Its first year has enriched student experiences through summer internships and Policy Lab research projects.

As part of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy partnership with Oxfam America, Harris students gain valuable policy internship opportunities and a launching point for future employment with the wide-reaching global organization dedicated to alleviating global poverty in all its forms.

Harris student Miriam Gonzalez Arano spent last summer as a research assistant for the nonprofit anti-poverty organization Oxfam America in Washington, D.C., working on the organization’s global displacement campaign. She worked to identify objective indicators about economic and social conditions that refugees face and compare those indicators across a set of wealthy and poor countries.

Mengyuan Liang, MACRM’16, participated in a four-student team last fall that handled a project for Oxfam as part of Harris’ Policy Labs initiative to give students real-world consulting experience. The team—which also included Harris student Jeremias Rojas, SSA student Emilie Weisser, and Chicago Booth student Helen Kondos—examined the economic footprint and political behavior of U.S. pharmaceutical companies in India.

The internship and the Policy Labs programs were the first two manifestations of a three-year partnership between Harris and Oxfam - underscoring Harris’ commitment to creating practical and real-world social impact opportunities for students.

Summer Research on Refugees

Arano says her research into global displacement focused on indicators like whether refugees are able to enroll in school, whether they are allowed to work and under what conditions, and how much time they have to wait to get the formal right to asylum as provided for under international law. “Oxfam has a great network of people you can talk to, either in the academic context or people working in the field,” she says. “The project helped me to learn about global displacement and about Oxfam’s work in general.”

Specific to economic and social indicators, Arano learned that the data needed to illustrate such issues can be difficult to find, and initial plans to make a scorecard as part of a brief report detailing the conditions in each country ultimately were scrapped. “We found a lot of difficulties with the data and the indicators we had didn’t describe well enough what was going on,” she says. “They decided it was better not to publish this.”

Yet, Arano’s work brought the organization more than it could have envisioned, with a fully thought-out methodology for measuring indicators with questions for the organization to answer, says Scott Paul, senior humanitarian policy advisor for Oxfam. The fact that the scorecard didn’t come together because the data wasn’t strong enough comes with the territory of public policy research, he says.

“It’s the sort of thing I wish we would do more often, which is to take a good idea with no reasonable assurance that it’s feasible,” Paul says. “It’s the sort of thing that’s not going to culminate in a finished product four out of five times, but the one time it does, it turns out to be something really groundbreaking.”

Paul has typically been hesitant to bring on summer interns because he’s not sure he will be able to adequately supervise them and make sure they have a worthwhile learning experience. “I felt differently about this because it seemed like Harris students were so well equipped, and the displacement campaign is a discrete project that we felt we could give to someone to own,” he says.

“Working at Oxfam was really inspiring,” Arano says. “I particularly enjoy working with people who are, every day, trying to make a positive change in the world. It’s amazing how much they are able to achieve with a small team of people.”

Fall Project on Pharma in India

Harris and Oxfam worked together to scope out Policy Lab projects that made sense for the organization’s needs and that are achievable for a student team working under faculty supervision in a 10-week period, says Wai-Sinn Chan, associate director for Harris Policy Labs. “For students it’s exciting to work on a pressing and complex policy issue facing a client.”

The Policy Lab team took on the project related to U.S. pharmaceutical firms in India. They broke down their research into sections, with Liang delving into the history of those firms’ presence in the market, while her classmates looked at issues like the physical presence, tax behavior, intellectual property rights and lobbying.

“They left [India] in the 1970s but reentered in the 1990s because of changes in the regulatory environment,” Liang says. “I tried to look at different legal set-ups. For example, some firms preferred to have wholly-owned subsidiaries, while some collaborated with local firms.”

The students met regularly as a group and over Skype with their advisors from Oxfam, generating one-page summaries of their findings every week. “It led us to know how the consulting world works,” she says. “Instead of sitting in class and listening to lectures, we were using our skills and trying to generate a report. It also increased our teamwork skills.”

Robbie Silverman, senior advisor in Oxfam’s private sector department, says the Harris student team helped create a template for how the organization should investigate the presence and effects of U.S. drug companies in developing countries around the world. The work happened in the context of Oxfam’s inequality campaign, which is examining that broader issue in various manifestations.

“What impact do the tax practices of big multinational companies, predominantly located in the north, have on revenue in developing countries? Do they wield political impact?” he queried.  “This was a great project for looking at how big, northern multinational companies in one particular sector manifest in one particular emerging market.”

“Oxfam was a great client for the Policy Labs because the student team had really good access to them,” Chan says. “They had bi-weekly Skype calls and worked with students to shape the direction of the research. Students appreciated that level of interaction and feedback.”

Harris is working to develop projects with Oxfam for next school year, and in the meantime two Harris students, Monica Andres Torres Valencia and Arturo Rocha, will be interning with the organization this summer as an Oxfam food systems research intern and economic inequality research intern, respectively.

Interested in building a talent pipeline and a viable recruiting strategy with Harris Public Policy? Contact the Career Development Office to find out how to develop a quality internship program and partnership pipeline for internship and full time positions.