Gerardo de la Peña, along with David Garcia Junco AM’95, received the 2018 CC DuBois Alumni Service Award at Harris.

When Gerardo de la Peña MPP’01 returned to Mexico after earning his degree from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, he was determined to do three things: improve the lives of his countrymen, stay connected to his school, and ensure that Mexican students like him would have similar opportunities.

“I believe that I’ve been blessed, and part of the blessing that I’ve received I need to return to society in general,” de la Peña says.

In less than two decades, de la Peña has made good on those goals as a leader for an organization that advances financial security for millions of Mexican citizens, a voice in discussions focused on improving macroeconomic public policy, and a leading force in the effort to ensure that more Mexicans students can benefit from the same type of education he received at Harris Public Policy.

His work has led, among other honors, to this year’s C.C. DuBois Alumni Service Award.

Gerardo de la Peña MPP'01

After leaving Chicago, de la Peña worked as chief financial officer for Mexico’s Seguro Popular within the Ministry of Health and as a senior advisor in the Mexican president’s economic cabinet. Previous to his work with the Mexican federal government, de la Peña worked with Deloitte Consulting in projects related to analyzing budgets for several U.S. state governments. Most recently, he has been at Infonavit, an institution that was formed four decades ago in response to a law that backed a constitutional right to housing in Mexico.

In fulfilling that mission, Infonavit serves a dual purpose: as a social mortgage lender and pension fund. In 2016, it was the largest pension fund in Latin America and supplied nearly three-quarters of mortgages in the Mexico.

De la Peña was general controller for the institution, ensuring fulfillment of established goals, before becoming head of operational risk, a role in which he measures the risks involved in performance of an institution that handles more than $1 billion in funding, accounting for 1 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product.

It’s an area in which de la Peña believes he can not only make a difference, but give people a sense that the government and government-backed institutions can help them prosper.

“When people speak poorly of government performance, I know that everything I do is controlled by my leadership and will be performed well,” he says. “I’m happy that I can give good results to the institution where I work, and  good results for the people.”

De la Peña also has a hand in guiding economic policy for his country as a board member for Mexico ¿Cómo vamos? (Mexico, How are We Doing?). The organization started as a way to gather comprehensive data on Mexico’s economy that can be shared widely with the country’s citizens. Over the last decade, it has published monthly updates on Mexico’s federal and state economies and metrics on the country’s progress toward its economic goals.

De la Peña and David Garcia Junco AM'95, recipients of the 2018 CC DuBois Alumni Service Award

The organization pulls together the opinions of dozens of highly respected economists to create an agenda centered on increasing the country’s production and growing jobs. That agenda, based on the most up-to-date data and trends, is used to educate politicians and serves as a template for public policy. It’s a formula de la Peña learned at Harris: use research and data to inform public policy decisions that make a positive social impact.

“Harris provided me with the tools, knowledge, and training necessary to be able to do my job,” de la Peña says. “Everything that I learned at Harris, I use every day. Not only in this position, but in all of the jobs I’ve had in the past.”

It’s knowledge that de la Peña is working to provide to future generations of Mexican students through scholarship programs that will allow them to earn degrees at the University of Chicago and come back to Mexico to improve their country. In 2010, along with four other University of Chicago alumni, he began Chicago Fellowship Mexico, a mentorship program for Harris students from Mexico. Three years later, that group helped develop a partnership with the Mexican Council on Science and Technology that funds up to 15 full scholarships per year and stipends to Mexican students attending Harris for an MPP.

So far, the group has helped nearly 50 students receive an education at the University of Chicago, and the goal is to ensure that finances are not an issue for any and all Mexican students who want to attend the University.

The work is fulfilling for de la Peña because he has seen the value in having a network of like-minded individuals who can use their shared experiences to move the needle, both at Infonavit and at Mexico ¿Cómo vamos? Some of his most-trusted and respected peers are also Harris graduates. Expanding that network and knowledge base is good not only for the students, but for the entire country, he says.

“The things I have done are possible because of the training I’ve received at Harris, and also because of the people I’ve met from my time there. Those people become very important in your life, professionally and personally. We are passing that on and creating and building a network of public policy practitioners at the highest level for our country.”

De la Peña represents Harris on the University of Chicago Alumni Board. He is an avid traveler with his wife, Marisela González, and their daughter, Andrea de la Peña.