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Where international economics and development meet

By Joanna Valle Luna | September 22, 2017

While searching for summer internships during my first year at GPS, I only had two clear ideas. On one hand, I wanted to do something related with my area of interest – International Economics. On the other hand, after acquiring special interest in data management and quantitative methods, I wanted to find an internship where I could apply and expand my knowledge. However, I never thought that could lead me to Ethiopia for ten weeks, where I spent my time learning about livestock, markets, and the overall economy while collaborating with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in its office in Addis Ababa.

ILRI is an international organization that focuses on improving food security and reducing poverty in developing countries through research of better and more sustainable use of livestock. Specifically, in their office in Addis I collaborated with the Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) team on a project focused on supporting pastoralists who suffered severe droughts. The insurance provided to the pastoralists is based on satellite data. After a percentile analysis of the forage scarcity and patterns of rainy and dry seasons, an index is constructed. In those cases where this index goes below a trigger percentile, the insurance plan is activated for corresponding regions. The main idea behind the project is to develop an economic product that  is based on satellite and scientific data and suits the pastoralist necessities by focusing on prevention of livestock death and its recovery after loss - all that without regular insurance claim procedure.


One of the most rewarding and interesting activities that I had a chance to do during my internship was fieldwork in the northern part of Ethiopia. The fieldwork focused on two areas: exploring the landscape and collecting socioeconomic data about infrastructure, markets, marketing, and communication channels in those regions. The objective was to collect first stage primary data to determine whether the program can be launched in that part of Ethiopia.

As a matter of fact, I was even involved in the early stages of the launch of the program in certain regions, which is done in collaboration with the World Food Program. Regarding this part, a very thought-provoking activity was being a facilitator of training for regional governmental officers and heads of microeconomic companies about the ILRI program. Even though in my previous professional experience – as officer in the Mexican Ministry of Economy – I had some experience of doing ToT (training of trainers), no doubt this experience was a great challenge.

Also, it was very rewarding to have a chance to explore and get to know more about the country’s economy not only through research and data, but first hand by seeing how pastoralists take care of their herds, how local markets work, the general infrastructure and many other elements that translate in micro and macroeconomic data. Additionally, I got a chance to practice data visualization and see its importance for any program and organization. Using STATA and other tools I was going through historic data of ILRI and identifying if the program had any impact vis-à-vis gender, geographical location, composition of the herd, and other elements in the pastoralist life.

Just to put a very simple anecdotal example, during my first days in Addis eating chicken dish in a restaurant was almost double the price than eating lamb. For me this didn't make any sense - back home chicken is always cheaper than any red meat. After reading more about livestock and Ethiopian economy I understood. In a society such as Ethiopia, where around 90% of population are pastoralists or agro-pastoralists and the economic activity is far from highly industrialized, the prices of livestock are directly related to the number of hours required to slaughter and have the meat ready for markets.

Overall, my summer internship was an opportunity to learn about new things such as agriculture, livestock, insurance and financial topics. It was also a very rewarding experience professionally and academically, because it gave me chance to apply knowledge acquired during my first year at GPS. Ultimately, I could see a glimpse of the rich and diverse professional spectrum that is possibly waiting me at the end of MIA program.


Joanna Valle Luna is a second-year MIA student at GPS focusing on International Economics and Japan. Previously, as a Federal Officer working for the Mexican Ministry of Economy, specifically at the National Institute for Entrepreneurship, she managed nation-wide programs in Mexico to improve the business ecosystem for SMEs. She was also in charge of emergency support programs for entrepreneurs and MSMEs affected by natural disasters or violence in Mexico. Currently she is studying on international economics, with a special focus on data analysis, entrepreneurship and international cooperation.


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