Celebrating our graduates: Alessandra Cicci

November 16, 2021
by: Munk School staff

Innovation in the digital sphere is the Wild West; a land of untapped opportunity and potential. Alessandra Cicci entered the Munk School’s dual Master of Public Policy/Master of Global Affairs (MPP/MGA) program with Sciences Po with that potential in mind. Cicci, set to graduate via U of T’s online convocation on November 18, has always been interested in the intersection of policy and technology. After her completing her undergraduate studies, she worked at a public affairs firm in downtown Toronto, where she got to see firsthand how governmental institutions, non-governmental groups, and private corporations interact to make policy. In the eight months she spent at the firm, her focus was on technology, from small start-ups to larger firms like Facebook and Lyft. Her work there inspired her to further explore. “I wanted to look at more of the global governance of international challenges surrounded by emerging technologies,” says Cicci. “And at the Munk School, I was able to foster a deeper understanding.”

In her first year of study at Sciences Po, Cicci and a team of students were selected to represent the school at the Global Public Policy Network’s annual competition in London. Chosen to compete against students from the London School of Economics, Columbia University and other leading universities, Cicci and her team submitted policy proposals related to social inclusion and innovation to professionals working in international policy. “It was an opportunity to apply what we learned. We got to meet and present to diplomats, and practice on a stage at the Canadian embassy in Paris was such a fantastic experience.” Cicci views the time spent with her team as one of the highlights of her graduate journey. “It was definitely one of my most memorable experiences because it combined what I learned in class with the friendships that I built in the dual degree program.”

As her studies continued, Cicci was able to further explore and narrow her interests. For her summer internship after first year, Cicci worked for Riipen, an EdTech start up platform that connects companies with postsecondary students by embedding real-world challenges into school coursework. Cicci was part of their strategy team, focusing on the public policy aspect of the startup, assisting with grant writing, building government relation engagement plans across Canada, and looking at how to upgrade skills programs. “You get to wear a bunch of hats at a start-up, so every day was different,” she says.

For her capstone project, a culminating assignment that partners second-year MGA student teams with real-life clients, Cicci’s team consulted with the provincial Ministry of Economic Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT) to create a report researching how the Ontario government could assist small businesses in adjusting during the pandemic. “Most businesses realized that they could only survive if they had a robust online presence and strong digital infrastructure,” says Cicci.

“We looked at how the government could help small businesses transition to online operations. The stats we looked at showed that many small businesses that hadn’t thought about making those investments before.” Cicci’s team scanned academic literature and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s work on how small businesses could undergo digital transformation. Then, using the information they gleaned from the research, the group developed a final proposal that outlined a set of best practices, such as establishing voucher and direct funding programs to connect businesses to resources. They also recommended creating digital literacy programs to boost necessary skills; and building targeted innovation hubs to boost Ontario’s overall innovation ecosystem. “The capstone project was a good opportunity to apply what I learned over the course of my studies, and get practical experience working with stakeholders, partners, and classmates,” says Cicci. “It was interesting to be able to create a research question, figure out a research plan, draft my research methodologies, do my literature reviews, and then actually come up with policy recommendations. Especially for an issue that was so relevant at the time — and still is.”

This past summer, Cicci interned with the Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Department (ISED) in Ottawa, where she now works, full-time. “My internships were crucial to helping me develop my interests and understand what I could do postgrad. It’s great to get that practical experience and apply what I’ve learned in the program.” Now, with convocation just ahead of her, Cicci pauses to reflect on the journey of the last two years. “You come into the dual degree program, take all your first-year courses, and learn about all these huge global challenges. At first, it seems so daunting!” she says. “But what builds you up is working with peers in the program who are eager to address these challenges, have such fresh ideas and are so positive about how we can tackle these global issues.”

The University of Toronto’s Fall 2021 Virtual Convocation Ceremony airs on November 18 at 12 p.m. ET. Visit utoronto.ca/convocation for more information on how to tune in and celebrate!