20 Years of Breaking Boundaries and Bringing New Skillsets to Global Development

February 07, 2022

From its inception 20 years ago, CGD has been viewed by some as a global development think-tank where academic economists, former multilateral development bankers, and economic policy wonks coalesce to solve global development problems. However, my own intellectual and professional journey illustrates how CGD brings together diverse skillsets to solve important policy problems, and in the process opens new research vistas.

In 2006 I was a young academic working as an Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management at the then newly established MIT-Zaragoza International Logistics Program in Spain. I had come to academia with prior experience working in the areas of pharmaceutical strategy, management consulting, and supply chain technology. I did research and published on topics such as order fulfillment, new product forecasting, and supply chain network design. Most of the work I did was firm-specific i.e., how to solve a supply chain problem for a company. One notable exception was a project to investigate the demand and supply side shortcomings which had led to the flu vaccine shortage in the US in 2004. Ruth Levine and Neelam Sekhri Feachem were running a working group at CGD on global health demand forecasting and wanted a new perspective on the problem. Twisted fate and some mention of our earlier flu vaccine work led them to connect with me. I did a project with CGD on demand forecasting for global health products in which I applied the relatively simple tools which my training and experience offered me i.e., management theory of deciphering incentive misalignment and information blind-spots. 15 years, a few different academic and policy roles, and a few CGD working groups later—as I reflect back on how much this field has progressed—CGD facilitating my start in this subfield stands out as the epoch for me. A community of practice and an annual conference, a bunch of academic papers, large scale RCTs, elective courses in undergraduate and graduate programs across universities, more accepting journals—the field of global health supply chain as a scholarly discipline has truly taken off in the last 15 years.

A move or shift into a new field can occur intentionally or serendipitously, but when one is straddling into a new area it takes time, sometimes decades, to achieve meaningful impact. It takes considerable humility to become a graduate student all over again, it takes some patience to spend your days reading research from outside your field, and field travel to learn (on academic budgets) can sometimes be exhausting. But for me, CGD acted as a guidepost to shine light on high-priority research questions and how my training and skills could be useful there. It provided both “allocative” and “technical efficiency” to my time and efforts for embarking on a new journey. It illustrated to me the “value production function” in global development and where the coefficient of the “raw materials” of my skillset would be the highest. And I am not talking about me as a CGD staff (I joined CGD two and a half years ago), but just as a researcher in CGD’s wider network who they thought could contribute to the field of global development. CGD opened my eyes to this new panorama in my research. In addition to Ruth Levine at CGD and Neelam Sekhri Feachem, many individuals took the risk of bringing a supply chain academic with very limited understanding of development and public policy into important, and sometimes heated policy debates. I can’t name the numerous colleagues who have helped me learn, but Girin Beeharry, Blair Sachs-Hanewall, Michael Borowitz, Richard Laing, Bonface Fundafunda, Saul Walker, and Awa Marie Collseck come to mind as the first ones who took some big early risks in collaborating with me or promoting my work.

The world’s development problems are not arranged according to the precise boundaries of our academic disciplines. Poverty or global health can’t be solved with scholarship in development economics or public health alone;  they need management theory, operations research, psychology, epidemiology, supply chain theory, and so much more.

Poverty or global health can’t be solved with scholarship in development economics or public health alone;  they need management theory, operations research, psychology, epidemiology, supply chain theory, and so much more

The most compelling solutions to the world’s most pressing problems lie at the cusp of different disciplines. Admittedly, CGD is an economist heavy think-tank, but it creates an environment where the problem is the focus and disciplinary boundaries are subservient to it. Discussing and reflecting with researchers, policy makers, and practitioners from very diverse disciplines is what sets the CGD working group process apart. I hope that not just CGD, but all development focused organizations take meaningful steps to bridge the gorges that sometimes exist between different disciplines and areas of expertise. Measures of organizational diversity should also include staff diversity in academic training, professional discipline, and spheres of experience.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.