Quentin Wodon (PhD '02)
Why did you join the PhD in Economics Program at AU?
When I started my professional life, my background was in business and engineering, but I felt that I needed to do something different. I joined an international NGO (the International Movement ATD Fourth World) working at the grass-roots level with very poor families and conducting advocacy work as well. After four and a half years spent with the NGO, I decided to move on. I thought that joining a PhD program in economics would enable me to acquire new skills and, as importantly, to benefit from a transition of a few years to figure out what to do next. I chose to go to AU for two reasons: the scholarship provided and the location. I thought that doing my PhD in Washington might enable me to work on development issues and to contribute to poverty reduction, albeit in a different way.
Could you tell us about some of your experiences while at AU?
I had a great time at AU, in large part because I made good friends and several of us have kept in touch ever since. Washington's location was also great because of the career opportunities that it provided and the natural surroundings. Academically, one aspect of the program that I enjoyed was its diversity. Very different types of courses were provided, and actually mandatory. For example, in the first semester, we had to study the history of economic thought with Dr. Wisman, while at the same time learning the tools of mathematical economics with Dr. Tanh, and microeconomics with Dr. Feinberg. In addition, many professors were sensitive in one way or another to important social issues. My dissertation adviser was Dr. Lerman, a specialist in research on labor and inequality who combined teaching at AU with directing a research center at the Urban Institute. Dr. Wisman and Dr. Tanh were also part of my committee. So I ended up with a dissertation with three very different papers, first on the empirical analysis of poverty and inequality in Bangladesh, then on mathematical models from optimal control theory applied to job training and homelessness, and finally on some of the ethical aspects of energy policy towards the poor in Europe.
How did your career evolve after completing your PhD at AU?
I got an offer for a tenured position at the University of Namur in Belgium. While teaching at the university was very interesting and provided amazing freedom, I realized that I wanted to be much more involved in applied policy work. I joined the World Bank in 1998 and worked for four years and a half on Latin America, and then for six years on Africa. Over the years the Bank has provided me with a superb working environment in which to conduct policy dialogue with governments in developing countries while also continuing to do applied policy research.
How do you see the years ahead for you?
I just started a new job at the World Bank as Adviser and Program Manager for a small unit within the Bank's Human Development Network. Because the unit deals with the role of values and ethics in development, I consider this new job as a natural evolution of my work of the last twenty years where I have tried to contribute in various ways to poverty reduction. As I have become familiar with the economist's way of thinking, today I am approaching issues of values and ethics in development work in a richer light than I did before completing my PhD. I hope that the rigorous economic and scientific training that I have received will help in ensuring that the work of our small unit will be both relevant and useful for policy making. This in turn would give us a better chance of making perhaps a small but nevertheless positive difference in the life of the poor.