I applied [for the Presidential Management Fellowship], got in, and joining USAID was a dream to be able to use my private sector experience to create change within government.”
Sean Jones (MPP '00), USAID’s mission director in Ethiopia, believes that we need smart, well-informed voices working inside government agencies. Speaking about the interest of young professionals in joining public service, Jones said, "I am more influential and relevant as an actor within the bureaucracy versus being on the outside, even if my personal view of the world does not align with some policies."
Jones began his career in the mid-90s interning at the White House before moving to the private sector for three years. He pivoted to the public sector after his experiences at the Ford School and a “vision for how business could be doing more...and better...and how government could be a positive catalyst for the change in that worldview.” He now serves as a diplomat in Ethiopia, “paving the way for constructive conversations and public investments that can lead to a more prosperous and relevant future for a country's citizens.”
Even prior to the emergence of COVID-19, Jones was determined to boost Ethiopia’s disaster planning and response. "In many developing countries, they don’t have the resources to think about how to plan what the next disaster will be," he said. "When the pandemic hit, we were in the midst of setting up structures in Ethiopia and providing advice on how to be accountable and respond to disasters without relying on wealthier countries."
At the onset of the pandemic, Jones quickly readjusted USAID’s priorities into three facets: protecting staff and families, designing and implementing a COVID-19 response program, and saving lives during ongoing disasters. Jones says there is a common saying among Africa-watchers, 'As goes Ethiopia goes East Africa' and therefore policymakers in Washington DC have consistently remained supportive of reforms and good governance programs in Ethiopia.
While focused on long-term advances in Ethiopia's development, Jones and his team also are sure not to "lose sight of unexpected things that cause loss of life or limb," giving the example of frequent cholera, measles, and meningitis outbreaks. "USAID and its partners feed millions of Ethiopians," said Jones, "and, unfortunately, with COVID-19 we're now addressing food insecurity in vulnerable communities that had previously been successful in withstanding shocks."
Jones said he is able to think creatively about dealing with issues like COVID-19 due in part by his interdisciplinary background at the University of Michigan. While at the Ford School, he was eager to take courses in other top-ranked schools throughout U-M, including the Law and Business schools. "I applied to the Ford School because of the flexibility in being able to create my own experience and take classes in other disciplines at other schools. All of these U-M programs were ranked top 5 in the nation," he said. "I socialized and had a deep camaraderie with my colleagues with different backgrounds, perspectives, and ambitions. There was a diversity I never experienced before."
Jones was able to gain skills that he continues to use today. "I'm not just a policy wonk that can analyze data and regurgitate. I can think like a businessman one hour, a legal scholar another, and pull it all together and help make an informed position," he explained.
But the Ford School ultimately helped position him for a career in public service. "I wouldn’t have gotten where I am right now if it weren't for [Ford School] graduate career services pointing me in the direction of the Presidential Management Fellowship. I applied, got in, and joining USAID was a dream to be able to use my private sector experience to create change within government," said Jones.