It is a trying but crucial exercise to decipher our professional choices. In my case, three main factors explain the focus on international development: a familial factor, that gravitates around my parents’ origins; an intellectual factor, centered around my curiosity and affinity with numbers; and a social factor, rooted inmy past travels and adventures. Let me briefly elaborate on each of them.
The first factor, the familial one, originates from the contrast between my parents’ life and mine. Both my parents immigrated in Switzerland alone, at the age of fifteen, without any money or diploma. They met while waiting at a restaurant, where their hard labor eventually provided my brother and I with a comfortable lifestyle. Were my parents born in Switzerland, enjoying its excellent public education and stable institutions, they would have avoided countless issues in their lives. In my current situation, I feel a bittersweet combination of pride – first of my extended family reaching secondary education – and unfairness – earning multiples of my mother’s income with a tenth of her experience. This asymmetry is a building block of my personality, and undoubtedly contributes to my feeling of duty towards the less well-off and the need to work towards a fairer world.
The second factor, the intellectual one, takes root in my insatiable curiosity and affinity with rigorous reasoning, and initially lead me to study physics, in a quest to understand the universe. After some distinctive features and recognitions, such as math prizes, academic successes, or ambassadorship in Hong Kong, I felt the urge to expand my knowledge beyond the laws of nature, to understand the social structures that shaped my life and generated my privileges, and why so few share them on our globe. Hence my curiosity, as my favorite compass, drove me on a fluid path away from physics, ever closer to humanities and to international development.
I first aimed at entering global power structures, while capitalizing efficiently on my quantitative skills, which led me into financial markets. Although I enjoyed the intellectual challenges of the trading world, I still felt too disconnected from any decision-making, and unable to make the impact I sought. Adapting myself to find answers elsewhere, I took another step and landed in the world of management consulting. Working at BCG enabled me to work on public sector cases, and now in international policy in the context of nature conservation. But I feel that I can leverage my quantitative background more effectively and learn more topics around social impact, hence my desire to go back to studies and learn analytical methods to achieve fair and long-term development.
Finally, the social factor, rooted in my most memorable travels and adventures. I was sixteen when I first ventured out of Europe, with one of my best friends, to visit his mother and his brother who live in Bangkok, continents away. My friend’s family welcomed me as one of their own, in the streets of the Thai capital, where I lived for almost two months. This was a life-changing experience: I saw first-hand that my comfort in Switzerland was comparatively high, I had to adopt different customs and habits, and was initiated to Thai boxing with my friend’s uncles, among other adventures. But most of all, I noticed the extreme generosity of my friend’s family, even those who owned close to nothing. Witnessing how much altruism can be inversely proportional to wealth was deeply touching.
I then aimed at living in Asia for some time. I obtained a scholarship for an academic exchange, and at 20, I was moving in Hong Kong for a year that would change my life. Backpacking in China and South East Asia blew my mind: whether in the streets of Yangon or in the rural areas of Sichuan, I felt again the wonderful altruism, generosity and community belonging, as earlier in Thailand. Later, I quit trading to embrace travelling again, and I increasingly felt an urge to help those wonderful peoples to preserve their environment and cultures, while solving their subsistence, healthcare and educational issues.
In conclusion, an intense mix of personal, intellectual and social factors fuel a burning desire to get into international development, while building on my quantitative skills to help people from all countries maximize their welfare, health, happiness and freedom. To maximize my positive impact, what a better way than learning how to apply my quantitative skills to development issues at the best school in the world?
When I started my secondment as coordinator in the WWF Africa office, the project team was in an early and fragile stage: the roles of the 5 people in our regional team were too loosely defined, with little or no ownership feeling; the 15 African national teams only had little involvement in the project; and we had no clear action plan to execute any of the tasks required for the projects. Moreover, the management structure of the WWF network did not help: national employees report to national directors, who report to the global leadership, without direct link to the regional team: we therefore mostly have a coordinating role, with limited power to hold national teams accountable.
As a first step in my role, I discussed with the director of the regional team, and proposed him a 3-step approach: first, we clarified the role of each of the 5 regional team members, allocating them a precise mandate with concrete deliverables; second, we organized a presentation by the international leadership to all country directors of the African offices, to make national leaders feel involved and see value in the project; and third, we prepared a workplan template to be filled by national offices for them to be guided in their implementation.
The plan worked as intended: the responsibilities of our regional team were now clearly set and everyone knew what was expected. The country directors saw our efforts, clearly identifying what they could gain if they collaborated, and understood that the international leadership was on our side. Finally, the country teams, following the involvement of their national directors, accepted to work on their implementation plans and to assess their activities.
Initially the plan went well. But we later on realized that the delivery of the teams was rarely in accordance with their workplan. I therefore conducted interviews and discussions with people on the ground, to investigate what blocked them; as a result, I had an illustration of the famous adage “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
Indeed, several cultural issues were experienced and felt: some tools we put in place were not really adapted to the usual ways of working from most the colleagues in our national offices (e.g., working with cloud tools like the google suite is not a habit in countries with recurrent power and internet shutdowns, and proficiency in PowerPoint or Excel was generally not identified as a useful skill). But most importantly, the national teams wanted to have less of an “executant” and “project delivery” focus, but more of a collective international discussion, so that each country would feel integrated in a panafrican effort. On top of the cultural issues we identified, Covid-19 and lockdowns reached Africa, bringing an additional layer of implementation difficulties.
I therefore adapted the trajectory of the project in several ways. First, we scheduled monthly calls with each country teams to have a direct conversation. This would fit better the habits of our colleagues in national offices and made our collaboration more “humane”: we held informal discussions, proved our implication by having regional directors joining in the call, etc. Second, we organized regular “panafrican webinars” where all 15 country office teams would be invited, and some of them would showcase their work to others, giving a feeling of shared effort, triggering a healthy “race to the top”, and maximizing the exchange of inspirational ideas. Third, we listed, in each of the pillar of our strategy, what possible actions could be made on social networks or digital channels to still manage to deliver the project despite the pandemic. For example, colleagues would now schedule zoom calls with ministries rather than organize formal physical meetings, which was very new in most African countries in which we operate. And fourth, I personally scheduled one-to-one zoom meetings with the national project managers, to “lead by example” and show them we care about each country individually. We proved we were dedicated and would support each colleague without hesitation.
This two-step implementation phase was very eye-opening to me in terms of project management: in the first step, we executed properly an effective theoretical plan to get things moving; but in the second step, we improved by adding “softer elements” to our implementation, in order to drive and inspire colleagues. We kept being flexible throughout the implementation phase and factored in cultural and personal preferences, which lead to great ownership and participation from all the national teams in the subsequent months, despite the massive challenges caused by Covid-19.
Which priorities should the Zambian Ministry of Energy put at the core of their national policy during the next ten years? I will try to address this question, which is a fictional but realistic example of an issue I could work on at WWF. My essay will be divided in three parts: first, a brief overview of the energetic context in Zambia, in relation to its economic, demographic and technological situations; second, a recommendation on a specific policy priority that the Zambian government should put at the core of their energetic strategy, with a set of supporting arguments; third, a reflection on concrete implementation measures that should be taken as next steps, to establish a realistic and actionable implementation plan.
First, let us set the stage: the Republic of Zambia is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, with around 18 million inhabitants, half of them below 18 years old and three quarters below 30. The total population is expected to more than double by 2050. Most Zambians work in agriculture and mining, and 40% of them live below the poverty line of USD1.9 per day, which illustrates the level of dire poverty and socioeconomic inequalities in the country (95th percentile of national Gini coefficient). Only 35% of Zambians have access to electricity, with more than 85% of the national production being hydro-based and serving urban populations. Electricity demand is expected to quadruple over the next 20 years, according to the World Energy Outlook 2020. Finally, the electric grid regularly experiences breakdowns, requiring not only electrification and densification but also better and widespread maintenance.
The measures to be undertaken by the Zambian Ministry of Energy to address these huge challenges are obviously manifold, and a sound national strategy should not limit itself to a single initiative. However, in the present essay I will advocate for the deployment of solar microgrids as the main pillar of the Zambian energetic strategy. Let me briefly elaborate and explain why the photovoltaic deployment is the most impactful single policy the Ministry can undertake to strengthen the national development strategy.
There are five main arguments for the deployment of photovoltaic at scale: improved health, employment opportunities, equitable development, inclusive governance and environmental sustainability. First, solar-generated electricity will improve health conditions for most Zambian households. Indeed, solar energy allows the use of electrically powered stoves and lights at home, replacing firewood and kerosene-fueled lamps, a core sanitary issue in Sub-Saharan Africa. Second, employment opportunities will abound: solar investments create on average 3 times more jobs than fossil fuels investment of equivalent amount, according to a recent joint report by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the International Labor Organization. Third, solar facilities – and in particular microgrid and autonomous networks in rural areas – are a great opportunity for equitable development (targeting the poorest), and is one of the reasons for which solar technology makes more sense than wind plants in Zambia (other reasons include weather, complexity of megaprojects, increased corruption risks, etc.). Fourth, distributed projects such as solar microgrids empower local communities and provide opportunities for horizontal and inclusive governance. Bottom-up, distributed decision-making processes tend to be intrinsically democratic and more consistent with most traditional African practices. And fifth, the environmental advantages of solar energy are numerous, allowing Zambia to partly leapfrog the traditional fossil fueled-based development path. Additionally, solar energy is less harmful to biodiversity and agriculture than dams (heavy impact on biodiversity) and than nuclear plants (technically and financially out of scope). For all these reasons, and despite pitfalls of solar installations – intermittence, vulnerability to weather disasters, imported supply dependence, pollution outsourcing, financing challenges – solar energy via micro-networks of photovoltaic production is likely the single best energetic strategic pillar for Zambia.
As third and last part of this essay, I will list five initial measures to implement a solar national strategy in Zambia. First, conduct a national energy forum in 2021 aimed at attracting investment in solar technologies, supporting capacity building, and enforce community sensitization programs. Second, establish partnerships with various ministries, as topics managed by other executive bodies – such as grid infrastructure and education needs – are essential to the project. Third, involve regional and municipal leadership, especially given the relatively federated structure of Zambia. Fourth, put in place strong Monitoring and Evaluation frameworks and appoint independent reviewers to investigate the progress made and limit embezzlement. Finally, evaluate commercial incentives to foster bottom-up installations, for example by considering public subsidies to households and small businesses that would like to fuel their activities with solar installations.
Given my professional and academic background, the MPA/ID & MBA combination is extremely relevant to achieve my goals, in accordance to the School’s mission. Indeed, the MPA/ID would enable me to expand my quantitative skills and apply them in specific development causes I believe in, in accordance to HKS’s objectives; and the MBA is the perfect opportunity for me to build on the project management skills I acquired at BCG and WWF. Combining them is therefore an exceptional opportunity.
First, the MPA/ID is the perfect degree for me to drive the change that’s needed in the world. It provides an extremely relevant multidisciplinary toolkit, embedding economics, quantitative analysis, and policy methodology, and would enable me to be most effective in my development work aspirations.
Second, the MBA would allow me to build on the strengths I have developed during my various roles so far, and bring them one step further in terms of knowing how to lead, inspire, and drive change. At BCG, I produce countless analyses and built recommendations for executive committees on crucial strategic issues, and witness their decision-making. Whereas at WWF, I am myself directly “on the ground” and in implementation mode, and in charge to lead effective project management. In both cases, practical skills I acquired will be enhanced if I take a step back to study with the HBS community and exchange ideas on how to make a difference.
In addition, the joint degree is more than the sum of its parts: it would give me exposure to a very diverse set of ideas inside the Harvard galaxy, which would enhance my ability to bridge several worlds that rarely speak to each other. Indeed, on the one hand, the business world of the MBA is driven by innovation and fueled by competitivity; on the other hand, the development universe of the MPA/ID is led by fairness and animated by solidarity. I believe we need to bring together both: understanding the multiple aspects and dynamics of global problems is the only way to bring global solutions.
In conclusion, in relations to both my previous experiences so far and where I would like to go professionally in next years, the joint degree provides an optimal combination, and will allow me to deliver in accordance to Harvard Kennedy School’s mission to improve public policy and leadership around the world.
In the words of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, a key part of my socioeconomic background is to be from the working class, born with low total capital – the economic one, but also cultural and social capital – as both my parents are migrants who came to Switzerland to make a living. No one in my family had any high school or university education, in contrast with most students and colleagues I’ve met in elite studies or jobs.
It required drive to go through the various social mechanisms that progressively filter out students with lower initial total capital, and I think this drive is due to a very strong exogeneous factor (witnessing my family having relatively badly paid jobs and low wealth despite their hard work) and to a lower extent an endogenous factor (a very high natural curiosity in multiple intellectual domains).
I believe that my profile would bring several kinds of diversity to the Kennedy School. First, some straightforward additions, such as being part of the French minority of Switzerland (itself a quite unique country), or to have a very polyvalent background which combines physics, mathematics, finance, consulting, environmentalism and international policy. But perhaps more interestingly, I could bring the unusual perspective of an individual from the working class, who has a genuine drive and passion to help all of society reach a fair and sustainable development.
Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated byhistory, politics and ethics, and kept on thinking that one day I would work with talented individuals to improve society. I wanted to serve noble causes – ending violence, ensuring food security for all, reaching social justice,etc. – by understanding how impactful decisions are madeand promotingthese noble causes into the processes.The years have passed and today, my end goal stays the same, but I sharpened the way to reach it: I want to work in environmental policy to avoid catastrophic man-made ecological collapse, which I believe is the biggest threat to humanity.Game-changing ecological policy need to put into place, not only for wilderness but for human societies, and hence the ecological movement is now indistinguishable from, and a prerequisite for, the prementioned noble causes. Being accepted in Stanford’s Master’s in International Policy would be ideal to bring me from where I am today to where I want to go; let me explain why bygiving some background on my professional itinerary and how the MIP fits the picture.
A few years ago, my natural ability for mathand science led me into aphysics degree, which provided me with essential scientific assets, such as rational reasoning, quantitative skills, and the framework we call scientific method. I then chose to apply these assets to human topics (as opposed to modern physics research), and hence studied financial engineering and joined an algorithmic trading company. Overall, working in finance was a fantastic experience: I learnt about financial institutions, global markets, and how they influence our societies and day-to-day lives.But I felt like a financial market mercenary: an effective technician who produces money with sophisticated algorithms, without regards for the underlying goods being exchanged. Therefore, I wanted to transition from the investor perspective to the executive one, and therefore I joined management consulting aiming atunderstanding better how the world runs.
Working on high-level strategic topics at BCG, with private sector executives and public sector ministers, proved hugely insightful. I learned about decision-makingprocesses and their implications for humans and the planet. At the same time, I was hooked by the new waves of environmental activism and started reading about them: I went through scientific reports, taught myself a few basics in ecology and resource extraction and depletion, and realized the magnitude of the challenges humanity will face in the next decades – not only philosophically, but for very concrete threats on security topics, mass migrations, weather disasters, agricultural challenges, and other interlinked phenomena. Since I wanted to learn more about how international environmental policy is shaped, I applied for a BCG-run partnership withWWF Africa, and got staffed on a one-year secondment in the NGO’s largest public policy project. I therefore hoped to understand better how world leaders are tacklingecological issues and consequent threats.
As I write these lines, my year in environmental policy at WWF is approaching an end. I learned a huge amount of information about NGOs, international policy, ecological movements, African politics, development issues, and many other topics – yet I come out of this experience hungrier for knowledge, rather thanreplete. I witnessed the state of the current efforts made to safeguard the planet: I am convinced they are insufficient.Hence, I want to strengthen my profile to have a better impact: I need to deepen my policymaking knowledge and learn how I can further contribute to the ecological causes, for nature and for people. Therefore, to fast-track my education on these topics and to gain credibility as an international policymaker, I decided to apply at Stanford.
But why Stanford, and why the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy in particular? There are several reasons. First, given the weight of the United States and technology in international affairs, I want to spend some time in this unique country and its innovationcore, to learn from the Silicon Valley’sfertile ecosystem. I tremendously value the opportunity to grow by being surrounded by committed and talented peers, with world-famous teachers and mentors. Moreover, I feel that the school mission is in perfect alignment to my values. Compared to other institutions, Stanford puts an emphasis on progressive concerns for social justice and equity, and the 1885 Founding Grant mission to “promote the public welfare” still as valid today.
More specifically, the Master’s in International Policy puts an emphasis on cross-cutting issues and provides a direct toolkit to perform high-quality, polyvalent policy work in key high-level institutions. As we know, today’s ecological challenges require a broad set of knowledge and skills and cannot be understood only from a scientific or ecological perspective (as an environmental science degree would provide), but need a broad array of capabilities that the MIP offers.Finally, I appreciate the focus the Master’s puts on quantitative skills: I would like to learn how to bring my analytical and numerical skills for deeper purpose than profit-making via trading algorithms or corporate strategies.
I think I can bring an international, multidisciplinary and very committed profile to the next cohort of Stanford. After graduating from the MIP, I wish to continue being part of the movement for environmental justice, by bringing my sharpened competencies either in large intergovernmental institutions, or in civil society organizations that work with them; in any case, the connections and knowledge I would acquire at the Freeman Spogli Institute would be an essential boost!
In conclusion, I really hope to be accepted in Stanford’s MIP, to help me acquire new skills in the policy field and apply them for greater good, with a particular emphasis on ecological concerns and their consequences on human societies. I am convinced this is the best intellectual venture I can take to go forward, and look forward to reading your decision.
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