"The applied policy aspect of the program underpinned much of the learning and classwork, which was essential in helping me refine a repertoire of conceptual thinking and communication skills I hadn’t practiced before."
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) seeks to ensure the stability of the international monetary system — the system of exchange rates and international payments that enables its 190 member countries and their citizens to transact with each other. IMF monitors economic conditions worldwide, acts as a lending resource for member countries, and provides technical assistance and training to help its members build better economic institutions.
As part of the strategy, policy and review department at the IMF, I focus on analyzing the effectiveness, inclusivity and success of the organization’s lending policies through a variety of lenses. Since I began my role eight months ago, I’ve been part of projects examining an organization’s extent and form of engagement with fragile and conflict-affected states and low-income and vulnerable economies.
Much of my work has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has put an enormous strain on government budgets in lower-income and developing countries. As such, a central component of most of my projects is analyzing how economies have been affected, and how the Fund has supported countries in need of financial assistance.
I was thrilled to be able to undertake my MPA consultancy at the World Bank’s Global Solutions Group on Data for Policy Analysis alongside two other MPAs, Prateek Samal and Lory Chen. Our project consisted of building new indicators measuring internet access and use in Sub-Saharan Africa based on survey data, and exploring findings. The consultancy experience was crucial to landing my current role and helping me to succeed in it, as it prepared me in three essential ways.
First, I had the opportunity to learn how the “bubble” of international organizations works first-hand. The best knowledge always comes on the job, and working at the epicenter of the international development sector provided me with a functional understanding of how the industry works. I had been intent on working for an international organization for some time and being in contact with people who work in this environment was invaluable. It gave me a great sense of the development topics I could pursue and how to build a career out of them.
Second, I cherished the chance to explore an important topic in development and build familiarity and expertise with it. It’s easy to imagine the many ways in which digital connectivity and the internet are beneficial for individuals and economies, but it’s rare to be a part of an effort to quantify this and take stock of who is connected in the first place. It was also my first time using large quantities of survey data to carry out research. Besides practicing to manipulate and analyze it, I also took away the ability to think through and carry out a comparative data project from start to finish.
Finally, it was useful to apply the data and statistical skills I had learned in MPA classes to a development project. I gained fluency in coding for statistical analysis and learned how to deal with challenges that are common in this field. I use many of the methods and programs with much more ease and confidence in my current role, which I had the opportunity to develop, and at times struggle through, during my consultancy.
I’ve used many coding skills, such as for STATA, R, and Python in my current role. Although I was already proficient with STATA when I joined the course, I learned R and Python from scratch through the MPA. Having an understanding of all three programs enables me to switch between them as needed and comfortably work with colleagues who have different preferences or levels of familiarity with these programs.
The applied policy aspect of the program underpinned much of the learning and classwork, which was essential in helping me refine a repertoire of conceptual thinking and communication skills I hadn’t practiced before. Even having studied policy-related subjects in my undergraduate studies in politics, philosophy and economics, I had much more experience writing in an academic style and thinking critically about theoretical questions rather than policy ones. For example, I’ve taken skills associated with memo writing — expressing information concisely and clearly — from the MPA program into my work.
Some of the soft skills I picked up throughout the program have been just as important. Time management and the ability to cope with stressful deadlines are essential in many roles, including mine. During the summer courses in the MPA, we got used to thinking and problem-solving around the clock!.
Be organized and make the most of your short amount of time with the program. The MPA has many facets that students can engage with. Think about what you would like to take away from the program, and what aspects you want to engage with most fully.
After I finished the MPA program, I was a course assistant for the intensive summer courses in statistics, economics and program evaluation. I advised students to not compare themselves to one another. Use the wonderful opportunity of being surrounded by so many other bright people to learn from others with different abilities and backgrounds. It doesn’t matter where you start. If you want to work on specific skills or improve parts of your learning, use the resources available and you will be surprised by how much knowledge you will have gained by the end of it.
The diversity of interests in the cohort was an unexpected and welcome surprise that elevated my experience. Our cohort brought together a myriad of expertise and interests under the umbrella of policy. Although I learned a lot in class, what I cherished most was learning things I would have never expected from conversations with other students.
— March 2021