“Development issues touched my heart. I knew this was something I could be devoted to.”

At Harvard, Paul Wang’s studies in economics gave him an important theoretical understanding of international development issues. But two summers spent in Africa made them personal. Through the university’s Christian Fellowship, Paul taught English to Sudanese refugees. After his junior year, he went to South Africa where he taught computer skills in a township high school and assisted Natal University professors with township surveys. “Development issues touched my heart,” Paul says. “I knew this was something I could be devoted to.”

Feeling Africa’s call, Paul returned after graduation to work with the MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). “They’re a group of economists who use randomized evaluation methodologies, similar to those used in pharmaceutical trials, to assess the impact of development projects,” Paul explains. With J-PAL, he went to Western Kenya where he helped study the long-term impact of a de-worming project. “A previous study revealed that de-worming reduced school absenteeism by twenty-five percent. We wanted to explore the relationship of improved school attendance with longer-term outcomes, such as future income and education.” Additional projects included a study on “the effect of adding one extra teacher to first-grade classrooms” and an HIV/AIDS education study.

Jumping into the business arena

Paul’s African experiences reinforced his commitment to international development. “But,” he says, “I found that the reach of NGOs and researchers was not always as great as that of politics and business. I figured I should jump into the business arena to see what it was like.” Paul joined McKinsey in Chicago where he worked on projects “with relevance to developing countries, things like energy, health care, transportation, basic materials.”

The joint MBA/MPA-ID degree, Paul believes, “offers a mix of perspectives. The Harvard Kennedy School provides economic models that can build on what I learned at J-PAL. HBS exposes me to multiple functional areas, to the skills I need to be an effective policy maker.”

“What’s unique about the program,” says Paul, “is that I can use it as an avenue to explore different topic areas and career directions.” Since last winter, Paul has been involved in TAMTAM – Together Against Malaria, Tunapenda Afya na Maisha (Swahili: “we love health and life”) – which has two related missions. “We’re distributing mosquito nets to the needy, and we’re evaluating the effectiveness of different evaluation approaches. TAMTAM evaluations are practical, not theoretical; we promise to deliver research results in just a few months. The quick turnaround helps us support country-level policy makers. This is the kind of thing I couldn’t do outside of the university setting; the schools give us the necessary resources and support.”

Digging deeper

Paul’s has also developed an interest in African mining. “Mining and extractive technologies are always present in developing countries,” he says. “I’m using the business school and my consulting background to learn how they operate and to explore the industry as a potential career. Bottom line, I want to make difference, but I’m not dogmatic about which arena I work in. I’m looking for opportunities that are more entrepreneurial in nature, things that I am uniquely able or eager to do.”