Saldarriaga aims to use his MPP skills to reduce social inequality in Peru.
Headshot of Alberto Saldarriaga
Alberto Saldarriaga

The idea that a country and economy can grow as social failures persist has been a source of motivation for Alberto Saldarriaga, MPP Class of 2025, for many years. Born and raised in the Piura region of Peru, Saldarriaga said he first grasped this idea when he was 15. “During my first volunteer experience as part of my school's social program, my classmates and I spent one week helping low-income households in the local community in San Rafael with their daily activities. During a conversation with an elderly woman, she brought up the disparity between a strong economy and social failure. Despite Peru’s economic development, there was persistent destitution in specific communities. That conversation, and specifically that contradiction, left an indelible mark on me,” said Saldarriaga. 

This difference became even more apparent when, at 16, Saldarriaga moved to Lima—the capital and largest city in Peru. “Even though Piura and Lima are in the same country,” said Saldarriaga, “I almost felt like a foreigner in Lima: the cultural differences between the two regions were very pronounced, ranging from the difference in accents to the time it takes to get from one place to another—in Piura, what takes 20 to 30 minutes would take almost an hour in Lima due to traffic. It was a whole different world.”

Saldarriaga completed his undergraduate studies in economics at the Universidad del Pacifico in Lima and worked for a research center in Peru after graduation and then joined a consulting firm that worked closely with the World Bank and specialized in conservation. Following this, he served in the Peruvian government in the Ministry of Education and the budget division of the Ministry of Economics and Finance.

Saldarriaga said these experiences, fueled by the conversation he’d had when he was 15, solidified his interest in pursuing a public policy degree—and focusing on municipal finance. “I recognized that since regional and municipal governments are the ones leading the implementation of policies created by the central government, the central government needs to consider regional geographic, social, political, and economic disparities. Otherwise, those policies tend to fail.”

Saldarriaga said the Master of Public Policy at Harris was his top choice for three key reasons: “First, Harris is one of the top policy programs in the world. Second, the electives, renowned faculty, and focus on quantitative skills stood out. Finally, the University of Chicago’s emphasis on the freedom to inquire and exchange ideas while accepting personal responsibility, resonated with how I see public policy working in a municipal context. I believe Harris will equip me with the skills to comprehend data better and implement policy programs efficiently.”

Before enrolling at Harris, Saldarriaga also completed the Global Competitiveness Leadership Program at Georgetown University: “I wanted to promote social investment in Peru and solicit ideas from global leaders regarding what must change in Latin America.” Although Saldarriaga said he acknowledges the inherent tension of growth versus development, he “firmly believes working for or with the government is the key to achieving widespread, positive social impact— and public policy is key because it can help rectify market failures.”

Now at Harris, Saldarriaga said, he is enjoying engaging in policy discussions “and engaging in the environment of shared learning and growth.” 

As for plans after Harris, Saldarriaga said, “I think being a director, minister, or serving as a consultant or researcher for think tanks and non-governmental organizations would be ideal.”