Thinking and doing

August 10, 2013

Zenia Lewis (MPP '09) is just back from a whirlwind trip to Uganda and Ethiopia, but she doesn't sound the least bit jetlagged. In fact, her manner is lively and engaged—two attributes that must serve her well as a research analyst on the Africa Growth Initiative for Brookings Institution. The job isn't all about conducting research, crunching numbers, and writing reports, although there is a lot of that.

It's also about making and facilitating connections. The Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) promotes Africa's economic development by providing U.S. policymakers with what they need most—high-quality research and expertise—while making sure that the work of African scholars and policymakers is prominent in global policy debates about what happens in Africa. And that requires a lot of dialogue.

"It's been a great opportunity," Zenia says. "If something happens, like the Obama administration investing in Africa, we call in experts from the continent. We have monthly policy dialogues where we meet with people on Capitol Hill to let them know what's been happening in specific locales and what's important for them to understand—information that they might not get from other sources."

Zenia recently co-authored a report on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), key legislation that currently guides the trade relationship between Africa and the United States. AGOA will expire in 2015. The report models several post-2015 outcomes, depending on whether the legislation is renewed, revised, or allowed to expire. She presented the report to Florizelle Liser, the assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa, as well as several people from Capitol Hill and across U.S. government. And the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa presented the report in Ethiopia. Zenia explains, "Since I've been with AGI, we write reports to discuss and get recommendations from both sides, such as what U.S. policymakers should do or what African governments should be aware of and pushing for."

While in Uganda, Zenia helped design a survey with a local partner think tank that will be done this fall of Ugandans who live near oil fields to find out how their livelihoods might be affected by the recently discovered, and highly valuable, resource. Then she attended the annual AGOA forum in Ethiopia.

Back in Washington, DC, Zenia feels lucky to work at Brookings doing exactly what she was interested in doing—policy work that influences international development—while studying at the Ford School. Occasionally she speaks on panels for Hill interns, and they always ask what classes they should take to pursue a job like hers. "I could just list all the courses I took at the Ford School," says Zenia. "So much of what I studied there is applicable to my work now."