and this is exactly what personally drives me to contribute to the cause. Consistency and small, meaningful actions every day help us create lasting impact.
Maxima This was an immersive experience that allowed me to contribute to an intensive research program focused on identifying a climate leader. This opportunity gave me a close-up look at the tangible impact of sustainability initiatives in the real world.
Tell us a bit about your project—what were your key takeaways?
Chiara My research focused on William Ruto, the president of Kenya, and his stake in climate policy—on whether or not he can be considered a climate leader. My co-author Ruby and I concluded that yes, Ruto can be considered a climate leader because he has spearheaded Kenya’s rise as a global climate leader and has been the driving force behind several climate change mitigation initiatives in the country. However, Ruto has only been in office since September 2022, so it’s difficult to assess the long-term impact of his policies.
Sofia Alongside my research partner, I spent the summer learning more about Saudi Arabia and its de-facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. Even though the Middle East is not widely seen as an active agent in fighting against climate change, our main takeaway was that yes, he can be named a climate leader, though in a very specific way. We talked about his motivations behind pushing for climate policies and what has defined him as a climate leader, as well as his main policies and their impact.
Maxima Our project centered on an in-depth analysis of Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with a particular focus on unraveling his political and environmental motivations. He’s a climate leader because he demonstrates that economic advancement cannot come at the expense of the environment or people’s welfare. He shows a desire to be held accountable for Brazil’s climate policy advancements.
How did this program help you progress toward your long-term career goals?
Chiara This program built on two main skills that will prove invaluable to my career in the future. The first one is efficient research: I learned that organizing your ideas, research and sources effectively is incredibly important, and that outlining your research in a detailed way is crucial. This experience will definitely help me in the future. The second is communication. I had to work with both my teammate and my editor very frequently, and this research paper would not have been finished without proper communication.
Sofia I would say my biggest takeaway from this program was time management. It was very important to keep up with the demanding pace of research, meet all the deadlines, and attend the various seminars and meetings that were a part of the program.
Maxima I learned so much—research techniques, a global perspective, an understanding of policy analysis, public speaking and communication skills, and leadership and advocacy strategies. These skills will be instrumental for my future, as I aspire to engage in leadership roles within organizations focused on global issues, and in assessing the impact of and advocating for policies aligned with sustainable and ethical international practices.
What advice would you offer for students considering applying for the program in the future?
Chiara Just go for it! It’s an amazing opportunity; you develop real-world skills that will help you in the future. I was even given a follow-up position as a project development intern at RAIA, a role which I’m really enjoying at the moment!
Sofia I’d encourage every student interested in sustainability, international relations and similar topics to apply. It’s a great chance to learn more about current issues and engage in exciting research while being surrounded by knowledgeable individuals. You get to be part of a team and develop a valuable project.
Maxima Applying for this program opens doors to so many opportunities for skill enhancement and personal growth. Regardless of your existing skill set, this program offers a platform for improvement and challenges you to reach new heights. Don’t miss out on the chance to broaden your horizons and gain valuable experience.