Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The lasting effects of an IDS training

By Milasoa Chérel-Robson, IDS Alumni Ambassador for Switzerland 

My doctoral studies at IDS enabled me to leverage the use of the sound economics I was taught at Sussex’s Economics department beyond what I could ever imagine.

IDS offers an open environment with no strict boundaries between different disciplines for those willing “to cross rivers” as I put it. I now work at UNCTAD and find its working environment to be similar in many ways to IDS’s, though obviously also very different due to it being part of the UN Secretariat. It is similar to IDS in its mix of people from different backgrounds, both geographically and academically speaking and in its stated wish to create no boundaries between teams. 

UNCTAD’s work is spread across three pillars: research and analysis, intergovernmental consensus building and technical cooperation. This diversity enables us, staff members, to move from working on policy-relevant research questions at the global or regional level to the realm of international diplomacy or that of country specific policy-making. To achieve its mission, UNCTAD employs people whose expertise include macroeconomics, international trade, finance, law, international business, political science and international relations. Not to mention language skills. Some of my colleagues speak fluently four languages and are looking to add another one to the list!

In my team, we analyse the legal and regulatory framework of investment in specific countries, assess its coherence with the Government’s stated development objectives and pay particular attention to how countries handle issues specific to foreign direct investment (FDI). We then provide policy advice based on UNCTAD’s Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development with a view to increase the benefits of FDI on the local population whilst minimising the risks that are associated with it. The challenge for us is to be critical and yet constructive in our effort to assist policy-makers in aligning investment with sustainable development objectives.

I have just come back from one of many stays in Congo-Brazzaville where we work with a range of stakeholders on FDI and development with a particular focus on the agricultural sector.  My training at IDS helps me in situating investment related matters within the broader context of the country’s historical trajectory and socio-economic dynamics. As many times before, my IDS training is instrumental in shaping my relationship with policy makers and their constituencies, namely the private sector and civil society organisations. Thanks to these relationships, I get a constant reminder of the importance of our work on real-world lives. I try to understand our counterparts’ own ways of seeing their world. For example, most of my Congolese respondents say “évèvements” (“events” in English) when referring to what happened in their country in the late 1990's whereas most development partners say “civil war”. Pondering over the implications of such differences in the choice of words on the country’s economic situation is enlightening in many ways.

I can be both technically focused and contextually aware in my work because my time at IDS gave me the skills to do so. I believe that such skills are needed more than ever in training leaders for a Post 2015 world. That is why I fully support the IDS Scholarship Fund spearheaded by Lawrence Haddad, IDS Director, and want to do my best to help making it a success. 

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