Alumni Speaker Series – China, natural disasters and cyber security: practical perspectives from NYU CGA alumni in an unpredictable world

From left to right – Go Katayama 13’of ASCGA Board, Jessica Bissett 11’ of NCUSCR, Ina Wanca 13’ of Citizens Crime Commission of NYC and Chloe Demrovsky 12’ of Disaster Recovery Institute

On November 7, 2017 the Alumni Society of Center for Global Affairs (ASCGA) held its first ever Alumni Speaker Series. The evening opened with opening remarks from Xenia Roman Korobochkina (12’) who welcomed the guests and outlined the Alumni Speaker Series purpose is to simply provide the CGA alumni community with a forum to continue discussing timely topics, share insights on topics they are passionate about, and shed light on the impact our fellow alums are achieving.

The night started off with China. To get up to speed with China, we caught up with Jessica Bissett (’11), Senior Program Officer at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations (NCUSCR), who leads Congressional staff delegations to China and runs many of the Committee’s next generation leadership programs. Jessica started off by highlighting the implications stemming from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th Party Congress, where leadership for the next five years is announced and proposed changes to the CCP’s Constitution are reviewed and approved.  She explained that last year’s Party Congress was particularly eventful, as five out of the seven members of the Standing Committee retired, and around 60% of the Politburo (25 seats) also turned over.  In addition to President Xi Jinping solidifying his role as Chairman of the CCP, “Xi Jinping Thought” was added to the CCP Constitution, and no clear successor to Xi was included in the newest members of the Standing Committee. Jessica explained that there is a lot at stake for China and the global economy as China continues its path to become the largest economy in the world (albeit still technically a developing country and authoritarian). She added that many China experts are worried that the decision-making has become even more centralized in China. As we’ve entered the fourth year of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, and it is unclear as to whether it will be transformed into an institutional mechanism with more transparency or remain in its current, relatively opaque state.   Many have argued that the campaign’s lack of institutionalization and transparency has allowed Xi to put his allies in powerful positions to help carry out tough reforms and policies, while others contend that the campaign is mainly used get rid of those who have threatened to challenge his power. Jessica summarized Xi’s 3.5-hour long speech during the Party Congress as the following: China is now a major world power that isn’t going to be pushed around; it seeks to play a greater role in transnational issues; and the CCP with Xi at the helm has proved its legitimacy. The U.S.-China relationship is by far the most important geopolitical relationship in the world today. When you combine a more confident China with President Trump’s America First doctrine, there is little doubt that the bilateral relationship will face some challenging times in the near future.  President Trump’s recent decision to raise import duties on solar power components and washing machines makes it clear that without greater reciprocity in market access and more effort from the Chinese to reduce export subsidies, popular support for economic engagement with China will continue to wane.

Then we talked about natural disasters, after a string of such events devastated multiple regions around the world. On this topic, we spoke to Chloe Demrovsky (12’) who after graduating the program has become the President of the Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI) International which helps organizations prepare for and recover from disasters through education, accreditation, and thought leadership. Her work is driven by resilience and pragmatism. Chloe is busy — this year alone, the US has witnessed several natural disasters and she spoke very profoundly of the need to build a preventive culture. Hurricane Harvey will cost the nation $200 Bn, roughly 1% of US GDP. The cost benefit is obvious to mitigate such disasters. A US FEMA study calculates a dollar spent on disaster mitigation saves US tax payers on average $3.65 for disaster relief. But it’s not just a US problem as the world spends far more on post disaster aid and reconstruction. Chloe explained that much of the US’s critical infrastructure, as much as 80%, is owned by the private sector, which makes coordination difficult.  That’s in part why reaction to natural disaster is especially slow and difficult in this country.

To conclude our first series, we finished the night discussing cyber security. Cyber security has taken the mainstage of risks in this day and age. Yahoo’s hacking impacted 3 billion accounts, the Equifax incident affected 300 million accounts, etc. One can’t help but wonder how is it possible for so many organizations not to have cyber security higher on their radar. For this topic, we spoke with Ina Wanca (13’) who is Director of Cybercrime Prevention at the Citizens Crime Commission of NYC (She is also adjunct professor at NYU as well as at John Jay School, and affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University). Her perspective wasn’t solely focused on the technology aspect as one might expect from a cyber-expert. She brought in the human element and explained that it is, in fact, a human error that causes 90% of the cyber-intrusions. As she is now studying AI at MIT, asked whether automation will increase the cybersecurity vulnerability, her answer was “Yes”, to which she added “And, you can also use automation and risky behavior detection to combat cyber-risks, and that’s exactly what we’re pushing at Citizens Crime Commission of NYC”.

Alumni Society of the Center for Global Affairs is 1,300 alums strong. In a, less predictable and more volatile world, The Alumni Speaker Series is our attempt to showcase our alumni expertise and our window to bridge the gap and continue the pilgrimage for global affairs. This blog post was written by the fearless President of ASCGA, Go Katayama (@gokatayama) 13’ with editorial/planning support from Xenia Roman Korobochkina 12’ and emotional support/photo skills of Grant Fox 12’. We will continue the Alumni Speaker Series in the Spring of 2018. If you have any ideas  on how to stay awake during three hour speeches, or have any climate mitigation tips you’d like to share or cyber proof passwords or any interest in speaking please follow us on social media; Facebook and Linkedin.



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