Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Tianyi Lory Chen Brown University MPA

"I want to design impact investment products to attract double bottom line investors to invest in public programs."

Student Spotlight: Lory Chen, MPA ’20

Hometown: Beijing, China
Policy interest: Impact investing
Consultancy: World Bank, Washington, D.C.

You have a degree in economics from the University of Michigan. Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Public Affairs degree?

After I earned my economics degree, I spent a year working in the private equity industry in Beijing. One case I worked on at Tongang Financial Holdings involved helping a carpet manufacturing company solve their cash-flow problem. This “green” company used plastic recycling waste to make carpeting. China’s government had recently banned all imports of plastic waste, which resulted in a dramatic price spike in the manufacturer’s “raw” material — recyclable plastic, which had previously been cheap and plentiful. Suddenly, they could not compete with carpet manufacturers who used less expensive non-recyclable material. My team negotiated with the local government as well as private funds to obtain the large amount of capital the company needed to stay afloat. The government agreed to provide a cash subsidy on the condition that we would bring in investment funds to invest in other local enterprises. This case sparked my interest in impact investing and motivated me to pursue a degree in public affairs. My undergraduate study in economics had given me a good grounding in how the private sector works, but I still needed to understand how the public sector makes decisions. 

Why did you choose Brown for your MPA? What has been the best thing about the program so far?

The unique one-year structure of this program attracted me. The Global Policy Experience trip to Mexico offered me the opportunity to study policy from an International level and from a more macro perspective. It was quite interesting to hear firsthand how Mexican policy makers think about the trade relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. As a Chinese student, it is even more interesting to listen to Mexican opinions on some international issues because we seldom have the opportunity to hear from them. The Brown MPA consultancy also attracted me. I have been selected to do my consultancy with the World Bank at D.C., and I’m excited to put what I’ve learned into practice in the real world. The professors at Brown are very open minded and accessible.

What will you be working on during your consultancy at the World Bank?

I will be applying my knowledge in data analysis to harmonize, or standardize, the results of household surveys in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Digital technologies offer new opportunities to help eliminate extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. However, SSA countries still find it hard to access new technologies. My work at the World Bank would primarily based on household surveys gathered from 48 SSA countries. After the data collection, I will harmonize data related to access and household expenditures on telecommunications, assets ownership, and skills of household members in order to match data collected in other regional household surveys. Then I will produce code, data summaries, and a codebook and drafting of preliminary results

Look ahead five years in your career — what would you like to be doing?

I want to design impact investment products to attract double bottom line investors to invest in public programs. This work interests me because every case is unique, and presents its own challenges. There are so many questions to consider when designing a successful program. What percent of financial returns your clients want? What are the risks involved? Which topics do you want to touch on? What is the scale of this program? When can investors expect a return? At this point, I’m not focusing on a particular industry or scale because I would like to experience a variety or projects and challenges. 

December 2019