In May 2011, SIPA awarded its first Master of Public Administration degrees in Development Practice. Twenty-three students graduated from the program, which trains students to understand, develop, and implement integrated approaches to sustainable development.
Jaclyn Carlsen, pictured above conducting a community training in Sauri, Kenya, is one of the first graduates. SIPA’s Office of Alumni Affairs caught up with Jaclyn.
What have you been doing since graduation?
I work as an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Senior Analyst at Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI).
DAI works worldwide across health, stability, economic growth, governance, environment, and energy issues to produce development results. My role on the ICT and Geo services team is to analyze, design, and propose how technology can strengthen our proposals and projects.
I just returned from a reconnaissance trip to the Philippines, my first international field assignment since I got this job. My job was to gather information to assist our company in designing a well-thought out proposal for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mobile money project aimed at financial inclusion.
In the Philippines, only one quarter of the population has access to formal financial services. The mobile phone market is vibrant - everyone has one - yet only 10 percent of the population uses mobile money, which could be a conduit for reducing the costs and risks associated with paying bills and transferring money.
I went to research mobile money in the Philippines and fill gaps in our knowledge. It was great. I spoke with people at the Central Bank, Mobile Network Operators, utilities, and microfinance institutions.
I really hope to do more even though it was a lot of work; you’re working 12-hour days to try to set up valuable appointments, gather everyone’s perspectives, identify potential partnerships and creative solutions, and to really understand the constraints and opportunities of mobile money.
How did you find this job?
I used a lot of networking but ultimately found the position on a listserv for ICT for development. I first learned about DAI when Tony Barclay (former CEO of DAI) visited the MPA-DP Practitioners Seminar, where MPA-DP students are connected to incredible professionals in international development.
Professor Barclay later began teaching an MPA-DP required class at SIPA, and later, once I saw the job posting, I noticed how much of my class work, my coursework, and experience with the New Media Task Force were directly applicable to the position.
How has what you learned at SIPA helped you in your current role?
The MPA-DP program challenges you to understand and develop integrated approaches to development and draws from all sectors including infrastructure, health, education, and agriculture. ICT also cuts across all sectors so I’ve used knowledge from all of my classes to better understand how technology can improve information flows in, say, clinics reporting lab results.
Taking classes with incredibly accomplished practitioners and our Millennium Villages Project field experience certainly didn’t make me an expert in development, but it did give me a great base to build my understanding of how technology can address constraints in international development. It also helped me learn what I didn’t know - which is a lot! But now I feel that I have a grasp of these different technical areas and can build from there.
For example, in my current role, I read a lot of Requests for Proposals, especially from USAID. What’s great is now when I receive a proposal about, for example, nutrition in Ethiopia, I have a familiarity with food security and nutrition. This gives me a great foundation and allows me to be able to communicate with our technical experts and hit the ground running.
The MPA-DP program made development real for me. Through activities in a student group - the New Media Task Force - I was able to apply what we were learning immediately. For MPA-DP students in particular, SIPA did a fantastic job showing us the different facets of development. The program will help us become well-rounded development professionals who understand different areas of development.
What’s so great about SIPA’s MPA-DP program is that it creates a network of students, experts and practitioners - connections we can later draw on. And being such a new program, it was always changing and growing based on student feedback - which was both fun and frustrating.
Looking back, what was the best part of the MPA-DP program?
The people. It’s such a small program - with about two dozen students, it was more like a family. We learned one another’s strengths and weaknesses and were able to collaborate while at SIPA and after graduation. It’s great for helping each other out during the job search.
For instance, my colleague Eric Couper (MPA-DP ’11) is in Tanzania working as the ICT and Agriculture Coordinator at Africa Soil Information Service (not all MPA-DP grads ended up in ICT!), and has helped me learn about different data collection devices he’s used for M&E in Tanzania. I can’t wait to draw from the knowledge of my colleagues who have moved to India, Mali, South Korea, and Kenya.
What opportunities did you take part in while you were at SIPA?
I was involved in student group activities from Day One. I wanted an opportunity to meet more people and try out different things that I might want to do after graduation. It’s hard with first-year class work, but I wouldn’t have done it any differently.
I began co-directing the New Media Task Force student group in January 2010. After the earthquake in Chile, we met Patrick Meier from Ushahidi at a conference sponsored by The Morningside Post. Patrick asked for volunteers to run trainings on Ushahidi’s crowd-mapping platform. This platform could help media groups, NGOs, government ministries, and citizens report and visualize open pharmacies, closed health clinics, flooded roads, lootings, and riots after the earthquake.
We volunteered our student group and it took off from there. Members of the New Media Task Force combined with some second-year students to run the SIPA Ushahidi Chile initiative. We received a $10,000 grant from the Mozilla Foundation to send some of our team to Chile to work with local universities, NGOs, radio stations, and government ministries. The project was amazing. I’ve never seen so many SIPA students come together and donate their time. I hope people learned things that can help them in their careers too!
Working with the New Media Task Force, we also met with professionals involved in technology and development and developed internships, career panels, and research opportunities for SIPA students.
I participated in a spring break research trip with UNICEF, traveling to Suriname to explore how technology could support education in remote areas of the Amazon.
Other than that, I went to a few conferences to learn from professionals in my field. I attended a Global Policy Conference in London, another development conference in Uganda, and the GPPN conference in Singapore. Many students don’t know about SIPA’s travel grants for conferences, which made some of these trips possible.
The co-leader position in the New Media Task force allowed me an increasing amount of opportunities to handle ICT, and I learned more about forming partnerships in the field. The conferences, too, were incredible opportunities to interact with professionals in development.
As an alumna of the program, what would you say to current students in the MPA in Development Practice program?
Really use student groups, internships, and research opportunities. Begin applying the theories and tools you’re learning in school every day to get immediate feedback. Learn monitoring and evaluation in gender because no one seems to know how to apply them in the working world, and they are very important.
It’s really important to develop an expertise that makes you more marketable, so I suggest specializing in a particular subject area while at SIPA. Know it well enough to have a significant depth for applying it in work later.
Mix up your classes by including a good amount of tangible skillset classes and learn from people you’d like to work with in the future.
Lastly, be sure to get to know the students in programs outside of MPA Development Practice - they’re really great!