Monthly Archives: March 2013

Reflections from an MPA student intern in Vietnam: Erik Mandell

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I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam in late September, unsure of what the next 3 months would entail for my work, learning and personal growth. Despite having traveled extensively, Vietnam was a new country and culture for me, and my 10-week internship through the Public Administration department and the Hatfield School was still evolving in terms of the scope of work I would conduct and who I would be working with in Vietnam. On paper, my internship (also a 6 credit PA 505 course supervised by Dr. Marcus Ingle) had two primary components: to assist with the Executive MPA cohort learning trip in Vietnam and to further relationships PSU and the Hatfield School had already established in the country focused on collaborative learning and Sustainable Development. Yet my experience in Vietnam was far richer than could be laid out in an internship description or course syllabus. I returned to Portland for winter term having scratched the surface of a new country and culture, more keenly aware of the benefits and challenges of working abroad within the context of Public Administration, and with a greater understanding of both the value that an MPA student can bring to another country and how an international working component can bolster a student’s own graduate experience.

My time in Vietnam was different than previous international travels. For the first time, I was experiencing a foreign place by working closely with UN and local officials and engaging with partners in a new capacity that wasn’t just as a tourist or a visitor. After getting to spend a week with Dr. Ingle and his student group learning about administrative practices and challenges in a rapidly changing and growing country, I split the remainder of my time between Hanoi (the capital) and Hoi An (a smaller UNESCO world heritage city on the central coast).

Engaging with local partners can be challenging, as I learned, but PSU already had sound relationships established with many in Vietnam. Following the Vietnamese delegation’s visit to Portland in October for the EcoDistrict summit, leadership officials from Quang Nam Province expressed committed interest in establishing a firm, long-term partnership with PSU to bring lessons from the Portland region to their province.

Along with provincial leaders, I drafted an MOU establishing a 3 year commitment to work together on leadership training for local officials, to further PSU’s involvement with the Hoi An EcoCity project (based on previous collaborative planning sessions between Vietnamese leaders and PSU faculty and students), and to work towards developing integrated models for water and disaster risk management in rural and urban areas of the province. As a result, this spring, Dr. Ingle and PSU students will engage in leadership workshops and a sustainable investment forum in Hoi An, which will bring public and private sector partners from Portland to Hoi An to share successes of Portland’s leadership in urban sustainability. In the fall, Quang Nam Province will send several students to begin their undergraduate education at PSU, furthering lasting ties between the two places.

The successful outcomes of my work in Vietnam were satisfying, but there were challenges as well. I dealt with cancelled meetings, a different pace of work than I was used to, and the importance of personal connections in a relationship-based culture–all good lessons for those of us seeking internationally-based careers. For me, the experience was an invaluable step in building my experience within the realm of global leadership, and for our Vietnamese partners, the work of PSU students like myself provides an opportunity to work across cultures and learn how practices for sustainable development can be incorporated into their communities. In addition to my work, the relationships I formed with Vietnamese people will have a lasting impact on my growing personal experience living and working in a global context.

For students interested in global leadership, I strongly recommend taking advantage of the PA department’s extensive international connections and opportunities. My experience in Vietnam emerged from a year-long process of planning closely with Dr. Ingle (starting in his Global Leadership and Management class in the fall of 2011), and was certainly worth the effort. Working in a different and changing country added a significant component to my graduate education—one that certainly could not have come from just readings and lectures in Portland.

 

Erik Mandell is a second-year MPA student with a concentration in Global Leadership and Management.

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Peace Corps Experience: Pravin Mallavaram

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It was in the Peace Corps that I began to realize what a career in public service would entail. Working in Fiji as a business adviser with a local school, I assisted my community by designing and implementing income-generating projects which brought my school $20,000 in supplemental income. Seeing people empowered by these projects, I recognized how my skills combined with my motivation for development had a lasting impact on an individual, their family, and their community. After seeing the success of the projects, the men I worked with realized their own potential and created their own fishponds, beehives, and recycling projects. This in turn made the nights without electricity, the days in the sweltering sun and biting mosquitoes, and the weeks of meals consisting of starchy potato and dry bread absolutely worthwhile.

Through Peace Corps, I was able to bond with the people of Fiji in ways that would have never been possible through any other opportunity. In the majority of communities where volunteers serve world wide, Peace Corps will be the only time where local community members will have the chance to interact with an American on such an intimate level. Peace Corps is a unique opportunity to break down the every day stereotypes people around the world have about Americans. No, Steven Segal is not America’s favorite action move actor. No, people in America really don’t live like Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men. I was able to represent my unique experience as an East Indian American and, more broadly, represent how my community in America views the rest of the world; with empathy, love, and a need to understand through experience. It’s this ability to represent America in such a way that makes Peace Corps a truly unique experience.

People often ask me, “What was the best part of your Peace Corps experience?” Hand’s down, without a doubt, it was the relationships. The connections I made with my two host families, the time I spent with my neighbors, teachers at the school, students on the soccer team, men at the community convenience shop; these were the moments that really made my Peace Corps experience invaluable. These are relationships that I will carry with me long into the future. Being able to share stories about life in America and building friendships with my community through photographs of my family and friends was an amazing experience. To this very day, my neighbors still ask how my nephew, whom they have never met, is doing in school. They ask how my parents are doing and if I am married yet.  I always tell them they’ll be the first to know once I get married, seeing as how they’ve had a keen interest in this topic since we first met! Peace Corps redefined my meaning of extended family. I would recommend this experience to anyone else who is interested in doing the same.

Pravin Mallavaram served in the Republic of Fiji from 2005 to 2008. He is currently an MPA student within the Global Leadership specialization.

Through Master’s International, students can do Peace Corps and get their Master’s at the same time. PSU has a Master’s International Program through the MPA degree. More information can be found at www.peacecorps.gov/gradschool


An Article by James Narron Originally published in Apia Financial Review

World Bank 2010Spread about the globe, the Samoan nation lives in diaspora. For a group of people intrepid enough to get to these islands in the first place, the current far-flung dispersion is hardly surprising. Yet the modern day migration is, for the most part, focused on job-hunting and producing remittances. Although remittances are at times a maligned form of revenue, they are nevertheless an important aspect of Samoa’s resources. Samoa currently receives roughly a quarter of its GDP in the form of these overseas funds, which ranks fourth in the world. But there is another opportunity for emigrants and Samoa to benefit from each other; savings bonds.

 

In the simplest terms, a savings bond is just a loan. In this case, the loan is to the government, who promises to pay back the principle plus interest upon maturation of the bond. Savings bonds are nothing new and are a widely used instrument of governments to finance their debt. Connecting a strong remittance culture with a savings bond scheme is not new either.

In a paper by Dilip Ratha and Suhas Ketkar published by the World Bank, the authors explain the concept of the diaspora bond with anecdotal evidence from the Israeli and Indian experience with these bonds. Both India and Israel have issued savings bonds to emigrants living abroad, and both have been able to utilize those funds for either development projects or to support the government’s balance of payments. Either option could be usefully applied in Samoa.

Financially, the bond programs of Israel and India have been impressive successes. Combined, Israel and India have received over 35 billion in investments on diaspora bonds. Additionally, Ketkar and Ratha’s paper point out that over 200 million in development bonds were never redeemed resulting in what amounts to charity for the government. Of course, Israel and India have far more emigrants to many more countries than Samoa, however the point is that the bonds do attract investors.

The goal for the Samoan bonds would be more modest than the numbers from the Israeli or Indian bonds, but there are good reasons to offer these bonds. Diaspora bonds have the ability to earn interest for the investor and develop the home country at the same time. Accordingly, the target audience for these bonds should be long term emigrants residing in rich countries, and especially those who intend to return. The first place to tap the diaspora is Samoa’s principle trading partner and destination for most of its emigrants; New Zealand.

According to New Zealand Statistics, the average length of stay for Samoans living in New Zealand is 18 years

though nearly 40 percent stay over 20. This figure is important for several reasons. First, it identifies that many Samoans do return at some point. Secondly, it suggests that many return either later in their professional careers or nearing retirement. Marketing these bonds as a tool for funding one’s retirement in paradise is a wonderful message and may resonate most clearly with the Samoan population with established careers who have earned some additional income with which to invest.

New Zealand 2005

Estimating how much could be raised from the Samoan population in New Zealand is tricky at best, and could benefit from a state sponsored survey into investment habits of Samoans abroad. What is known however, is the number of Samoans living in New Zealand and general data about their income. Using this data, if only half of the Samoans in New Zealand making more than $25,000 a year invested 1% of their income into diaspora bonds, the government of Samoa could raise $4.16 million ($7.89 million tala) in a single year. Although this represents an amount equal to a mere 2.5% of the money provided by remittances, it represents an investment into delayed gratification; perhaps by investing in bonds now, future Samoan retirees will ease the remittance burden on the next generation.

For the government, it is important to remember that these bonds represent debt and not profit. Obviously, the government of Samoa would be expected to honor these bonds upon maturity. Therefore it is clear that these bonds represent an outflow of money in the long run. However there are several points to consider that could significantly mitigate the overall losses of these bonds. First, is the fact that some savings bonds are never claimed. As mentioned earlier, Israel has some 200 million in savings bonds that were simply never redeemed. Although this is not the point of offering these bonds, it is the reality of the matter. Similarly, bonds redeemed late, at some significant point past maturity also decrease in value as inflation continues to apply to the sum even when interest payments cease. The next to consider is early withdrawal. The ability to withdraw the bond prior to maturity represents another way Samoa may not be liable for the entire amount. However some time minimums should be required to avoid turning this into a cash transfer program. Lastly is the ability to pay out in tala rather than in a foreign currency. Repaying the bond in tala may be easier for the government and may even warrant adding interest incentives to those who opt to redeem in tala rather than a foreign currency. By enticing investors to redeem bonds in tala, the government may also enhance the likelihood that money paid out from the bond would remain in Samoa rather than return to an overseas investor.

Regardless of the mitigating factors, the government must act in a fiscally responsible fashion by setting up a sinking fund to pay back these obligations. This should not prove difficult as the government may set a cap on the number of bonds they will issue and be prepared to operate under the assumption that they will sell them all.

Like many developing countries, Samoa relies on outside support for some of its development. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but investment instruments like diaspora bonds may offer the country an opportunity to become just a little more self reliant, especially as the overseas population continues to grow.