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Tackling a Policy Challenge in the Republic of Georgia

Enguri Dam

Master of Arts in Global Policy (MAGP) Alumnus, Jesse Young ’19, reflects on his MAGP capstone project, where he tackled a policy challenge in the Republic of Georgia, analyzed it in a comparative context, and proposed recommendations in the form of a memorandum and briefing.
To complete the Master of Arts in Global Policy degree at Johns Hopkins SAIS, students are asked to author a final research project on a topic of their choosing. Unlike most graduate school capstone projects, MAGP student Jesse Young ’19 and his fellow classmates chose a single country in which their research would take place. They decided on Georgia, the former Soviet republic nestled between the Black and Caspian seas in the South Caucasus. Given the compressed nature of the program itself, they knew they would have just over three months to scope, research, and complete the entire effort.
Jesse’s topic of focus -- the future of hydroelectric power in Georgia – was both discrete and narrow (it’s a tiny country!) and overwhelming at times. Planning, prudence, and pragmatism were the necessary orders of the day, if he was to have any hope of completing all the work on time.
There’s a quote Jesse thinks about all the time, and one that he shared during his in-class research meetings. It’s from Martin Scorsese, talking about his view of film-making: “Your job is to get your audience to care about your obsessions.” His capstone project’s value -- and especially his oral presentation -- was in taking something rather arcane and making it interesting to a layperson. Getting them to share in his fascination.
To introduce his topic, Jesse decided to open with the complex problems posed by Enguri -- Georgia’s biggest hydro dam and power station. This was a neat, tangible gateway into the broader issues that formed the core of his research question. With that as his starting point, Jesse could then frame a more detailed argument. Electrical market regulation doesn’t exactly grab one’s attention – but a gigantic, creaking Soviet-era dam hopefully might. 

As it turned out, Jesse’s work did not end with the final presentation at Johns Hopkins SAIS in December 2019. An MAGP capstone project should rely on practical, applied research to explain a real-world policy issue. In his survey of the debates over the future of Georgia’s electrical system, Jesse’s paper did not mince words -- it was highly critical of many policy decisions up to that point. For that reason, he debated whether it would be wise to circulate his paper once it was completed. Jesse ultimately decided that the potential benefits outweighed any risks, and the paper’s reception was (happily!) very positive. NGOs, regulators, and trade officials with whom Jesse had spoken expressed appreciation for his work and some even requested permission to further disseminate it within their professional networks. The paper was eventually published in the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, and it has since been cited in other academic research. It has even been translated into the Georgian language!
In the end, perhaps the most important lesson of the entire process for Jesse was to find something that excited him and drove him forward. He believes that a person will be the best ambassador for their research if they believe that it represents a real and useful contribution to the debate.

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