Juan M. Villa
PhD in Development Policy and Management 2015.
Juan, originally from Colombia, completed his PhD in Development Policy and Management at GDI last year and is now President of Colombia's public pension and social security administrator, Colpensiones. He has also provided consultancy on a number of international poverty and economics projects, for organisations including the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations University and UNICEF.
What was it like to study in Manchester?
As an economist, my best memories orbit around the exploration of an amazing city that has changed the world. Being able to recreate the roots of the industrial revolution at the Museum of Science and Industry, visit the Cheetham Library where Karl Marx would discuss the first relationships between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. The great achievements of Richard Cobden in the field of free trade were very inspiring. The University of Manchester has also witnessed a broad global progress, being the birthplace of the first programmed computer, the workplace of Alan Turing and home of graphene.
Why did you choose to study at GDI?
I met Professor Armando Barrientos who was working on topics related to my research preferences. He encouraged me to come to GDI (then Brooks World Poverty Institute) to start my PhD research on the exit conditions of participants in antipoverty transfer programmes. All this combined with the fact that GDI is a world class research centre with wide recognition in academic fields and multilateral agencies made it an easy choice. And I was grateful to receive the Bouldin Scholarship for my doctoral studies, funded by University of Manchester alumnus John Bouldin and his wife Elizabeth.
How did you pick your research topic?
I was working on the evaluation of antipoverty transfer programmes in Colombia. Despite my strong empirical focus, I had an academic interest in conceptualising what I was looking at in the field and to test other hypotheses to help antipoverty programmes achieve better results.
It’s only been a year but what have you done since graduating?
Just before my viva I found a research position in Washington DC at the Inter-American Development Bank, which is the most important development agency in Latin America and the Caribbean. I am now a research fellow in the labour markets and social security division.
Has your University of Manchester qualification helped you in your professional life?
Yes. During my PhD I was able to understand the global and specific contexts of antipoverty policies in developing countries. This ability has strongly helped me in the design and implementation of antipoverty transfer programmes in Latin-America, the Caribbean and some African countries.
Do you have any tips or advice for current students, particularly those who are about to graduate, for life after Manchester?
For those pursuing PhDs: your research does not end with your viva or after graduation. I still have GDI in my heart and I keep doing research with my PhD supervisor. I’ve also contributed to the GDI Working Paper Series and was appointed as an Honorary Research Fellow of the GDI.