Meet the Team

Phillip Denny


Mimi Kaplan

Research Fellow

Advising Hours: Sign up online or by request

Advising Hours: Available upon request

Areas of Focus: community building, networks & partnerships, civic engagement, grant/proposal development, team building, strategy

Contact: Email | (510) 666-9120 | 120A Blum Hall

Areas of Focus: Domestic and international water policy, systems thinking, agricultural technology, sustainable development and design, life-cycle assessment

Contact: Email | (510) 664-7424 | 120B Blum Hall

Phillip Denny serves as the Senior Program Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, a position he assumed shortly after the Center was established in March 2006. He manages the Big Ideas@Berkeley contest–one of the oldest and most respected student innovation competitions in California. In this capacity, he has encouraged and supported approximately 1,400 interdisciplinary teams to develop creative solutions to today’s most pressing social challenges. Under Phillip’s direction, the Big Ideas Contest has helped secure millions of dollars in seed funding for student start-ups, expanded the contest to 18 campuses, and recruited over 1,000 industry, government and non-profit experts to judge ideas and mentor participants. He has also been integral in developing key partnerships across academia, private sector organizations, and entrepreneurship networks to strengthen social innovation initiatives on campus. As recognition for his leadership of Big Ideas, he received UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award in 2015. Prior to joining the Center, Denny held leadership roles in multiple successful grass-roots and political campaigns, specializing in research and communications strategies for both candidates and organizations.

Mimi Kaplan is the Sustainable Design Research Fellow advising on circular economy and environmental responsibility metrics for the Big Ideas Contest. Mimi is 1st year student in the Goldman School of Public Policy where she is focusing on California water policy. She received her undergraduate degree from Columbia University where she studied Sustainable Development. She subsequently worked in Jerusalem as a Fellow at the Milken Innovation Center, and the Middle East Office of the Quartet’s project group, Shurook. In these positions, she utilized the tools of systems thinking and life-cycle assessment to develop and implement environmentally and financially sustainable small-scale water capture, treatment and reuse systems.

Jessica Li

Big Ideas Advisor

Advising Hours: Available upon request

Areas of Focus: global health, development, data visualization, social services, social determinants of health

Contact: Email | (510) 664-7424 | 120B Blum Hall

Jessica Li serves as the Network Coordinator on the Big Ideas team. She is a first-year graduate student at the Goldman School of Public Policy, focused on deepening her understanding how
data can be used to support the design and implementation of policies that aim to mitigate the effects of systematic inequality. Jessica has a background in global health and development as well as in domestic social policy. She worked most recently as the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at a small international NGO focused on improving the delivery of primary healthcare services to school-aged children in Lusaka, Zambia. Prior to this, she worked on the policy and advocacy team at PATH—an international non-profit that uses innovation to deliver healthcare services to resource limited settings.